Flood risk communities may have to be moved, says minister

The government is to publish a long-term flooding and coastal erosion policy statement that will 'explore new philosophies' around the issue, including the possible need to 'help people and communities move out of harm's way', environment secretary Michael Gove has said.

Environment secretary Michael Gove
Environment secretary Michael Gove

Yesterday, Gove launched the Met Office’s UK Climate Projections 2018 document, described by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as "the UK’s most comprehensive picture yet of how the climate could change over the next century".

According to the Met Office, the document, which updates a previous 2009 version, is designed "to help decision-makers assess their risk exposure to climate".

Among the various scenarios outlined, the document says that sea levels in London could rise by up to 1.15 metres by 2100. It also says that average summer rainfall across the UK could decrease by up to 47 per cent by 2070, while there could be up to 35 per cent more precipitation in winter.

Speaking at the launch of the document, Gove said that as the risk of flooding and coastal erosion increases, "we need a new long-term approach".

He said that the government will publish a long-term policy statement next year, while the Environment Agency will issue a new 50-year strategy, also next year. "I believe these should explore new philosophies around flood and coast management," he said.

Gove said there is a "need to achieve a balance between limiting the likelihood of flooding and upgrading our resilience to it when it happens".

"In other words, exploring how much to spend on reducing the risks that homes and businesses will flood, and how much to spend on helping people to cope if and when they are flooded. It will not always be possible to prevent every flood. We cannot build defences to protect every single building or reinforce every retreating coastline," the minister said.

Gove added that government will be "looking at ways we can encourage every local area to strive for greater overall resilience that takes into account all the different levers, from land-use planning to better water storage upstream, and tackles both flood prevention and response".

"We need our communities and infrastructure to be better prepared for floods and coastal change so that they recover more quickly from the damage and disruption and, where necessary, to help people and communities move out of harm’s way," he said.

Elsewhere, Gove said that the government will this week lay before Parliament its new draft national policy statement for water resources infrastructure, "setting out how we will expedite the construction of new infrastructure, like water transfers and reservoirs".

Last year, the government's advisory body on climate change said that climate change had been "deprioritised" in the planning system, partly due to pressure to boost the delivery of new homes.

In May, a report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) urged councils to include proposals for improving the flood resilience of existing buildings in their local plans.

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