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Mitigating flood risk in the face of a climate emergency

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Floods are continuing to devastate communities across the UK with increasing intensity with at least one major incident every year for the last nine years.

The recent devastation caused by Storms Ciara, Storm Dennis and Storm Jorje brings home to communities across the country the very real impact of climate change on our day to day lives, and now, pressure on the government is mounting to find a more resilient and cost-effective way to mitigate the impact of flooding.

Our latest report, A Climate Emergency; Flood Defences for the Future, analyses data requested from a freedom of information request to the Environment Agency, as well as spending and funding allocations from 2015/16 - 2018/19 across England's regions and looked at their contributions to the Environment Agency through local levies, revealing that there has been a limited real terms increase in funding, over the last decade.

What did we discover?

While historically, expenditure has increased in real terms from £802m in 2009/10 to £870m in 2018/19, there has been limited growth in the revenue expenditure that enables our existing infrastructure to be maintained. We were especially concerned to learn that revenue expenditure had barely risen over the last 10 years, even though much of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era and desperately needs to be maintained and upgraded.

The analysis also found stark regional disparities. We found that spending in Yorkshire and The Humber has fallen by £7 million in the last few years, despite the area consistently experiencing extreme weather and flash flooding. Local levy contributions to the Environment Agency from local authorities also vary across the country, with London consistently making the largest contribution at over £5.9m for each of the last four years.

With an increasing number of new homes being built on flood plains and the rapid erosion of our coastlines, it is predicted that the number of homes under threat will double to five million in less than 50 years. But all is not lost. For every £1 we invest in flood protection schemes it saves us £5 in property damages.

The return on investment for flood protection is significantly higher than other sectors, so it makes financial sense for the Treasury to invest in flood and coastal erosion risk management.

Mark Robinson

SCAPE, chief executive

How can we move forward?

The public sector is no stranger to the challenges of competing pressures on the limited resources we have at our disposal, but it does require us to think critically about how we work together more effectively; harnessing the knowledge of our industry experts and collaborating to operate across local authority boundaries to deliver essential infrastructure.

To mitigate the risks of future flooding, we have put together a series of recommendations for the construction industry, policymakers and local government to help implement more efficient and effective ways of addressing the impact climate change is having on our inland and coastal flood defences. Central to this is the recommendation to increase Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Funding by 45%, and for local authorities to ring-fence budget so that vital flood defence work is undertaken, not only in terms of new infrastructure but improving the quality of existing assets.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the country today. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time and it needs our immediate and consistent attention. We need to be operating more creatively, whilst taking inspiration from the flood defence strategies other countries implement.

Our ability to work collaboratively will be vital to delivering projects rapidly and effectively. Shared resources are invaluable, and we need to work across administrative boundaries with our neighbours to address this national issue.

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