The number of UK homes and businesses at significant risk of flooding could be cut by 75% in 2035, through greater investment in defences and better consideration of climate change
In its latest report, the adaptation sub-committee (ASC) of the Climate Change Committee, warns that with climate change likely to double the number of buildings at risk of being flooded in coming decades and increase the incidence of droughts, developers, local authorities and policymakers must take a longer-term view of necessary adaptation.
The ASC reveals that in the past decade the number of properties built on floodplains has grown by 12%, compared to 7% in the rest of England, and at the same time investment in flood prevention and protection has fallen.
In its advice to the government, the ASC argues that if an additional £20 million is spent on flood defences annually and a longer-term approach is taken by planners to flood risks, then the number of properties at high risk of flooding will drop from 330,000 today, to 160,000 in 2035.
However, it warns that if no action is taken to adapt to climate change more than 600,000 properties could be at high risk of being flooded by 2035, and that the annual costs of flood damage could rise from £1 billion today to £1.8–£5.6 billion by the 2080s.
“Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption,” warned Lord John Krebs, chair of the ASC.
“We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts. This can be done by investing more in flood defences, faster roll-out of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure.”
At the launch of the ASC report, the chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, said: “The weather extremes which we’ve seen this year – with widespread floods almost immediately following a long-term drought – have brought the importance of resilience into sharp focus.
“Climate change science tells us that these are the sort of weather patterns we are going to have to get used to, so taking action today to prepare and adapt our homes, businesses, and infrastructure is vital.
“We therefore need government and organisations to work together on long-term solutions to water resources and efficiency … And we must all work together to plan better for surface water flooding after torrential rainfall.”
The report urges the government do to more to encourage greater transparency in the planning sector, revealing that in 35% of cases where the Environment Agency had objected to planning applications due to concerns over flood risks, it was not clear whether the agency’s advice had been acted on.
In its analysis of water scarcity, the report concludes that reducing demand could do more to tackle the threat of water shortages than the efficiency efforts of the water companies.
According to the report, by the 2020s water demand in the UK could outstrip supply by 1.2 billion litres each day. However, the ASC argues that if water consumption rates continue to fall in line with trends from 2000, then 700 million litres could be saved each day.
The sub-committee agrees with previous studies from European Environment Agency and the House of Lord’s sub-committee on agriculture, fisheries and environment, which argue that the costs of water must increase to encourage greater efficiency and that widespread metering must be central to future policies.
“To put in place an effective system to manage demand, the price of water should reflect its availability and how much is used,” it states.
While welcoming the government’s plans to reform the water sector to prevent over-abstraction, as outlined in its Water White Paper, the report warns that government policies on energy and agriculture do not adequately consider water availability, and risk locking the sectors into unsustainable abstraction patterns.