Back in the summer of 2014, CAG Consultants, along with HaskoningDHV and Databuild, were commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (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.
This is the first of a series of posts, in which I intend to draw out some of the key findings of the evaluation. These reflections are drawn from the evaluation report, which is Crown Copyright (Defra). To view the report itself, click here. In this post, I’ll explain the purpose and scope of the evaluation, and summarise what we found in terms of how well local councils are delivering their statutory responsibilities in relation to local flood risk management.
In part 2, I’ll 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.
It was estimated that during the summer 2007 floods, two-thirds of the 57,000 properties affected were flooded from local sources. ‘Local sources’ are surface water flooding, groundwater flooding and flooding from ordinary watercourses, i.e. watercourses which are not main rivers, which might include smaller rivers, streams, ditches, drains, cuts, culverts, dikes, sluices and some sewers. At the time there were no mechanisms in place to enable an integrated approach to planning and managing the impacts of flooding from these sources.
The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (Flood & Water Management Act) ushered in a new era. It contained provisions to implement some of the recommendations from Sir Michael Pitt’s earlier review of the lessons to be learned from the 2007 floods, including a number of measures aimed at improving the management of flood risks from local sources.
The Flood & Water Management Act made unitary authorities and county councils (i.e. upper-tier authorities) the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) for their area. Their role involves:
- Developing a local flood risk management strategy;
- Co-operating with other risk management authorities;
- Investigating flooding in its area where appropriate;
- Maintaining a register and record of structures that are significant for flood risk;
- Consenting on ordinary watercourses (those wishing to carry out certain works on ordinary watercourses must seek the prior approval from the relevant LLFA or, if within an internal drainage district, the Internal Drainage Board); and
- Making byelaws for managing flood risk and carrying out works to manage flood risk from surface water and groundwater.
Objectives of the evaluation
The objectives of the evaluation were to:
- Assess the impact of the changes introduced through the Flood & Water Management Act in relation to the management of local flood risks;
- Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of LLFAs as a whole;
- Identify good practice in the way in which LLFAs have delivered their responsibilities, including identifying factors which support and those which act as barriers to improved local flood risk management; and
- Identify the scope for simplification or efficiencies in the definition or delivery of the relevant statutory responsibilities.
The scope of the evaluation did not include making recommendations for improving local flood risk management. However, we did identify areas of strength and weakness, examples of good practice, opportunities for improving practice and we raised a number of key questions which we felt merited further consideration in the ongoing development of local flood risk management in England. All of this can be found in Part 5.
The evaluation was theory-based and had three principal research phases:
- Phase one: Inception and scoping. During this phase, contextual research was conducted and the theoretical framework and methodology for the evaluation were developed.
- Phase two: Overview research. This sought to develop an overview of the impact of the changes introduced by the Flood & Water Management Act and of the effectiveness and efficiency of LLFAs as whole. During this phase, the outputs produced by LLFAs (flood risk management strategies, flood investigations etc) were reviewed, and online and telephone surveys of LLFA representatives were conducted.
- Phase three: In-depth qualitative research. This provided greater depth to our exploration of the evaluation questions, including exploring good practice and identifying opportunities for simplification and efficiencies. In-depth case studies of 30 LLFAs were carried out.
So what did we find? Below, I summarise what we found in terms of how well local councils are delivering their statutory responsibilities. In part 2, I’ll summarise what we found in terms of the practice of local flood risk management.
Delivery of statutory responsibilities
Local flood risk management strategies
Our evaluation findings suggest that prior to 2010 there was limited understanding of the extent and nature of flood risk from local sources. The approach to managing risks from such sources was inconsistent, with only a minority of councils proactively managing these risks. The evaluation found that:
- The Flood & Water Management Act requirement to produce local flood risk management strategies has led to a more comprehensive understanding of local flood risk and a more proactive and coordinated management of this risk;
- There was anecdotal evidence that actions implemented as a result of local flood risk management strategies being developed had reduced flood risk;
- There were widespread perceived benefits in terms of improved collaboration between risk management authorities and improved prioritisation of action to address local flood risk;
- At the time of the research (spring 2015), a significant percentage of LLFAs had not yet published their strategy; and
- Whilst most strategies were consistent with statutory requirements, a considerable number of them were weak in terms of identifying the costs and benefits of the measures proposed, which may undermine LLFAs’ ability to deliver their strategy commitments in future.
Prior to 2010, investigation of flooding was patchy and inconsistent, particularly where surface water was the cause or where multiple sources were responsible. The results of investigations were rarely made public or shared between risk management authorities. The evaluation found that:
- Overall, the Flood & Water Management Act appeared to have led to a step-change in the investigation of flooding incidents;
- As a result of the Flood & Water Management Act, most floods regarded as significant by LLFAs were now investigated and followed up;
- This is reported to have helped build a greater understanding of risks, and has, in many cases, enabled responses to be developed and provided reassurance to affected communities;
- There are variations in the criteria and thresholds used for triggering investigations which, coupled with the variations in the incidence of flooding incidents, has led to huge variations in the numbers of investigations being carried out by LLFAs; and
- The level of detail being applied to flood investigations was also reported to be inconsistent.
Registers of flood risk features (or ‘asset registers’)
Before the Flood & Water Management Act, there was no consistency in the recording of data on local flood risk assets. Collation of asset data by local authorities for the purposes of flood risk assessment was unusual. This was particularly true of data on non local authority-owned assets and data on the condition of assets. The evaluation found that:
- Most stakeholders interviewed believed that asset registers were, or in future could be, useful and effective tools in the management of local flood risk, e.g., through highlighting assets which are problematic or in need of repair, highlighting the need for maintenance work, facilitating flood investigation work, allowing more effective input to planning applications and pre-application planning advice and helping in the response to flooding incidents or severe weather warnings;
- Some LLFAs had made very significant progress in setting up and populating their asset register, and were already benefiting from having done so;
- Some LLFAs had not developed an asset register at all, others had very limited registers and most asset registers required considerable further work for them to become of use in the kinds of ways described above; and
- Little use is being made of asset registers by other risk management authorities.
Consenting on ordinary watercourses
Prior to the Flood & Water Management Act, there was no role for local authorities in consenting on the ordinary watercourse network. The evaluation found that:
- In some cases, LLFAs or the authorities to whom they had delegated powers, used the consenting function to proactively manage activities which might have affected flood risk from ordinary watercourses and viewed this role as extremely important;
- In such cases, giving LLFAs responsibility for consenting on ordinary watercourses outside of internal drainage districts, appeared to have generated significant benefits. It had allowed their local knowledge to be utilised and provided the opportunity, at least in unitary authorities, for greater integration with the planning system;
- There was a variation in approaches, levels of consenting activity and levels of resources committed to the consenting role, including some LLFAs who had effectively not taken up this role.
Byelaws and works powers
The evaluation found that:
- The powers to create byelaws and the powers to carry out works (except in the case of flood risk management schemes) appeared to have been little used by LLFAs but the value in having these powers was recognised by many stakeholders;
- More than half of LLFAs had considered introducing byelaws and a small number were actively pursuing this;
- There was a degree of misunderstanding about the process to make and confirm byelaws;
- There was a reluctance to make use of works powers due to the perceived risks involved. However, these powers had been referred to in negotiations with landowners about getting necessary works done and were reported to be an effective negotiating tool.
Click here for Part 2, which summarises our findings in terms of local flood risk management in practice.
And please add your thoughts and comments below. Do these findings tally with your experience? How have things moved on since summer 2015?