ADA’s view on England’s new floods policy

ADA’s view on England’s new floods policy

ADA has broadly welcomed both the new National Flood & Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Strategy and Defra FCERM Policy Statement, which were published together by the Government on 14 July 2020. The Strategy was endorsed by Parliament on 25 September.

Their publication comes after considerable work towards the refresh of the FCERM Strategy by a wide range of partners, including ADA and our members. Taken together the Strategy and Policy Statement express a wider ambition to deliver much more as we face the consequences of a changing climate.

The overall goal as a nation is clearly set out in the policy statement:

“To create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk and in doing so, reduce the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy”

 Now, as a sector, we will all be judged against this written ambition through our collective actions to deliver it.

ADA covered the principles of the National FCERM Strategy update in some detail in the Spring 2020 Gazette and the sense of the three core objectives remains unchanged in the final version:

  • Climate resilient places: working with partners to bolster resilience to flooding and coastal change across the nation, both now and in the face of climate change
  • Today’s growth and infrastructure resilient in tomorrow’s climate: Making the right investment and planning decisions to secure sustainable growth and environmental improvements, as well as resilient infrastructure.
  • A nation ready to respond and adapt to flooding and coastal change: Ensuring local people understand their risk to flooding and coastal change, and know their responsibilities and how to take action.

But Defra’s Policy Statement gives us a further taste of the Government’s appetite for change within our sector. The five main policy areas cover:

  • Upgrading and expanding national flood defences and infrastructure.
  • Managing the flow of water more effectively.
  • Harnessing the power of nature to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk and achieve multiple benefits.
  • Better preparing communities.
  • Enabling more resilient places through a catchment based approach.

ADA very much welcomes the sub-section (p16-17) on maintenance and the specific reference to the important role of local bodies (IDBs and local authorities), working alongside the Environment Agency. It commits the Government to ensuring that there is a long-term approach to maintain our network of flood defences across England, through a combination of investment and action by all RMAs, government, riparian owners and wider beneficiaries. It also states that the Government will commence by 2021 a review of the statutory powers and responsibilities to map, monitor, inspect and maintain all assets. This will aim to ensure that responsibilities are clear and that there are effective powers in place to enable inspection and maintenance to be undertaken.

There are also three specific actions focused on IDBs, looking at the role of local authority appointed members, guidance around IDBs’ environmental responsibilities and duties, and Defra’s continued evaluation of progress on IDB governance to decide whether further actions are needed. ADA will be pleased to support IDBs in all three areas. We encourage all IDBs to make sure they are reviewing their own organisation to ensure they have the scale and capabilities needed for the future, taking opportunities to form larger Boards within sub-catchments where mutually beneficial.

Elsewhere within the Policy Statement ADA is particularly interested in working to support Defra’s objective to consider ways to encourage and enable farmers to design and build water storage facilities in a way that can also provide additional benefits to support flood management.

Investing in skills for the future

Weaving a crucial web through both documents is the social, economic and natural environment with all three elements working together for our future prosperity. The forthcoming Environment Bill will add further direction to the way in which we all need to deliver results and improve the environment in which we live.

One of the significant challenges we now face is having the breadth and depth of skills needed to deliver the ambition and more immediately, deliver the significantly increased £5.2 billion of capital expenditure committed to by Government through to 2027. We had just enough resources to deliver the £2.6 billion of outcomes for the last spending period and without sufficient skilled and experienced people engaged across the sector it will be challenging to deliver this doubling of investment.

Whilst we can make effective use of the private sector to assist, it is essential that all Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) are properly resourced to act as an “intelligent client”. Unfortunately, at a local level many of them are currently well below the critical resources needed. Some progress has been made in training new recruits to our sector, but much more needs to be done to attract people into our fascinating and vital field of work.

This is where the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) could make a difference by enabling all RMAs to create a broad range of jobs, countrywide, in FCERM. In particular, jobs that help us deliver the day-to-day operation and maintenance activities of all our existing FCERM assets. There are considerable concerns arising from COVID-19 around rising unemployment levels. What better an opportunity is there for the Government to inspire a new generation of climate literate young people into the FCERM sector, and secure them the fulfilling jobs that they deserve and we need as a nation.

Our ask, is to make sure all ADA members is to collectively commit to real, tangible actions in support of the Strategy’s ambitions, and answer one question. What are you able to contribute through your own business plans for the communities with which you work?