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New approach needed to tackle flooding - EA chief executive

Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan has highlighted the need for a new approach to tackle flooding.

As he revealed that every £1 invested in new flood schemes saves the economy £10 in damages avoided, Bevan told the annual Flood and Coast Conference on 20 March that, despite huge advances in flood protection, what worked so well in the past will not be enough in the future.

Rising sea levels and higher populations in built-up areas will mean new approaches are needed to combat increasing flood risk.

Since 2015, new flood schemes completed by the Environment Agency have benefited more than 100,000 homes but to continue building on this success new 21st century approaches are needed.

These include a call for greater business investment, quicker emergency response and increased use of natural flood schemes, in addition to ‘hard’ defences, in order to reduce the impact of flooding on communities around the country. He questioned how these challenges should be dealt with and suggested that more concrete – simply building flood defences higher and higher – is not the answer.

As he laid out his thoughts on the future of flood protection, Bevan said that tough questions had to be asked about what to protect. He questioned whether there might be a case for considering future funding priorities.

He said that everyone has a part to play to reduce flood risk and that homeowners in flood risk areas should know the risks and what action they can take – and he praised communities and flood groups who have already taken great steps in this area.

Bevan said: "Almost every day in this country, when rivers and tides rise, rain falls and storms blow, thousands of people sleep safe and unaware that they are being protected by flood defences.

"But what works so well now – and has done in the past – may not be enough in the future. Over the next 50 years, if we are going to give the country the best possible protection against flooding, we are going to need a different approach."

The Environment Agency manages flood risk on over 36,000 km of river, 9,000km raised flood defences and over 22,000 flood structures – from the Thames Barrier to local pumping stations. Since 2016, it has upgraded its response capability with more than 6,500 staff trained and ready to help protect communities when floods threaten, 40km of temporary barriers, 250 mobile pumps, and 500,000 sand-bags. Partnerships to help respond during incidents have also been strengthened – including with the army.

Government is investing £2.6BN in flood and coastal erosion risk management projects between 2015 and 2021.

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Flooding & Urban Drainage
Tags: environment agency , flood defences , flooding

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