House of Commons Library

Planning and flood risk

Published Monday, February 29, 2016

Government planning policy on flood risk and development, particularly for housing, has been called into question following recent flood events. Find out what the planning policy is, the Government's position and the comments on it in the Library briefing paper.

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This briefing paper sets out the Government’s planning policy on flooding and relates to England only. For an overview of the key planning policies and documents in the other UK countries see the joint Library briefing paper Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update.

Government planning guidance, based on maps produced by the Environment Agency, divides the country up into different types of flood risk zone: land in zone 1 where there is a low probability of flooding (a less than a 1 in 1000 annual probability); land in zone 2 where there is a medium risk (land having between a 1 in 100 and 1 in 1,000 annual probability); and land in zone 3 where there is high risk (land with a 1 in 100 or greater annual probability).

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the accompanying online Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on Flood Risk and Coastal Change sets “sequential” and “exemption” tests and thresholds to protect property from flooding which all local planning authorities (LPAs) are expected to follow. Where these tests/thresholds are not met, new development should not be allowed.

Local authorities should undertake a “Strategic Flood Risk Assessment” to fully understand the flood risk in the area and to inform local plan preparation. Certain types of planning applications should be accompanied by a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) prepared by or on behalf of the applicant. There is a statutory requirement for local planning authorities to consult the Environment Agency for developments in areas at risk of flooding before granting planning permission. The Government has said that, “between April 2011 and March 2015, over 99 per cent of proposed new homes had planning outcomes in line with Environment Agency advice where they had objected because of concerns about flood risk and had been made aware of the decision.”

Under PPG revised in March 2015, new development should only be considered appropriate in areas at risk of flooding if priority has been given to the use of sustainable drainage systems. It directs that sustainable drainage systems should be provided unless demonstrated to be “inappropriate”, which is further defined in the guidance. Planning authorities must consult Lead Local Flood Authorities for major developments in relation to surface water drainage.

Figures from Government provided in a PQ from February 2016 state that in 2013-14, 7 percent of new residential addresses were created in the National Flood Zone 3. This equates to an estimated 9,100 homes being built in National Flood Zone 3 in 2013-14.

Rory Stewart, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, responded to an oral question in Parliament in December 2015 to say that “I absolutely agree that we should not be building houses on flood plains.” Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said in response to a written PQ in February 2016 however, that development “can not be ruled out in high flood risk areas”

Shadow Housing and Planning Minister John Healey was quoted in December 2015 as calling on the Government to “make sure planning policy keeps up” with climate change and that “despite the housing shortage, planning should take increasing flood risk into account in deciding where new homes should be built.” In 2015 the Environment Audit Committee called for the Environment Agency’s statutory consultee role to be extended to include smaller developments.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7517

Authors: Louise Smith; Sara Priestley

Topics: Flooding, Housing, Planning

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