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Improving flood protection for new housing developments

Oct 13, 2022

By Laura Potts MRTPI, Planning Consultant, CAD Planning

The effects of flooding are devastating, not only in the damage that they wreak but also in the emotional distress they cause to homeowners. Now, the government is taking steps to ensure that all new housing developments are built in ways that minimise the risk of flooding in the future.

What is the scale of the problem?

It seems that every winter, the news headlines feature more major flooding incidents – and more scenes of shell-shocked victims being evacuated from their homes.

The UK statistics on flooding paint a sobering picture:

· More than 5 million properties in England are at risk from flooding. The Environment Agency has said that if current planning outcomes were to continue, this number could double over the next 50 years.

· The sources of flooding include rivers, the sea, surface water and groundwater. Some properties are at risk from more than one source of flooding.

· This scenario could be exacerbated by climate change. According to the Met Office, from the start of the observational record in 1862, six out of the ten wettest years across the UK have occurred since 1998.

· Between 2015 and 2021, the Government spent £2.6 billion on flood defences. For the period from 2021 to 2027, it is planned that this spend will double to £5.2 billion.

What new action is being taken?

Updated planning guidance published in August 2022 will help councils make sure that developments meet strict criteria in locations at risk of flooding before they are approved, to ensure local communities aren’t negatively impacted as a result.

The move aims to ensure that developers across England can adapt to the challenges of a changing climate and that new homes are sustainable for the future.

Councils will need to demonstrate that the development will be safe from flooding for its lifetime, will not increase flood risk elsewhere, and where possible will reduce flood risk overall. This, the government says, will help make sure our homes and neighbourhoods are built to last for generations to come.

Under the changes to the planning practice guidance developments, councils will be better placed to apply government policy. Where new homes are in areas known to be at risk of flooding, developers must show they meet recommended standards on flood resilience – for example, using flood resistant building materials or moving plug sockets higher up walls.

Local areas will also have access to better guidance on how to control surface water run-off, with the use of sustainable drainage systems to enhance the quantity and quality of water in the region, as well as local biodiversity.

The guidance also highlights the opportunities new development can bring to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding through the use of natural flood management techniques.

What are the implications of these changes for developers?

Overall, this is a positive step from the government. The scale of the flooding problem requires a sustained, multi-pronged approach. This element should help to ensure that, in future, people are not left with new homes that are uninsurable and unsellable, due to being in an area blighted by floods. Over the years, the resilience of our housing stock should gradually improve.

These changes do inevitably mean that planning applications for housing developments in areas at risk of flooding can expect a new level of scrutiny from planners.

Developers will now need to give very thorough consideration to elements such as environmental searches and flood searches, especially as many homes affected by flooding don’t actually sit in designated flood plains.

Developers will need to demonstrate that they have given careful consideration to the flood risk over the entire lifetime of the development and have taken steps to mitigate this, while also showing that the development will not have adverse flooding impacts on neighbouring properties.

On sites that are within Flood Zones 2 or 3, or within a Critical Drainage Area (CDA) we would suggest engaging with a specialist to produce a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) at the earliest opportunity in the design process.

More detailed advice on Flood Risk can be found on the Governments Planning Practice Guidance Website:

Get expert advice

At CAD Planning we have expert specialist knowledge in the way that the planning system operates. We are in constant dialogue with our local planning authority. This gives us up to date knowledge on how this new guidance is being applied and the implications for our clients.

Our Planning Consultancy services, including general advice and formal reports, can be tailored to suit any size of development or type of application.

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