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A new approach must be taken to protect from flooding

The flooding of homes, businesses and farmland following Storm Henk has again demonstrated the ever-increasing threat from high rainfall. Simeon Disley, partner at Roythornes Solicitors and head of the firm’s water and flood management team, warns that a new approach must be taken to protect towns and the countryside.

Storm Henk – the eighth named storm since September – has resulted in the flooding of homes, businesses and farmland, imposing a substantial emotional and financial toll on many. Such flooding sadly now seems to be a grim annual event.

With a general election looming, politicians should now acknowledge the unprecedented threat that flooding presents and support innovative approaches to managing this risk.

Clearly, additional money needs to be found for the maintenance and improvements of the existing flood defences and the construction of new defences to cope with the challenge climate change presents. While no one wants to see tax rises, the cost of prevention works are usually less than the cost of damage caused by flooding – and the insurance industry will ultimately penalise those areas without adequate flood prevention. It is in no one's interest for flood insurance cover to be unavailable for certain parts of the country or for the premiums to be at prohibitive rates.

Drainage rates levied by internal drainage boards should be charged on adjacent upland areas to help pay for the management of the rainwater that flows from them. Increased local taxation has been used to fund improvements in the Somerset Levels since the floods of 2014, this example should be copied in other at risk areas.

Responsibility for flood prevention for the majority of towns and countries should stay with the Environment Agency – it is right that the protection of lives is prioritised. Prioritisation of urban areas need not result in rural areas having inadequate flood defences. Making further funds available and the passing of responsibility to regional organisations, such as internal drainage boards, provides the opportunity for local empowerment and delivery of greater efficiencies through partnership with local landowners and other bodies.

The recent example involving improvements to part of the sea defences to The Wash, led by the Witham Fourth District Internal Drainage Board, showed that the value for each pound spent in such a way is greater than that compared to standard public procurement methods. Therefore, what is considered unaffordable under current criteria can become deliverable.

Innovative new approaches to reducing flood risk should be considered constructively. One such scheme is the proposal for a barrier across the mouth of The Wash. While the main aims of the project are to generate hydroelectricity and provide a new port terminal, it offers the opportunity to protect the East Midlands from damaging storm surges. Also, in the case of emergency, the ability is gained to manage tidal flow so more rainwater that has fallen inland can be quickly piped out to sea – alleviating flood risk.

The Climate Change Committee has starkly emphasised the challenges the country is facing from flooding. The government should recognise the significance of these challenges and appoint a “Flood Tsar” who is tasked with ensuring the country can meet these challenges.