Surprising though it may seem, 70,000 homes that may be ineligible for Flood Re insurance have been built in the highest risk flood zones (type 3) in England since January 1, 2009.
New research by independent think-tank Bright Blue identifies the number and location of homes at risk in its report High and dry: Preventing tomorrow’s ‘flood ghettos’.
Properties at risk are considered to be uninsurable if they were built after 2008 and are located in postcodes in flood zones (3), whether or not there are flood defences.
The Environment Agency designed flood zones to be used in the planning process as a guide to the likelihood of an area to flood. However, they refer only to the flood risk from rivers and the sea and do not take into account factors such as torrential rainfall or blocked or inadequate drains.
So it is entirely possible for supposedly low-risk areas to experience flooding.
While flood zones 1 and 2 are theoretically at lower risk of flooding, zone 3 carries the highest risk with a 1% or greater chance of flooding from rivers or 0.5% or greater probability of flooding from the sea.
Despite insurance companies collectively contributing £180m per annum to the scheme, Flood Re does not cover properties built after 2008.
Areas at risk of flooding
Although the majority of the 70,000 homes at risk are located in Greater London, other potential flood insurance blackspots include Hull and the Somerset Levels.
20,000 of the properties are situated in areas without flood defences. Lincolnshire, comprising Boston, South Holland and East Lindsey local authority districts, is the county with the highest concentration of defenceless homes at risk.
Around £31b worth of property has been built in flood zones (3) since 2008, although a majority of these homes are protected by the Thames Barrier. Approximately £5b worth is defenceless, the result of hundreds of millions having been spent on building unprotected houses in Lincolnshire, Somerset and Yorkshire.
Furthermore, 3,000 homes are ‘greatly at risk’, since they are not covered by Flood Re insurance and are located in areas where a minimum of half of all properties have a one in three or higher annual risk of flooding, regardless of defences.
The regions in England with the highest number of greater at-risk properties include the area near the confluence of the Quaggy and Ravensbourne rivers in Lewisham; the outskirts of Mexborough near Doncaster; and the area adjacent to where the River Stour branches in central Canterbury.
The report reveals that the number of homes built in flood zones is set to almost double over the next 50 years if current planning rules continue unchanged, according to the Environment Agency. Consequently, there will be increasing numbers of properties at risk which will be ineligible for insurance with Flood Re.
New policy proposals
The report proposes seven new policies to improve public awareness of flooding risk and extend coverage of appropriate insurance as the threat increases due to climate change. They include:
- Reforming the Building Regulations so that all new-build housing in flood zones 2 and 3 have property flood resilience (PFR) measures
- Reforming the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to strengthen the importance of PFR measures
- Requiring all local authorities to monitor and report on the extent to which properties at risk have PFR measures
- Requiring the Government to identify, map and monitor ‘flood risk hotspots’, areas particularly at risk from the effects of widespread flooding.
More public information required
Jackson points out that although government policy over the past decade has regarded the public as being entirely responsible for finding out about their flood risk, many house owners remain simply unaware.
Many of those in communities affected by flooding, she believes, would regard the responsibility to gain an understanding of how flood risk could affect them as an unrealistic expectation. Therefore, the Government needs to take steps to ensure people are properly informed.
Futhermore, Jackson continued, it would be simplistic to assume that home buyers understand not only their flood risk but also their potential uninsurability in a changing climate. Especially when information on future flood risk which could be accessed by the public is not yet available.
The costs of climate change, she stressed, must not be passed on to those least able to afford them.
In Jackson’s opinion, there needs to be a renewed focus on dealing with flood risk as a dynamic, rather than a static issue, and a much stronger acceptance in public policy making that the transition to a flood-resilient society will not happen without government intervention.