Government urged to release more detailed flood risk data

Businesses and householders could soon have access to more detailed flood risk data, following the publication today of Sir Michael Pitt's report into last summer's floods.

The long anticipated report calls on the government to undertake a major overhaul of the UK's flood strategy and release far more detailed information on which areas are at risk of flooding. "We need to be more willing to tell people the truth about risk," he said. "The current lack of clarity and transparency has the potential to put not only people’s homes, but lives in jeopardy."

In particular, Pitt called for the flood code warning system to be simplified and improved to include earlier more personalised warnings, and for the government to be more open about which areas would be at risk in the event of a dam breaching its banks – an eventuality that almost occurred during last year's floods.

"People purchasing a property in a flood risk area should be made aware of the potential for flooding so they can make informed choices, including on taking out insurance," he said. "Our current attitude to reservoir safety is also concerning. Insistence on secrecy about the area that would be flooded from a dam breach, so as not to give information to would-be attackers, has meant that we cannot be as ready to respond as we should be."

The report also warned that with climate change meaning that the flood risk is continuing to escalate, the onus was on the government to develop a more comprehensive flood resilience strategy. It recommended that such a strategy should include: the establishment of a new cabinet committee for tackling flood risk; above inflation increases in each spending review for investment in flood defences; the launch of a new National Resilience Forum to facilitate nationwide flood response planning; and the development of planned financial arrangements to address the cost of flooding emergencies.

The recommendations were welcomed by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which claims last summer's floods cost over £3bn to the industry.

"This report must not sit on the shelf," warned Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance and health. "The government must act now to develop a long-term flood strategy. This must focus on better co-ordination, a thorough reassessment of the flood risk from rivers, drainage and the sea, adequate investment and better public information on flooding. All this is crucial to ensure that flood insurance remains widely available and competitively-priced."

A spokesman for the ABI told that the release of more accurate flood risk data could help businesses reduce their exposure to flood risk and may even result in lower premiums in some areas. "Insurance companies are working on more sophisticated flood risk mapping, but the more data we can get the better," he said. "At the moment if a property is in a general high risk zone, but because of some local factors it is not at high a risk, then insurers will take that into account, but more accurate data would help them ensure those judgements are right."

Environment secretary Hilary Benn said that the government would deliver a detailed response to the report, including a prioritised action plan this autumn. He added that the government had already earmarked £34.5m to implement the recommendations of the report and that part of this funding would be used to extend the development of surface water management plans, improve reservoir safety and undertake a national floods exercise.

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