Flooding – Challenges and Opportunities in the year ahead.
The National Flood Forum, supporting and representing flood risk communities, has a perhaps unique position to reflect on recent flooding across the UK.
2012 was a terrible year for many people and communities across the country. Almost 8000 households were flooded in England and Wales and many more lived in fear of having their possessions destroyed. Some people were, and are affected repeatedly.
Flooding is not going away. Despite the recent announcements on flood defence spending, which will protect many thousands of households, flood risk is changing and is set to become a growing feature of British life, as extreme rainfall events become more frequent. As 2012 showed, communities never previously in danger are now at risk. Floods are now likely to hit properties that have never been affected before.
We see several challenges and opportunities.
- Flood risk insurance remains the top UK priority in policy terms because the impact on people of not having good insurance is so great and because the Statement of Principles runs out in June. Despite our very considerable efforts, we are not much further forward than at our national conference in March 2012. Government and the insurance industry still seem no nearer a solution. We will continue to press both sides to achieve a solution that is socially just.
- National policy has increasingly recognised that people and communities should be at the centre of flood risk management. However, there is still a long way to go to make this the reality everywhere. We will champion, support and work with communities to empower them to deal with the challenges that they face working in partnership with others.
- The changing nature of flood events requires a change in our collective capability and capacity to identify and address flood risk as it is today and tomorrow – not just as it was yesterday. That capability and capacity will be delivered increasingly by Local Authorities working with local communities. We will continue to support local communities and work with all levels of Government and the Environment Agency to help develop this capability and to help communities reduce their flood risk.
- Media reports of flooding are compelling, but the academic and quantifiable evidence for the impact of flooding on people is limited, particularly on vulnerable groups and over long periods of time. Evidence that can demonstrate that preventative action now can reduce the impact on local authority services is particularly important. The NFF will continue to work with all parties, including the Health Protection Agency and the Joseph Rowntree Trust, to help develop this evidence.
The National Flood Forum faces several particular challenges as an organisation.
Like many charities, our financial position remains parlous and we need to find a way of getting out of survival mode. We are partnering with several local authorities in bids for funding under Defra’s Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder scheme. Whatever the outcome of this process, we will need to focus on gaining funding over the next few months.
- Despite the huge commitment that staff and trustees have made, the floods of 2012 have demonstrated that our capacity to deliver a field response on an ongoing basis is quite limited. The pace of work is not something that can be kept up indefinitely, either. But the need is growing as is the demand for our services. We must think imaginatively about how to square this circle and seek alliances with other organisations to achieve it.
- The Scottish Flood Forum is due to launch as an independent charity early in 2013. This is a real achievement; a fantastic reflection of the work that staff, trustees and Scottish Partners have been doing over the last few years. Nevertheless this achievement will bring its own challenges and the two organisations will need to learn how to support and learn from each other over the coming years.
- Communities across the country have had a really rough time this year, either because they have been flooded or because they are fearful of being flooded. Hundreds of flood groups form part of our network, but we need to strengthen our relationship with all local flood groups so that more of them see us as their natural champion.