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 Part 2, I summarised what we found in terms of the practice of local flood risk management.
In Part 3, I summarised what we found in terms of the costs and funding of local flood risk management
In Part 4, I summarised our conclusions.
In this final post, I’ll highlight some of the key considerations for improving local flood risk management.
These reflections are drawn from the evaluation report, which is Crown Copyright (Defra). To view the report itself, click here.
Opportunities for efficiencies and streamlining
There are a number of aspects of local flood risk management where there would appear to be potential to achieve simplification or efficiencies. These include:
- Accessing capital funding. Many stakeholders suggested that the current system for accessing Government funding (Flood Defence Grant in Aid) was ill-suited to local flood risk management schemes and was overly bureaucratic, particularly for smaller schemes. There may be opportunities to streamline this process.
- Partnership working. Efforts to improve partnership working are likely to deliver significant benefits. Where they do not exist already, LLFAs could be encouraged to establish formal partnership structures. Wider benefits and greater impact could also be achieved through enabling LLFAs to engage in partnership work beyond ‘the usual suspects’, e.g. working with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Natural England.
- Joint working by LLFAs. Many LLFAs have benefited from sharing learning and good practice on a regional or sub-regional basis. A smaller number had developed joint working arrangements. Enabling further opportunities for both could deliver efficiencies.
- Data sharing. Data sharing protocols between risk management authorities had been established in some areas. Consideration could be given to facilitation of further such protocols at a regional or national level.
- Strategies and plans. Some stakeholders suggested that the number of plans and other documents relating to flood risk brought about confusion and that there was overlap between them. There may be opportunities to rationalise the number of plans and strategies which are prepared.
- Community resilience. Building community resilience had been a particular challenge for LLFAs. It was apparent that progress in this area requires intensive community development work. Improved partnership working on this, e.g. with emergency planners, the LRF or wider council community development teams, may offer opportunities for increasing the impact of LLFAs in this area.
- Delegation. A minority of LLFAs had delegated the consenting role to Internal Drainage Boards or lower-tier councils. In these cases it had generally been found to have been a cost-effective way of delivering this aspect of the Flood & Water Management Act and therefore could be encouraged elsewhere.
Other issues to consider
A number of other issues were highlighted by the findings from the evaluation, which merit further consideration as part of the future development of the arrangements for local flood risk management in England.
- How can LLFAs be supported in the development of data on the costs and benefits of proposed measures?
- How can local flood risk management strategies be strengthened in terms of their assessment of risks? Is there a need to encourage greater integration between the work on strategies and the work on preliminary flood risk assessments?
- Is the level of variation in approaches to section 19 investigations is detrimental to the management of flood risk or simply allowing LLFAs to adapt the section 19 requirements to their own contexts?
- How can LLFAs be further supported in the development of asset registers? How can good practice approaches to software, data collection and data sharing be shared? Can more use be made of data in the Environment Agency’s AIMS database?
- How can greater consistency in the approaches to consenting on ordinary watercourses be achieved? In particular, how can those LLFAs who are largely neglecting this role at present be supported to take a more proactive approach?
- If byelaws are considered to be an important tool for LLFAs in managing the level of flood risk, is there a need to promote their value and potential uses, and support their creation? How can the current confusion over their use be addressed?
- How can LLFA concerns about the risks of using works powers be addressed so that they are confident in using them?
- Is there a need to revise the fee charged for consenting applications?
- Is the scale of current efforts to build the skills and capabilities of flood risk management staff sufficient? What more might be done to increase the availability of skilled professionals in this field?
- How can LLFAs be further supported in securing partnership contributions for schemes?
- How can LLFAs’ understanding of how the Flood Defence Grant in Aid Capital funding system works be improved?
- Is there a need for further clarification of definitions and responsibilities? For example, is further guidance needed on how to distinguish between surface water sewers and culverted watercourses, or on how responsibilities get divided up between organisations when there are complex interactions within the drainage system? If so, how might this best be provided?
- Is more research needed to understand the extent and causes of under-reporting of flooding incidents and what could be done to address them?
- What more can be done to raise public awareness of the need to report flooding incidents and the process of doing so? Do LLFAs and other risk management authorities need further support in developing the systems for flooding incidents to be reported, recorded and shared with the relevant parties?
- More widely, what more can be done by LLFAs and others to help deliver the cultural shift which is seen to be needed in terms of public expectations and public understanding of flood risk management? How can greater community resilience be delivered?
Please add your comments and further suggestions below. The Government has now issued an Action Plan for local flood risk management (see Annex D of the Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010). Are these proposals sufficient? What else needs to be considered?