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Policy context

The policy context for managing flood risk in local authorities.

The Pitt flooding review

Sir Michael Pitt was asked by government to conduct a thorough and independent review of the flooding emergency that took place in June and July 2007 with recommendations as to what might be done differently.

The current arrangements for flood risk management set out in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 were significantly shaped by the Pitt Review.

The Pitt Review: Lessons learned from the 2007 floods – on the Cabinet Office online archives 

Flood and Water Management Act 2010

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (FWMA) aims to help improve flood risk management and ensure the security of water supplies in England and Wales. The Act updates legislation to ensure better protection from flooding, manage water more sustainably, improve public services and secure water resources during periods of drought.

The FWMA creates clearer structures and responsibilities for managing flood and coastal erosion risk .  It improves local leadership by imparting a role on local authorities. County or unitary authorities are classed as Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) who have responsibilities for managing local flood risk. While the Environment Agency is responsible for managing flood risk from main rivers and the sea, the Act also gave the Environment Agency a strategic overview role of all sources of flooding. See the section on roles and responsibilities for further information.

National strategies

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 requires the Environment Agency to develop, maintain, apply and monitor a national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) in England. This was published in 2011.  Further information is contained in the National and local strategy section.

The National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in March 2012, sets out the Government’s policy approach for the planning system to deliver sustainable development.  It sets out the presumption in favour of sustainable development, as well as detailed economic, social and environmental planning policies, including policies for addressing climate change and flood risk.  It also provides the policy approach to plan-making for Local Plans, to neighbourhood planning and to planning decision-taking. The Framework contains a helpful glossary of planning and other related terms, and is supported by on-line planning practice guidance. 

The policies in the NPPF must be taken into account in the preparation of local and neighbourhood plans and, where relevant, are a material consideration in planning decisions.

The NPPF sets out strong planning policy on avoiding and managing risks from flooding, based on the central role of local planning authorities in preparing local plans and in deciding applications for planning permission.

The NPPF makes clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk, but where development is necessary, making it safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere.

Local Plans should be supported by Strategic Flood Risk Assessments and develop policies to manage flood risk from all sources.

Local Plans should apply a sequential, risk-based approach to the location of development to avoid where possible flood risk to people and property and manage any residual risk, taking account of the impacts of climate change, by:

  • applying the Sequential Test
  • if necessary, applying the Exception Test
  • safeguarding land from development that is required for current and future flood management
  • using opportunities offered by new development to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding
  • where climate change is expected to increase flood risk so that some existing development may not be sustainable in the long-term, seeking opportunities to facilitate the relocation of development, including housing, to more sustainable locations.

When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should ensure flood risk is not increased elsewhere.  In areas at risk of flooding, they should only consider development appropriate where, amongst other things,:

  • The application is supported by a site-specific flood risk assessment
  • The Sequential Test and, if necessary, the Exception Test, has/have been applied
  • Development is appropriately flood resilient and resistant
  • It gives priority to the use of sustainable drainage systems.

The NPPF was strengthened with effect from April 2015, with a new expectation that sustainable drainage systems would be provided in all new major developments, regardless of location, unless demonstrated to be inappropriate. 

More about the NPPF – Published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on

Planning practice guidance supporting  the NPPF – published  by DCLG on  

Building regulations

The Department for Communities and Local Government is responsible for policy on Building Regulations. These exist to deliver safe, healthy, accessible and energy efficient buildings.

Part H of the Building Regulations specifically covers drainage. It requires that surface water is infiltrated into the ground if practicable.  If infiltration is not practicable, it should be disposed into a watercourse or, less preferably, to a surface water sewer.  Disposal into a combined sewer is the last resort.

Currently there are no requirements in the Building Regulations themselves for flood resistant and resilient construction. National planning policy is clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided. Where development is necessary, it should be made safe and resilient – and without increasing flood risk elsewhere. Mitigation measures such as defences, landscaping or raising floor levels can sometimes make development acceptable in such areas. Such measures can be made a requirement of any planning consent.

Statutory guidance in Approved Document C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture to the Building Regulations promotes the use of flood resilient and resistant construction in flood prone areas (though this is voluntary as it is not linked to a statutory provision).

Government has worked with the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce BS 85500 Flood resistant and resilient construction. Guide to improving the flood performance of buildings together with a core standard

Government continues to keep the Building Regulations under review, including the issue of flood resilience and resistance. More about Building Regulations – on

EU Floods Directive and the Flood Risk Regulations

The Flood Risk Regulations 2009 transpose the EU Floods Directive into law in England and Wales. The EU Floods Directive aims to provide a consistent approach to flood risk management across all of Europe.  Under these Regulations, there are a series of requirements which take place as part of a six year cycle in the following order:

  • At the beginning of the cycle, LLFAs need to prepare or review their preliminary flood risk assessments (PFRAs) and their determination and identification of Flood Risk Areas.  Then  LLFAs have a duty to prepare or review their flood hazard and flood risk maps for each of their Flood Risk Areas.
  • By the end of the cycle, LLFAs must prepare  flood risk management plans in order to manage significant flood risk in their Flood Risk Areas.  These flood risk management plans should set objectives for flood risk management and outline measures for achieving these objectives.
  • PFRAs, flood hazard,and flood risk maps, and flood risk management plans are published by the Environment Agency.