Think tank calls for end to ‘perverse’ flood risk funding approach

England’s ‘contradictory’ approach to flood risk sees four times as much money spent on land management that ignores or exacerbates the problem as is invested in solutions, according to a new report.

Green Alliance warns those flaws are compounded by the way resources are allocated with twice as much money being spent on reactive measures than on ‘hard’ flood defences.

The think tank has called for a dedicated fund for natural flood management, regional catchment management boards and for the Common Agricultural Policy’s replacement to ‘reward land management that helps to prevent flooding’.

Together they will help to raise standards in agriculture so practices that help to stop floods become the norm, it said. They will also cut the rising cost of flood defences and post-flood repairs by ‘accelerating development of the evidence base and by improving catchment level governance’.

Green Alliance highlighted the fact that England has seen severe flooding for 13 of the last 16 years. Last year floods cost the economy more than £5bn in the north of England alone.

If the current approach is continued – with ever increasing amounts of public money spent on defences – flood damage could rise by up to 180% by the 2080s.

Last week the government announced £15m for natural measures to prevent flooding as part of £170m of funding in the autumn statement for investment in flood defences and resilience.

System must reward and incentivise

Angela Francis, senior economist at Green Alliance, described the current approach to funding as ‘perverse’: ‘Just by allocating current funding more rationally the government could reduce the burden on the public purse, save vulnerable communities from the misery of flooding, and increase the health of our natural environment.

‘We welcome the government’s announcement of £15m of additional funding for natural flood management, and urge that it be used as an innovation fund to support catchment scale trials of these approaches. This is the only way we can understand how cost effective it could be in preventing and managing floods.’

Patrick Begg, rural enterprises director at National Trust, said Brexit offered a chance to create a system that ‘rewards and incentivises farmers and land managers to implement natural solutions to slow the flow of flood waters’.

He said: ‘Farmers are perfectly positioned to make these small interventions in how they manage land that can have a big impact in reducing flooding, saving us all millions of pounds in the long term.

‘Public money is needed to support farmers in delivering these public benefits. But our own work with Green Alliance suggests that it should also be possible to set up a market for services from farming that today go unrewarded, reducing flood risks, improving water quality and boosting biodiversity.’

Photo by HowardLake

Austin Macauley

Austin Macauley

Editor, Environment Journal

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