Background to the report

Flooding and coastal erosion put lives, livelihoods and people’s well-being at risk. The Environment Agency (EA) estimates that 5.2 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding and that around 700 properties are vulnerable to coastal erosion over the next 20 years. In addition, more than two thirds of properties in England are served by infrastructure sites and networks located in (or dependent on others in) areas at risk of flooding. The Met Office’s UK climate projections show more extreme weather events and sea level rises resulting from climate change. This, when combined with increased housing development, will heighten flooding and coastal erosion risks.

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The EA was set a target to provide better protection for 300,000 homes through its investment from 2015 to 2021. In July 2020, the government issued a ministerial policy statement setting out its priority to create a more resilient nation to meet the challenges of flooding and coastal erosion. This replaced the previous statement, which was published in 2009. Alongside it, EA laid its new strategy in Parliament, which was then published in September 2020. It sets out the vision for “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100”, and supersedes the previous strategy published in 2011.

Scope of the report

This report evaluates whether government’s approach to managing the risks of flooding and coastal erosion is achieving value for money in three parts:

  • Part one covers whether the current risk management arrangements provide strong and effective oversight, challenge and direction.
  • Part two looks at what government has achieved in the period 2015–2021 and the extent to which it has used available funds to reduce flood and coastal erosion risks and measure progress.
  • Part three examines government’s preparedness to manage and reduce flood risk when a new expanded investment programme begins in 2021.

The report covers flood risk management in England. It does not cover government’s emergency response to flooding, issues relating to flood insurance, planning regulations or the management of coastal erosion. In addition to this report, we have produced an interactive data visualisation, which presents a range of information on flood risk management in England.

Report conclusions

Between 2015 and 2021, government will have invested £2.6 billion in flood defences. EA is on track to meet government’s aim to better protect 300,000 homes, has secured more than £500 million of partnership funding to supplement the programme and expects to achieve an estimated benefit–cost ratio across the programme of 8:1 over this period. However, Defra’s narrow focus on the homes better protected target has not necessarily produced the best return on investment and does not represent the full picture. As we approach the end of the current investment period, government does not have a comprehensive measure to demonstrate whether the overall level of flood risk in England is lower now than it was at the start of the programme.

Over the next six-year period starting in April 2021, government’s capital investment is set to increase substantially to £5.6 billion, with the aim of providing better protection for 336,000 properties and the expectation that the programme will reduce overall flood risk by up to 11%. While the new policy statement and EA strategy are an important step forward, with the new investment period about to begin, Defra has yet to provide full details of what it aims to achieve from the programme, how the programme will be managed and what indicators it will use to measure progress. Unless it develops these, alongside a more robust measure of its progress in reducing flood risk, Defra will not be able to demonstrate convincingly to Parliament that future investment is achieving value for money.

“Flooding and coastal erosion put lives, livelihoods and people’s well-being at risk. As our climate continues to change, and severe weather events become more common, flooding will impact more people.

“Although EA is on track to better protect 300,000 homes from flooding by 2021, there is still no comprehensive measure to show that flood risk in England has reduced, even though the current programme is coming to an end. Looking ahead to 2021-27, although the government has set a clear ambition, the lack of robust measures to track progress mean it will be difficult to demonstrate that its £5.6 billion investment provides an adequate response to the changing risk and good value for taxpayers.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (27 Nov 2020)

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