Land management public spending in England fails to address flood risk

Much of England’s public spending on land management takes no account of flood risk or even increases it and dwarfs the outlay on measures that prevent flooding according to recent research findings. The same study – by think tank, Green Alliance – shows that much more is spent on dealing with the effects of flooding rather than its prevention.

Green Alliance concluded that any replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy, post the UK’s exit form the European Union, should reward land management that prevents flooding. And it has called for a dedicated fund for natural flood management projects as well as the establishment of regional catchment management boards “to consolidate decision making powers related to flood risk in a single local body.”

The Green Alliance research findings included: £419m is spent on land management that abates flooding while £1.5bn goes into land management that “ignores or even increases flood risk,” and £269m is spent on hard flood defences while £613m is spent on dealing with the after effects of flooding.

According to Green Alliance, flooding in northern England in 2015 washed away £5 billion from the economy. And that figure could grow 150% by the 2080s were floods to continue to be managed in the same way. In the worst instance, the number of people living in properties exposed to flooding could rise by 98%.

The report, Smarter flood management, condemns what it sees as a lack of support for natural flood management methods. Natural methods, it said, “have been proven to reduce flood risk when used alongside traditional flood defences.”

Rural enterprises director at National Trust, Patrick Begg, said the review of agricultural policy following Brexit creates an opportunity “to create a system that rewards and incentivises farmers and land managers to implement natural solutions to slow the flow of flood waters.”

Begg said farmers were “perfectly positioned” to amend the way they manage land to reduce flooding. “Public money is needed to support farmers in delivering these public benefits,” the alliance added.

Egg went on to say National Trust’ work with the Green Alliance had indicated that it would be possible to set up a new market for services that reduce flood risks and improve water quality.

Senior economist at Green Alliance, Angela Francis, said: “We welcome the government’s announcement of £15 million 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."