Industry calls for 25-year flood plan

The insurance industry has called on the government to develop a 25-year flood strategy to guard against the rising risk of flooding.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said the government must set out a long-term investment programme that reflects the risks posed by climate change and the real flood risk this creates for drainage systems as well as rivers and floods.

Much of the flooding in Yorkshire and the Humber in June was caused by drainage systems being unable to cope with unusually heavy rain rather than local rivers bursting their banks.

Stephen Haddrill, director general of the ABI, said: “This summer’s devastating floods highlight the urgent need for a long-term strategy based around more investment, national coordination and better land use planning.”

In its report, Summer Floods 2007: Learning the Lesson, the ABI calls for a new single body to oversee flood management, criticising the current approach as piecemeal.

The ABI is also calling for stronger planning controls to prevent new developments being built on high flood-risk areas.

Mr Haddrill continued: “Insurers want to continue to provide flood insurance. The right decisions from the government will ensure that flood insurance remains widely available and affordable in the UK.”

Insurers have warned it may no longer be cost effective to underwrite households unless the government provides the appropriate defences.

Today, the ABI said the forthcoming climate change bill should make it a statutory objective for the Environment Agency to reduce flood risk.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insists the government is “committed” to managing flood risks and has doubled investment in cash terms over the past ten years.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our record levels of investment accompany a national programme of prioritised work that takes account of the changing climate to improve protection for future generations.

“In addition, government is working with the Environment Agency with a view to producing a 20-year long-term programme.

“We have already announced that the agency will be taking on the strategic overview of all flooding on the coast, and we are currently seeking views from all key stakeholders on how they might take on this role for all forms of inland flooding.”

The warning from the ABI came after Gordon Brown met with “heroes” from the summer floods at Downing Street.

The prime minister told more than 300 representatives from the army, fire service, HM Coastguard, Royal National Lifeboat Institution and other agencies he was “proud and grateful” for their efforts.

Mr Brown said: “Thank you for protecting properties, thank you for providing warmth and friendship thank you for helping elderly people in particular, thank you for saving hundreds of thousands from losing their energy supplies, thank you for many people risking your own safety to save the lives of strangers.”

The reaction to the summer floods, which affected 48,000 homes and 7,000 businesses, showed “people are prepared to support each other in times of need,” Mr Brown said.