Flooding – property risks and management

June 20, 2012

With the battering of wind and rain that the UK has received recently, many property owners and occupiers will be wondering what they can and should be doing to help minimise the impact of flooding and avoid a repeat of the extensive damage caused by the floods of Summer 2007.  Experts predict that climate change will lead to an increase in extreme weather events and so, combined with increased new building on low-lying areas in recent years, it seems flood risks are likely to be on the up.

Government planning and law

Sir Michael Pitt was asked by the government in August 2007 to conduct a review of the flood related emergencies that had taken place that year and the resulting ‘The Pitt Review: Lessons learned from the 2007 floods’ (“the Pitt Review”) has led to a number of changes in the law and recommendations to local authorities in dealing with planning for floods.  These have since been implemented, with most recently the issue by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of the final report of progress made since the Pitt Review. 

Defra has the overall responsibility for the policy relating to flooding and coastlines, but the practical management of floods and related projects are run by the Environment Agency (EA). Defra provides funding to the EA for their activities and also to local authorities on a project by project basis.  The National Flood Emergency Framework was published by Defra in July 2010 which sets out how central and local authorities are to interact in terms of planning and flood risk management and the level of skills and training expected within a local authority. Internal drainage boards, water service companies, regional flood defence committees, highways authorities, navigation authorities and the Met Office all play a part in the country’s flood risk management and so one of the main objectives of the Pitt Review was to clarify and simply the interaction between the various different bodies.

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 has had an impact on local authorities and developers since the majority of its provisions were brought into force on 1 October 2010.  The Act provides for modifications to previous practice in terms of flood defences and sustainability and permits building regulations to be made in relation to the flood resilience and resistance for any type of work to a building, from minor to major repair works and new buildings.  Subsequent orders are due to be bringing into force the remainder of the provisions in due course.  The Flood Risk Regulations 2009 (SI 2009/3042) and the Flood Risk (Cross Border Areas) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/1102) have transposed the EC Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks which came into force on 26 November 2007 and these set out further plans and timescales for the implantation of flood risk assessments, flood risk and hazard maps and management plans.

Below is some practical guidance on dealing with flood risks, as recommended by the EA and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. 

Flood risk factors

Although the overall risk to most properties in the UK remains small, there are a number of factors which make flooding much more likely.  These include the more predictable issues of the geographical location of a property near a river or coastline or the local conditions (such as old drainage systems or being at the foot of a slope), but also other less foreseeable events such as prolonged heavy downpours leading to surface water flooding or burst water mains, tanks, pipes or drains.  All of these could affect a property whether or not it is located within an acknowledged ‘at risk’ area. 

How to find out the flood risk to a property

  • You can access maps on the EA’s website (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk) which provide a general guide as to whether a property is within a river or coastal flood risk zone.   A risk grading of negligible, low, moderate or significant is provided based on a property’s postcode but it does not give specific advice on particular properties and so does not take into account physical features such as the height of a property’s lowest floor.  Also note that the maps do not use details on surface or groundwater, which is responsible for much of the flooding in the UK.
  • Specialist search providers produce more accurate assessments of the flood risks at a particular property, including risks from surface and groundwater, for which a fee is charged.  The search results are limited by the fact that a survey of the property is not carried out and so the report cannot tell you how the specific structure and contents may be affected by a flood and would not make allowances for, for example, a basement area within a particular property.
  • If you are buying a property, enquiries should be raised with the current owner to establish whether any incidents of flooding have happened and whether an insurance claim has been necessary.  Insurance may be harder or more expensive to obtain on a property at risk of flooding and it may also affect the property’s value and mortgageability.  If you have concerns, a chartered surveyor can be instructed to carry out a more detailed survey in order to confirm the potential impact of a flood and recommended steps to reduce the risks of damage.  

Reducing the risks

  • Regardless of the level of risk revealed by the EA’s flood risk maps or other searches, there is always a risk of flooding from surface or ground water and so it is always worth considering how you would deal with a flood should it occur.
  • If your property is within a flood risk area an EA’s flooding warning service – “Flood Warnings Direct” –will send you warnings of different grades depending on the local conditions via telephone or fax.  The alerts range from confirming the ‘all clear’ to recommending that immediate action is taken.  The Met Office also issues weather warnings. 
  • A template ‘Flood Plan’ is available from the EA’s website in which you can fill in all relevant contact details, evacuation arrangements, insurance details, safe and secure locations, details of the location of gas and electricity supplies.  A ‘Flood Kit’ is also recommended with torches, wind-up radio and water tight polythene bags.
  • In more seriously at risk properties you may consider installing flood resistance and resilience measures, particularly if the property has been flooded before or insurance is especially hard to obtain.  This can range from fitting simple door guards and applying water-resistant treatments to external walls through to installing pumps and replacing timber and so it is best to take advise from a chartered surveyor with experience in flooding if you are considering making changes to your property.  Remember that if your property is leasehold then you may need the consent of the freeholder to make alterations.

Insurance

You may find that insurance against flood damage is hard to obtain or premiums are very high in high risk areas.  The Association of British Insurers (ABI) issued a Statement of Principles in July 2008 and Guidance on Insurance Issues for New Developments in January 2009, which provide for specific objective and standards in provision of insurance – including provision of increased security for those in high risk flooding areas and incentives for the government to continue to invest in flood defences. The ABI and the government have since been working together to ensure that the insurance market is able to provide insurance to the majority of households and small businesses from 1 July 2013 without reference the Principles.


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