Strategies home in on flood factor

Latest climate change predictions suggest that flooding is likely to increase in the future. While the greatest impacts are expected to occur later in the century, there is no room for complacency, says Dearbhla Lawson

New duties under the Floods and Water Act 2010 make considerable changes to the role of upper-tier authorities in planning and development control for flood risk management.

County councils and unitary authorities have been designated as lead local flood authorities (LLFAs). They will be performing a leadership role in local flood risk management. Their involvement also remains essential from a spatial planning perspective, particularly in avoiding inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding.

The background to the new duties is the serious urban flooding back in 2007 and the ensuing Pitt Review, which resulted in the 2010 act. The review identified the need for a stronger leadership role for local government in flood risk management.

Lead authorities have been busy taking forward these new duties, particularly in assessing significant flood risk and undertaking work around surface water flooding. They are duty-bound to contribute towards the achievement of sustainable development in exercising their flood or coastal erosion risk management functions. This duty has a strong relationship with planning. In two-tier areas, it will require more joined-up working on managing flood risk.

One of the key means of exercising this new duty will be through the production of local flood risk management strategies. These will draw together key plans for flood risk, including historic flooding, defences and future changes along with an assessment of flood risk in the area. This will provide a consistent baseline, including identifying objectives and measures for managing and addressing flood risk.

These strategies will be subject to extensive public consultation. Along with the national flood risk management strategy, they will set a statutory framework that will help communities, the public sector and other organisations work together to manage flood risk. 

Importantly, authorities have a duty to act consistently with the strategies. LLFAs and district councils will need to work together so that strategic policies in local plans align with flood strategies. Strategies will also need to be taken into account in deciding on planning applications.

From a planning perspective, local flood risk management strategies will be the key reference document. Until these are finalised, planners will need to refer to the latest information coming through on surface water flooding when considering plan reviews or planning applications.

In Cambridgeshire, surface water management plans have been produced at a strategic level and for five priority locations across the county. These plans have identified "wet spots" where, in some cases, there may be constraints or measures may be needed to address surface water flooding.

If development is proposed in or close to these wet spots, local planning authorities can seek more detailed investigation or ask for specific measures to be undertaken to manage flood risk. Interim guidance is being produced to help guide planners in this regard while our local strategy is in preparation.

A further area where greater co-ordination will be needed is around sustainable drainage systems (SUDs), where LLFAs are expected to take on the approval role later during 2012. This is expected to involve a parallel process to planning permission, where approval will be required prior to commencement of development. Early discussions between LLFAs and local planning authorities are needed to ensure that SUDs are designed in from the start.

LLFAs will need to build capacity to undertake this substantial new role. It will bring resourcing challenges, particularly given current budgetary positions. Further clarity is needed early on how government expects the duty to be implemented. Consultation is expected by the end of this year, with commencement of the duty anticipated next autumn.

Dearbhla Lawson is head of strategic planning at Cambridgeshire County Council.


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