Farmers should be paid to store floodwater on their land, says an influential group of MPs which has urged the government to show leadership on climate change mitigation.
Current flood defence objectives are leaving homes and businesses vulnerable to the impact of climate change, says a report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
Instead, the report says the government should commit to a clearly defined flood resilience plan – including paying farmers to protect local communities by allowing their land to be flooded where needed at times of heavy rain and high water.
This would help to improve protection for some of the 5.2 million properties across England which are at risk from flooding, says the report. Long-term funding for the maintenance of existing and new flood defences should match the government’s capital commitment, it adds.
Committee chairman Neil Parish said: “If the government will not set well-defined targets for flood resilience, it will waste millions of pounds playing catch-up. We must accept that as floods are here to stay, so must be the defences we build.”
Natural flood management initiatives, such as allowing land to flood, must be appropriately incentivised, says the report. Doing so will require involving farmers and land managers at every stage of scheme design and implementation.
Referring to another wet winter, which caused problems for farmers as well as rural communities, Mr Parish said: “It’s time to accept that severe weather events like Storm Christoph are the rule, not the exception.”
He added: “The government’s commitment to net zero demonstrates its willingness to act on the climate crisis, but it must recognise that in protecting homes and businesses from flooding, we are playing a long game.”
The report says the government should scale up natural flood management, while ensuring a catchment-based approach that takes account of local conditions. This should include slowing the flow of water through catchments.
Mr Parish said: “Long-term funding is needed, committing to the maintenance of existing and future defences. Meanwhile, local authorities lack the competencies and resources they need to factor flood projections into planning and development decisions. This must be addressed.”
As well as scrutinising existing approaches to managing flood risk, the report also examines the mental health impacts of severe flooding, calling for an action plan addressing this alongside the economic and physical effects.
Mr Parish said: “Waters receding do not repair the psychological, economic and physical impacts of flood damage. It is high time that the government recognised this, and work with local authorities to properly resource mental health services for when the blue lights go.”
Other recommendations include setting out clearly defined objectives for a level of flood resilience which will protect homes and businesses in line with climate change projections. The report also calls for a long-term budget for the maintenance of existing flood defences.
Local authorities should be given the resources they need, says the document. This should include dedicated trained staff who can factor climate change projections into local planning decisions, helping to avoid development in areas at risk from flooding.
Recognising the work of charities in supporting victims of recent storms, the committee also calls on the government to provide funding to help the voluntary sector respond to flooding, and build capacity in other organisations.