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Government Plans And Responsibilities

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Government Plans and Responsibilities

Government Agencies in England and Wales

The Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) has overall policy responsibility for flood and coastal erosion risk in England and Wales. Defra funds most of the Environment Agency's flood management activities. It provides grant aid on a project by project basis to the other flood and coastal defence operating authorities (local authorities and Internal Drainage Boards) to support their investment in capital improvement projects to manage flood and coastal erosion risk.

The Environment Agency also operates 10 Regional Flood Defence Committees in England, one for Wales and one for Northern Ireland.

Internal Drainage Boards

There are over 100 Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs), responsible with local authorities for drainage and flood defences in low lying areas of England and river valleys. Some of them are grouped by location such as The Middle Level Commissioners, comprising 33 IDBs responsible for the central and largest section of the Great Level of the Fens. There is also the Shire Group of 28 inland IDBs from the River Wiske IDB in North Yorkshire to the River Lugg IDB in Herefordshire.

Coastal Authority Groups and Shoreline Management Plans

The Government has encouraged the formation of voluntary coastal defence groups made up of maritime district authorities and other bodies with coastal defence responsibilities.

As part of this approach Defra has issued guidance for maritime district authorities to help in the preparation of Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs).

Integrated Coastal Zone Management

The objective of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is to establish sustainable levels of economic and social activity in our coastal areas while protecting the coastal environment. It attempts to take a long-term holistic view, working with natural processes and involving all the relevant administrative bodies.

In response to a request from the EU, the UK government produced a report on the state of ICZM in the UK, the principles of which were to be embodied in the Marine Bill, 2009.

UK government report to the Commission March 2006

ICZM in the UK: a stocktake

Coastal/Estuary Partnerships & Management Forums

The stock-take on ICZM highlighted that Coastal/Estuary Partnerships, Management Groups and Forums provide a useful vehicle for the implementation of ICZM. There are 34 such groups in England.

Natural England

Natural England is the new name for the integrated body that combines English Nature, The Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service and is one of the key stakeholders in flood defence strategy and planning particularly its environmental impact. It is represented on the regional flood defence committees and coastal groups and advocates a shift from 'flood defence' to 'flood management' solutions, recognition of the functionality and dynamics of coastal systems and giving greater recognition to the natural flood defence functions of habitats.

Vist the Natural England website.

Government Agencies in Scotland

The Scottish Government formulates National Policy on Flood Prevention and Flood Warning and provides resources to enable local authorities to address flooding risks. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency operates the Floodwatch and flood warning schemes, and gives advice to local authorities on flood prevention and planning issues.

Government Agencies in Northern Ireland

The Rivers Agency, which is an Executive Agency of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is the body with responsibility for drainage and flood defence in Northern Ireland.

The type of works which the Agency may carry out includes:-

  • Building and maintaining flood walls and banks to protect urban centres from flooding from rivers or the sea.
  • Installing and repairing underground culverts.
  • Improvements to increase the capacity of watercourses to deal with increased run-off from new industrial or housing development.
  • Maintenance of rural watercourses to provide adequate outlet for land drainage.
  • Routine clearing operations to remove obstructions to flow.
  • Responding to watercourse related flooding incidents.
  • Maintenance of the levels of Lough Erne and Lough Neagh within statutory limits.

This programme of publicly funded drainage and flood defences in Northern Ireland is monitored by The Drainage Council for Northern Ireland.

The Impact of the Floods of 1953

The major flood events of 1953 were a wake up call to the UK government on flooding.

In 1953 there was no national flood warning service or coordination. Flood defence was organised by a number of river boards. They had emergency plans but were not linked on a national basis. Emergency plans were hampered by communications failures in most locations.

The existence of proper flood warnings and communications would have greatly reduced the loss of life by allowing time for communities to be evacuated. Following the floods, the Waverley committee was set up to report on the disaster and consider schemes to protect London. This led to the erection of the Thames Barrier, the world's largest moveable flood barrier, in 1982. It protects London and the upper reaches of the Thames from tidal flooding.

The Waverley committee also recommended that a national flood warning system be set up. This resulted in the creation of the Storm Tide Warning service, today known as the Storm Tide Forecasting Service (STFS), and operated by the Met Office providing 24-hour forecasts of tidal surge and wave activity.

In 1989 the National Rivers Authority was formed to oversee flood defence in England and Wales, then, in 1996, the Environment Agency was created with overall responsibility for flood defence and flood warning.

Today, flood defence planning and emergency response is taken very seriously. Plans and policies are made and publicly available at national, regional and local levels. In 2005 a report called Making Space for Water was published.

In 2004, Exercise Triton, the first national flood event exercise was held. Participants from 60 organisations and agencies were presented with an extreme tidal flooding scenario affecting the coasts of Southern and Eastern England, the Thames Estuary, North Wales and the county of Gwent.

The latest National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England was published in 2011 and can be downloaded from the Environment Agency website.

Useful Links

Regional ICZM strategies:

England – Promoting an integrated approach to management of the coastal zone in England

Northern Ireland – Towards a strategy for ICZM

Wales – ICZM strategy consultation

Scotland – Marine and Coastal Strategy

Exercise Triton 04 - Overview Report of Lessons Identified