Heed the water warning

Flooding costs the UK billions of pounds. The summer 2007 floods alone cost the economy £3.2bn, according to an Environment Agency report. Around 48,000 homes were affected, each costing between £20,000 and £30,000 to repair. The cost for flooded businesses averaged between £75,000 and £112,000. Farmers lost an average of £1,150 per hectare of land flooded, while the cost of damage to infrastructure such as roads, water supplies and power networks was put at £660m. The report also factors in damage to communications, transport and roads of around £230m, with costs to local councils of £140m, while agriculture suffered losses of £50m. What’s more, the agency reports that 400,000 pupil days at schools were lost because of the floods.

New roles for local authorities

It was the 2007 floods that lead to Sir Michael Pitt’s review into flooding, which influenced  the current flooding legislation, the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

Sir Michael Pitt’s review stated that: “The role of local authorities should be enhanced so that they take on responsibility for leading the co-ordination of flood risk management in their areas.” The Act does this by creating lead local flood authorities (LLFAs), which are either the county or unitary authority, who have responsibilities for managing local flood risk.

Their responsibilities include preparing and maintaining a strategy for local flood risk management, co-ordinating views and activity with other local bodies and communities through public consultation and scrutiny, and delivery planning.

The LLFA also maintains a register of assets, (physical features that have a significant effect on flooding in their area), and will investigate and publish the results of significant local flooding incidents.

The LLFA will establish SuDS approval bodies (SABs) that will be responsible for the approval of design, build and adoption of sustainable urban drainage systems, as well as issue consents for altering, removing or replacing certain structures or features on ordinary watercourses. It will also play a lead role in emergency planning and recovery after a flood event.

Local Partnerships
Sir Michael Pitt’s Review recommended that the lead local flood authority should bring together all relevant bodies to help manage local flood risk. The important roles played by district councils, internal drainage boards, highways authorities and water companies are also recognised in the Act and these bodies, together with the Environment Agency, are identified as risk management authorities.

The Act enables effective partnerships to be formed between the lead local flood authority and the other relevant authorities who retain their existing powers. It requires the relevant authorities to co-operate with each other in exercising functions under the Act and they can delegate to each other. It also empowers a lead local flood authority or the Environment Agency to require information from others needed for their flood and coastal erosion risk management functions.

Flood risk management strategies
The Environment Agency has developed and published a national strategy for the management of coastal erosion and all sources of flood risk for England. The Act requires a lead local flood authority to develop, maintain, apply and monitor a strategy for local flood risk management in its area. The lead local flood authority will be responsible for ensuring the strategy is put in place but the local partners can agree how to develop it in the way that suits them best.

The Act sets out the minimum that a local strategy must contain, and the lead local flood authority is required to consult on the strategy with risk management authorities and the public. The Local Government Group (LGG) in association with local authority representatives, the Environment Agency and Defra have published a Preliminary Framework for local strategies to help local authorities develop their local flood risk management strategy.

Local flood risk includes surface runoff, groundwater, and ordinary watercourses (including lakes and ponds). Guidance may, amongst other things, set out in more detail how the national strategy and local strategies should interact and how local strategies will need to take account of plans to manage other sources of risk.

The local strategies will build on information such as national risk assessments and will use consistent risk based approaches across different local authority areas and catchments. The local strategy will not be secondary to the national strategy; rather it will have distinct objectives to manage local flood risks important to local communities.

Duty to investigate
To ensure greater co-ordination of information and avoid situations where bodies do not accept responsibility, the lead local flood authority will investigate flooding incidents in its area to identify which authorities have relevant flood risk management functions and what they have done or intend to do. The lead local flood authority will then be required to publish the results of any investigation, and notify any relevant authorities.

The LLFA will also maintain a register of structures or features which they consider have a significant effect on flood risk in their area. The register must be available for inspection and the Secretary of State will be able to make regulations about the content of the register and records.

Ensuring progress
To avoid administrative burdens, the Act does not require routine reporting on performance, but allows information to be requested where necessary. Local authorities can bring matters to the government’s attention and if a risk management authority fails to exercise a flood risk management function, the Secretary of State can direct another authority to carry out that function.

In addition, the Act will enable overview and scrutiny committees in lead local flood authorities to hold all the risk management authorities to account. In this way, the public can be actively involved in ensuring authorities perform.

Works powers
The Act provides the lead local flood authority with powers to do works to manage flood risk from surface runoff and groundwater. Powers to do works on ordinary watercourses remain with either district or unitary authorities, or internal drainage boards. All works must be consistent with the local flood risk management strategy for the area.


Once a feature is designated, the owner must seek consent from the authority to alter, remove, or replace it. If someone does make a change to a designated feature, then the authority may issue an “enforcement notice” which will set out any steps that must be taken to restore a feature. An individual may appeal against a designation notice, refusal of consent, conditions placed on a consent or an enforcement notice.

Sustainable drainage systems
The Act establishes a SuDS Approving Body (SAB) at county or unitary local authority levels. The SAB would have responsibility for the approval of proposed drainage systems in new developments and redevelopments, subject to exemptions and thresholds. Approval must be given before the developer can commence construction.

In order to be approved, the proposed drainage system would have to meet new national standards for sustainable drainage.

Where planning permission is required applications for drainage approval and planning permission can be lodged jointly with the planning authority but the Approving Body will determine the drainage application. Regulations will set a timeframe for the decision so as not to hold up the planning process.

The SAB would also be responsible for adopting and maintaining SuDS which serve more than one property, where they have been approved. Highways authorities will be responsible for maintain SuDS in public roads, to National Standards.

The SAB must arrange for SuDS on private property, whether they are adopted or not, to be designated under Schedule 1 to the Act as features that affect flood risk. The SAB will also be required to arrange for all approved SuDS to be included on the register of structures and features (as a separate category).

The National Standards will set out the criteria by which the form of drainage appropriate to any particular site or development can be determined, as well as requirements for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of SuDS. Local authorities are represented on the Project Advisory Board for the development of these National Standards.

The Act also makes the right to connect surface water drainage from new development to the public sewerage system conditional on the surface water drainage system being approved by the Approving Body. Local authorities will be able to use all their normal powers (in planning, regeneration, local investment, highways and to provide information and guidance) to support their new roles under the Act. They will take over the Environment Agency’s role in deciding whether to allow works by third parties that may affect water flows to take place.