Call for stiffer planning rules as flood plain permissions soar

Ahead of the UK’s Flood Action Week a leading property insurer has warned that the ongoing construction of homes on flood plains is unsustainable.

The report commissioned by LV= General Insurance (LV= GI), and independent think tank Localis found this year alone over 5,000 new homes in areas at the highest risk of flooding have been approved to be built.

Detailed analysis of over 16,000 planning applications has identified the number of granted planning permissions in an effort to highlight the issue. With climate change set to worsen, coupled with pressures to build more homes across the UK, the concern is this could leave millions of homeowners at risk of experiencing the trauma of a flooded home.

As the Government pauses its plans to reform the planning system, LV= GI and Localis are calling for a change to stop high-risk flood development. A long-term holistic approach to flooding should be developed, with property developers, insurers and local authorities working together to tackle the issue of building on floodplains to protect consumers.

Martin Milliner, Claims Director at LV= General Insurance says “Climate change will increase the UK’s exposure to weather-related hazards such as flooding, and it’s vital we prepare for this. Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to increase housing we have concerns about the UK’s resilience to future flood events, and in particular the number of new housing developments in flood risk areas that are still receiving approval. With those involved in the planning process ignoring the current guidance, this runs the risk of putting an ever-increasing number of communities at risk.

“Flooding is an extremely traumatic event which has a devasting impact on a person’s life, both physically and mentally. This research highlights a concerning amount of current and future development in high flood risk areas. To tackle this, we need to come together and develop a holistic approach to flooding for the long term, with property developers, insurers and Government – both nationally and locally – tackling the issue of building on floodplains.”

The report revealed almost 200 planning permissions have been granted for 5,283 new homes in the highest-risk local authorities in the country, with the majority (4,255) in areas pre-identified as highly likely to flood.

The most affected regions are Yorkshire and The Humber and the East Midlands, with nearly half of these homes situated on a major new development on a floodplain in North Lincolnshire. In the top five local authorities at risk of flooding – South Holland, Boston, Fenland, Runnymede and King’s Lynn & West Norfolk – a third (31%) of approved planning permissions for new residential buildings on floodplains didn’t come with a Flood Risk Assessment – a review of a development in its planning stage to assess the risk of flooding.

According to existing data, nearly 20% of all properties across England (5.2 million) are at risk of flooding, with 2.4 million properties on floodplains. Worryingly, in the last decade floodplain development has increased by 12%5, and with a growing population and the overwhelming need for new homes, England is likely to see properties built in areas at high risk of flooding almost double – an increase from 2.4 million to 4.6 million – over the next 50 years.

“Not only does flood damage cause significant disruption and ruin people’s homes and possessions, it also costs an estimated £1.1 billion per year in England,” stated the report.

According to LV= GI, the average cost of repairing a flood damaged home is approximately £32,000 with the most common cause of flood damage this year due to drains unable to cope with the amount of surface water.

While some properties are protected by Flood Re – an agreement between the Government and insurers to cover homes with significant flooding risk – this does not include properties built since 2009. This cut-off point was introduced to act as a deterrent to developers building in flood risk areas, but as developments continue this does not seemed to have worked, putting many newbuild homeowners in jeopardy.

With flooding events increasing, this is worsened by the fact that only 12% of local authorities strongly agree they have the skills and expertise to understand flood risk when making planning decisions – now and in the future. Despite over 60% of councils declaring climate emergencies, local authorities have a critical shortage of skills and expertise in relation to planning for climate change.

Jonathan Werran, Chief Executive at Localis added: “There is a clear need to reset government policy and regulation to prevent an otherwise unavoidable 50% uptick in the numbers of houses being built on floodplains over the next half century.

“At the same time, with climate change another unavoidable reality, we need to strengthen communities to become resilient in adapting to, living with and responding to flood pressures.”

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