The UK's big flooding problem is only going to get worse
Climate change is making extreme rainfall more common, while more homes are still being built on floodplains. The result? Even worse flooding in the future.
By Sabrina Weiss
While the risk of heavy flooding is becoming more frequent – the Met office logged 17 record-breaking rainfall months since 1910, with nine of them since 2000 – the UK remains reliant on flood defense systems to limit its impact. A June 2019 analysis by Flood Re, a scheme set up by insurers and the government to cut the cost of property cover for people in flood-prone areas, showed that inland flooding would cost the entire country almost three times more on an annual basis without defences – £1.8bn rather than £700m.
The problem is the number of homes built in at-risk areas keeps going up. “We are still building on floodplains, and the pressures on housing means that considerations about increasing flood risk are not always priority,” says [Hannah] Cloke [, a hydrologist and physical geographer at the University of Reading]. About 12 per cent of the land in England is adjacent to a river or stream and these low-lying areas are more vulnerable to floods. In 2017, the government set a target to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, but approximately one in ten of all new homes are constructed in flood zones as there is limited space available outside of these zones. The Environment Agency warned as England’s population continues to grow, the total number of properties built on the floodplain will almost double by 2065.
Some regions are looking beyond national government for protection against extreme weather. The Yorkshire city of Hull, where 98 per cent of homes are built in at-risk flooding zones, has become the first place in the UK to introduce legally-binding guidelines for planners on sustainable drainage requirements. The flood-risk planning policy, which has been jointly developed between Hull City Council and Yorkshire Water, was set up in response to devastating floods in 2007, which affected over 10,000 properties.
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