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LGA submission to DEFRA's call for evidence: Local factors in managing flood and coastal erosion risk and Property Flood Resilience 29 March 2021

Councils are well placed to lead a local approach to flood defence, using their local knowledge to ensure that money is directed towards projects that best reflect local needs, including protecting key roads and bridges to keep residents and businesses moving.

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1. About the Local Government Association (LGA)

1.1.    The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.  

1.2.    Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

2. Summary

2.1.    Councils are well placed to lead a local approach to flood defence, using their local knowledge to ensure that money is directed towards projects that best reflect local needs, including protecting key roads and bridges to keep residents and businesses moving. We are calling for funding for flood defences to be devolved to local areas and sit within a new national framework for addressing the climate emergency.

2.2.    Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) were established in 2010 in county and unitary areas. Their roles include development of a local flood risk management strategy, investigating flood incidents and as statutory consultees, providing technical advice on surface water drainage to local planning authorities. Funding for LLFAs moved from a Grant Funding model to be included in the Revenue Support Grant allocations. In the financial year 2021/2022 there are no “visible funding lines” in the individual council finance settlements from government, a position supported by the LGA. While it is right that spending decisions are made locally, we remain concerned about the ability of councils to cover their statutory responsibilities on flooding. The LGA supports the view of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra) that ‘While it is for local authorities to take local decisions, central Government must ensure that they are properly resourced to implement their existing functions and the Government’s new flooding policies.” The LGA also supports the recommendation of the Efra committee that “The Government should set out details on the scope and timescale of its planned review of funding for local government flood risk functions.”

2.3.    The new national flooding and coastal erosion strategy from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency will need to be reflected locally in plans and strategies. This will require new skills and technical knowledge, such as natural flood management. The LGA would like to work with Government on how councils will be supported to lead and implement the new strategy locally. 

2.4.    The current funding model for flood and coastal erosion risk management is overly complicated and not designed to deliver local priorities. The complexity of the process for applying for Grant in Aid (GiA) and local levy funding can result in a situation where it is not justifiable, from a resource perspective, to seek contributions from these sources. This is particularly the case for small schemes when the actual amount needed is relatively small. Securing contributions to develop schemes as well as securing contributions to maintain schemes are time and resource consuming. There is a general feeling by potential private sector contributors that maintenance should be the responsibility of the Environment Agency, which makes it difficult to obtain contributions from other sources.[i]

2.5.    Securing contributions, or a commitment to contribute, is challenging at early stages of a scheme when a full business case is not yet approved. GiA funding is not approved until partnership funding requirements have been met and therefore projects can find themselves in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation where both sets of funding need to be in place for the remaining funding to be made available.

2.6.    Moving to a block grant funding approach and allowing local authorities to self-assure small projects would be far more beneficial for smaller scale projects and local priorities. In areas that experience regular and/or severe flooding events the grant formulas would need to reflect these local circumstances to ensure access to enough funding. 

2.7.    The LGA would like to see building regulations changed to include mandatory flood protection measures for new properties. These would require developers to introduce measures like raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring, sealed floors, and raised damp-proof courses.

2.8.    The planning system must also have public participation at its heart, enabling councils to deliver resilient, prosperous places that meet the needs of their communities. Our message to Government is that reform of the planning system must not take further powers away from communities and councils. This will only deprive them of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risks giving developers the freedom to ignore the wishes of local communities. 

2.9.    Many local authorities in areas susceptible to flooding or coastal erosion are finding the dichotomy of delivering housing targets and protecting businesses and residents from an increased risk of flooding challenging. It is important that any review of the planning system, because of the Planning for the Future White Paper, considers the potential impact new development may have on flood risk either in the vicinity of the development, in the neighbouring areas or further down the river catchment. It also needs to consider how housing development can adapt to climate changes and an increased risk of flooding.

2.10.    Nationally, the successful delivery of flood and coastal erosion risk management and property flood resilience is only going to be successful with increased cooperation and cross border partnership working. The EA and water companies need to factor in more frequent and senior engagement with local authorities into their business model immediately. Long term plans should be developed with the Local Authorities both directly impacted and neighbouring and need to be flexible enough to respond to local flooding issues when they occur. 

Council’s role in the future allocation of flood and coastal erosion risk management funding. Report prepared by Risk & Policy Analysts, for the Local Government Association.

3. Answers to consultation questions

Communities frequently flooded

Q6. How could we define frequently/repeatedly flooded communities for the purposes of the investment programme? 

Q7. Drawing on evidence, should we consider a community’s historic frequent flooding in the funding or prioritisation of schemes?

Q8. What evidence (other than that referenced in pages 12-13 of the Call for Evidence document) should we draw upon when considering whether a community that has experienced frequent flooding in the past should carry additional weight?

Answer to Questions 6 - 8

Any community that has been flooded more than once should be considered for support from the investment programme. Scale of investment should consider the frequency and degree of flooding experienced as well as the measures that are appropriate for alleviation. Historic frequent flooding should be considered in the funding or prioritisation of schemes. Measures already installed should be a consideration when determining the level of funding and types of schemes i.e. the likelihood of further flooding. Local authorities understand their local area very well and as such should be primary consultees when considering the likelihood of future flooding events and what effect they are likely to have on a community.

Q9. In addition to the approaches of (1) giving extra weight in the policy to flood schemes that better protect properties that have been frequently flooded in the past; (2) counting damages to previously flooded properties in the Partnership Funding calculator; and (3) prioritising previously flooded communities through local choices (pages 13-14 of the Call for Evidence document), what other approach(es) could improve the resilience of communities that have been frequently flooded? 

Q10. What are the advantages of these approaches (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 9)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Q11. What are the disadvantages of these approaches (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 9)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Answer to Questions 9-11 

Land abandonment also needs to be considered as an alternative option to those presented in question 9. Rewilding and relocating homes and businesses may be a more cost-effective option and one that doesn’t pass the problem on further down the line. 

If modelling suggests the frequency of the flood events will increase in an area already experiencing frequent flood events and the only defensive option is physical, this could cause the flooding to occur in another local area, previously considered unlikely to flood. In areas at risk from river flooding the approach must be based on catchment areas. In some other areas, land abandonment and relocation of homes and businesses could be the most cost effective and sensible option available.

 

Land abandonment is likely to have the greatest environmental benefit but will significantly impact the home and business owners directly affected. The economic impact can be resolved but the social and psychological impact will need to be managed sensitively. Any future land abandonment policy needs to be supported with a funding stream that can adequately facilitate the relocation of homes and businesses.



Q12. Of the approaches provided, and your own, which do you consider the most suitable, if any, and why?

A. Probably option 3, however options may be best considered on a case by case basis, in discussion with the local authority.

Economically vulnerable and small communities

Q13. How difficult is it for economically vulnerable and small communities to secure grant in aid for flood and coastal defence schemes? Please detail sources of national and representative data that we should draw upon when assessing the nature and scale of the issue. 

A. Economically vulnerable and small communities struggle to access grant in aid funding often because of the difficulty in securing private sector contributions.

Q14. In addition to developing a measure on local economic circumstances, what other approaches could provide better flood and coastal erosion resilience for economically vulnerable and small communities in the flood and coastal defence programme? 

Q15. What are the advantages of developing a measure on local economic circumstances (in addition to any other approaches you suggested in response to question 14)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Q16. What are the disadvantages of developing a measure on local economic circumstances (in addition to any other approaches you suggested in response to question 14)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Answer to Questions 14-16 collectively 

Local authorities should be responsible for managing the grant in aid funding for local flood resilience measures for a multitude of reasons. They are more able to obtain any necessary match funding through established and maintained relationships in their community. Local authorities up and down the country have proved repeatedly that they are very capable of implementing flood resilience measures both large scale and smaller scale such as Sustainable Urban Drainage systems (SUDs). Examples include Project SPONGE 2020 in Somerset[ii]  and the Renfrew Close Rain Gardens in Newham[iii] 

Projects delivered locally by local authorities forming partnerships have the added benefit of investing in the local economy and ensuring local ownership of the scheme. The Stroud SuDs project for example works with landowners, farmers, local community flood groups and partner organisations to implement a range of measures that will reduce flood risk but also enhance the natural environment for all users. Local authorities are perfectly placed to manage these approaches as they know their community’s strengths and they have the community’s trust.

Q17. What indicators could we use to measure potential economic growth benefits and to inform the prioritisation of flood and coastal erosion schemes for the award of grant in aid?

A. Other options in addition to those identified in Figure 2 could include rateable value or community integration (the number of livelihoods protected)

Resistance measures for properties and communities

Q18. In addition to work referenced in the Call for Evidence document (page 23), what other evidence should we draw upon to consider the cost effectiveness and practicality of encouraging the uptake of flood resistance measures in the flood and coastal defence investment programme? 

No evidence to submit

Q19. What are the key challenges in delivering flood resistance measures in the flood and coastal defence investment programme? 

Q20. What lessons should we learn about what has worked well in delivering flood resistance measures in the flood and coastal defence investment programme, and what has not worked well, in the past?

Answer to questions 19 & 20

Property flood resistance measures require property owners to agree to the installation of measures. The challenge is the cost and disruption caused by the implementation of measures outweighing the likelihood of a significant flooding incident occurring. Local authorities need to lead flood resilience programmes. They understand the area, the communities, they are a trusted voice and they know what approaches work and don’t work in their community. 

Q21. In addition to the approaches of (1) reducing the household eligibility restriction (such that grant in aid is available for households in both the very significant and significant risk bands) and (2) increasing the underlying payment rate for Property Flood Resilience measures, what other approach(es) could accelerate the uptake of Property Flood Resilience as part of the flood and coastal defence investment programme? 

Q22. What are the advantages of these approaches (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 21)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Answer to question 21 & 22

It is important to understand the point of entry options when considering property flood resilience. Some flood resilience measures can be disruptive and therefore an opportunity window needs to be identified. This could be when other structural or non-structural decorative works are taking place, at point of sale or purchase, or for let properties, the point of tenancy change. The advantages of this approach is that disruption to the household is kept to a minimum and a record of measures taken could be collected easier. 

Q23. What are the disadvantages of these approaches (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 21)? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

A. The disadvantages of this approach are these opportunities may not come around very often.

Inefficiencies caused by the length of time taken to develop schemes

Q24. What good practice examples can you cite from the way infrastructure delivery programmes operate in other sectors, both in public and private spheres?

A. Local authorities have countless examples of excellent infrastructure delivery programmes, such as the i54 western extension on the county border of Staffordshire and the City of Wolverhampton, the Wakefield Eastern Relief Road scheme, improving air quality and accelerating the delivery of 2,500 new homes and the Bedford High Street Townscape Heritage Initiative restoring 16 properties and delivering 36 new residential dwellings. The LGA would be happy to provide further detail on these examples and more case studies can be found on our website.

Q25. Drawing on evidence, what are the key factors that delay flood and coastal defence projects at Strategic Outline Business Case, Outline Business Case and Full Business Case stages?

No evidence to submit

Q26. How could clearer or more transparent information about the progress of a flood and coastal defence scheme through its approval stages help drive progress and encourage wider contributions?

A. Securing contributions, or a commitment to contribute, is challenging at early stages of a scheme when a full business case is not yet approved. Partnership funding is often key to the successful delivery of flood and coastal defence schemes but securing contributions from the private sector is challenging for a few reasons. One reason is that the private sector contributors are often unwilling to contribute in advance of the scheme having full approval. Continued dialogue throughout the approval process should help to build confidence with potential contributors and help secure a more favourable outcome.  

Q27. What incentives could be applied in relation to the Partnership Funding policy or appraisal policy to encourage wider financial contributions to come forward early on and in a timely manner?

Q28. In addition to the approaches listed on page 27 of the Call for Evidence document, what other approach(es) could encourage the more timely development of projects as part of the flood and coastal defence investment programme?

Q29. What are the advantages of the different approaches set out on page 27 of the Call for Evidence document (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 28) for encouraging the more timely development of projects? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

Answer to questions 27 - 29

Local authorities understand their communities and if Grant in Aid funding was administered and managed through the local authority, partnership funding contributions are likely to come forward. Local authorities have several levers they can pull to incentivise partnership funding such as celebrating community activity. This is far more achievable at a local level due to the relationships already formed and ongoing rather than national bodies spending a finite time engaging and then moving on.

Local authorities are best placed to deliver flood resilience measures as they understand their area and their communities, and they know who to engage with and when. They are a trusted body which is often key to delivery successful projects in a community. They can look at the entire river or coastal catchment area and deploy a variety of measures including SUD’s, flood resilience and flood resistance measures in a timely manner. 

Each of the approaches set out on page 27 are key to the success of flood resistance and flood resilience programmes but the key to the programme’s success depends on who is delivering the programme.

Q30. What are the disadvantages of the different approaches set out on page 27 of the Call for Evidence document (in addition to other approach(es) you suggested in response to question 28) for encouraging the more timely development of projects? Please refer to social, health, economic and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of implementing and undertaking the approaches. In your response, please outline which approach(es) you are referring to.

No evidence to submit

Q31. How could we assess the potential, and apply it to the grant in aid formula, for some level of wider contributions towards flood and coastal defence schemes that may be eligible for 100% grant in aid funding (such as in areas where the economy is dynamic or there are beneficiaries who could contribute)?

A. Local authorities understand their local area very well and are best placed to advise on individual projects, or better still, deliver the projects

Metrics and reporting

Q32. What, if any, are the anticipated difficulties with collecting data against the additional items in Figure 5 (page 31 of the Call for Evidence document)? What are the reasons for the difficulties and how could they be overcome? In your response, please outline which specific datum you are referring to.

A. Local authorities have access to the majority of this data and this is another reason they should be delivering Grant in Aid funding and reporting back into a central reporting system.

Q33. What, if any, additional data (other than those in Figures 4 and 5 (pages 30 and 31 of the Call for Evidence document) could be recorded to monitor improvements and report progress of our flood and coastal defence programme? In your response, please detail what these data will help to track and what readily available sources could be used to support the provision of these data.

No evidence to submit

Property Flood Resilience Policy

Answer to questions 34 – 38 collectively

The LGA recognises the importance of Property Flood Resilience measures but local councils would require government to provide the necessary resources if they are to support the installation of these measures. To date, support to deliver these measures has only been one-off funding for pilot schemes, which isn’t sufficient for a longer-term strategic approach.

Councils are already struggling to deliver their statutory responsibilities on flooding due to financial pressures. A full and detailed assessment of the resources required from councils and how a programme would be delivered would be required ahead of any national proposal. In the meantime, we support sharing and learning from pilots and opportunities to implement at a local level.

The current funding model for flood and coastal erosion risk management is overly complicated and not designed to deliver local priorities. Moving to a block grant funding approach and allowing local authorities to self-assure small projects would be far more beneficial for smaller scale projects and local priorities. In areas that experience regular and/or severe flooding events the grant formulas would need to reflect these local circumstances to ensure access to enough funding.

The LGA would like to see building regulations changed to include mandatory flood protection measures for new properties. These would require developers to introduce measures like raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring, sealed floors, and raised damp-proof courses.

reform of the planning system must not take further powers away from communities and councils.

Nationally prescribed permitted development rights remove the ability of councils and local communities to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to a high standard with the necessary infrastructure in place. (Feedback from councils is that national prescribed permitted development rights could also exacerbate local flood risk through the inappropriate use of non-porous materials on floodplains, and the cumulative effect this has on a local area).

[i] Council’s role in the future allocation of flood and coastal erosion risk management funding. Report prepared by Risk & Policy Analysts, for the Local Government Association.

[ii] https://www.stroud.gov.uk/environment/flooding-and-drainage/stroud-rural-sustainable-drainage-rsuds-project

[iii] https://www.susdrain.org/case-studies/case_studies/renfrew_close_london.html