Back in the summer of 2014, CAG Consultants, along with HaskoningDHV and Databuild, were commissioned by Defra to carry out an evaluation of the arrangements for managing flood risk in England. Some time has passed since our final report was completed the following summer. However, in the absence of any major changes to the practice of local flood risk management, and following the major floods of winter 2015, the findings of the evaluation are more relevant than ever.
In Part 1, I outlined the purpose and scope of the evaluation, and summarised what we found in terms of how well local councils are delivering their statutory responsibilities in relation to local flood risk management.
In this post, I summarise what we found in terms of the practice of local flood risk management.
In part 3, I’ll summarise what we found in terms of the costs and funding of local flood risk management
In part 4, I’ll summarise our conclusions.
In part 5, I’ll highlight some of the key considerations for improving local flood risk management in future.
These reflections are drawn from the evaluation report, which is Crown Copyright (Defra). To view the report itself, click here.
Local flood risk management in practice
As well as exploring how well the statutory responsibilities were being delivered, our evaluation explored some of the practical issues relating to local flood risk management, including:
- Partnership working;
- Data and information sharing;
- Operational arrangements; and
- Communication and engagement with the public.
Here’s what we found.
Partnership working between local authorities and the Environment Agency was already well established prior to the Flood & Water Management Act, but partnership working with the water companies was limited and inconsistent. The evaluation found that:
- Generally speaking, the Flood & Water Management Act appeared to have led to significant progression in the levels of partnership working between LLFAs, the Environment Agency and water companies, as well as Internal Drainage Boards and lower-tier councils where relevant;
- Collaboration between the different authorities in the preparation of local flood risk management strategies had been a catalyst for wider engagement and joint working;
- Although relations remained problematic in some areas, in some cases, and particularly in more recent years, the evidence suggested that there had been an increase in the level of engagement between water companies and other risk management authorities in most LLFA areas;
- Challenges to partnership working remained. Most commonly, these arose from tensions between partners over the responsibility for assets or flooding incidents; and
- Anecdotal evidence suggested that improved partnership working had led to more flood risk management schemes being delivered, including in situations where individual organisations could not have delivered an effective solution, and schemes being more holistic in their approach, delivering a wider range of benefits.
Data and information sharing
Prior to the Flood & Water Management Act, sharing and collation of data and information for the purposes of local flood risk management was unusual and unlikely to occur on a voluntary basis. The evaluation found that:
- The Flood & Water Management Act had led to an increase in data and information sharing both within LLFAs and between risk management authorities;
- Increased data sharing was reported to have led to greater accuracy and effectiveness in the management of local flood risk and it also appeared to have played a critical role in delivering the requirements of the Act, particularly local flood risk management strategies, asset registers and flood investigations; and
- Commercial sensitivities continued to restrict the sharing of water company data in some areas, but in others the use of data sharing agreements or protocols had facilitated such data being freely shared.
One of the intended outcomes of the Act was that the LLFA would take on a leadership role in managing local flood risk and that this role would be clear, understood and demonstrated. The evaluation found that:
- Most case study stakeholders felt that the LLFA in their area was demonstrating leadership in the management of local flood risks;
- Whilst the LLFA may have been leading, the contribution of other organisations remained crucial in some areas. For example, the Environment Agency were said to be providing a degree of leadership in some cases;
- LLFA leadership was seen to be expressed in a number of ways, including coordination, engaging others, developing a vision for flood risk management and developing projects.
Prior to the Flood & Water Management Act, the evidence suggests that councils were struggling to recruit and retain staff with flood risk management expertise. Less than 30% had staff resource committed full time to local flood risk management. The evaluation found that:
- The Flood & Water Management Act responsibilities and associated new burdens funding led to a significant increase in the level of staff resource committed to local flood risk management;
- However, this varied enormously between LLFAs, e.g., from 0.4 FTE in one case study to 10 FTE in another, with an average of 3.5 FTE;
- In spite of the increased resource available, concerns about funding and in-house capacity remained the most significant concerns among LLFA staff in terms of their ability to manage local flood risk in future years. These concerns were shared by many external stakeholders;
- Concerns also remained about the levels of technical expertise available to LLFAs, with recruitment of specialist staff remaining challenging;
- There had been ongoing improvement in the capability of LLFA staff since 2010 and the capacity building programme is reported by those staff to have played a very important role in this. However, the scale of the programme may be insufficient to address the skills shortages affecting LLFAs.
Communication and engagement with the public
Prior to the Flood & Water Management Act, the evidence suggests that, amongst the public, there was a low level of understanding of flood risk, what was being done about it and by whom, and what role they could play in helping to address the risk. The evaluation found that:
- Most LLFAs had consulted the public on their local flood risk management strategy and more than half had undertaken other communications or consultation activity;
- These consultation efforts appear to have gained limited traction and, as a result, the Act is unlikely to have made a significant difference to the level of public understanding of flood risk and what they can do about it, except in communities which have been directly affected by flooding incidents where more intensive engagement had taken place.
Click here for Part 3, which summarises our findings on the costs and funding of local flood risk management.
And please add your thoughts and comments below. Do these findings tally with your experience? How have things moved on since summer 2015?