Investigation reveals alarming flood risk for new homes in UK

Floods have already hit thousands of homes in the UK this winter and now an investigation has found that many more homes being built under the government’s new home building drive are also at risk.

Nearly half the areas earmarked for fast tracked housing development by a flagship government scheme are at significant risk of flooding, making thousands of new homes potentially uninsurable, according to a Greenpeace investigation.

The sites targeted by a recent house building drive unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne include two areas threatened by the latest floods and others which were inundated during previous emergencies, the Greenpeace report says.

It claims that the findings raise more questions about the government’s approach to flood risk management amidst growing controversy over delays in the construction of flood defences for existing homes in areas hit by flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire in recent days.

Earlier this year, the Chancellor announced a flagship housing scheme which saw 20 brownfield sites around the country designated as new housing zones, with local councils given access to money and experts to expedite the building process.

Greenpeace UK researchers used details obtained through Freedom of Information requests to plot the location of these housing zones, and cross referenced this with flood risk maps from the Environment Agency.

They found around nine of the 20 zones, comprising a total of 9,000 planned new homes, are in areas now identified as being partially or fully at risk from flooding. Under the terms of a new government flood insurance scheme soon to be implemented, these properties would be excluded from cover.

The report claims that this would leave home owners reliant on commercial insurers who may choose not to insure homes built in flood zones, or do so at prohibitively expensive rates.

A spokesperson for Flood Re confirmed to Greenpeace that ‘properties built from 2009 onwards’ in flood risk areas are still excluded from the government scheme. ‘It would be irresponsible to incentivise developers to build in such areas simply because those properties could have their insured flood risk ceded to Flood Re,’ the spokesperson added.

Greenpeace UK also obtained new figures showing that the number of people employed by the Environment Agency to work on Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management fell by 230, a 5% cut, in the last three years. The agency plays a key role advising councils on flood risk.

‘The current flood emergency isn’t even over yet, and the government is already storing up the next one. Rushing to build thousands of new homes in flood risk areas whilst at the same time cutting flood protection staff is a recipe for disaster,’ said Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr.

‘When it comes to energy, flood defences, and other big infrastructure projects, we need the government's hands to start following what the government's mouth is saying rather than acting of their own accord,’ he added.
The details in the report indicate that in Yorkshire there are flood warnings along the River Ouse in zones ministers have allocated for major new home building, while in Wakefield areas near to proposed developments were underwater last month. One housing zone not marked as at risk is planned for Ashchurch, Tewskbury, an area which has seen flooding hit in the past week.

New housing zones located in areas at risk of flooding include a development of around 1,000 homes planned for Hinkley, Bridgwater in Somerset, one of the areas that was totally inundated in the floods of 2014. The local district council has paid out more than £280,000 in grants and tax relief to flood victims in the last three years.
 
Another of the areas identified for new building is in Greater Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. At least 750 houses are planned in 15 sites around the towns of Gainsborough and Morton, however, the report says that those in Morton are at high risk of flooding with no defences. The borough council that is responsible for Morton has seen its flood prevention budget drop by 24% compared to last year.
 
In Wakefield, Yorkshire town planners are pushing forward plans to develop 1,200 new homes in a development on the banks of the Aire River, near to the town of Castleford. Last August, Castleford flooded and, according to local news reports, was under around five foot of water. Motorists had to be rescued from submerged cars.

Maud Rousseau, group marketing and communications director of SearchFlow, a conveyancing search provider, said that it ‘alarming’ that such a high number of homes are scheduled for development on land that is at risk of flooding.

‘The consequences of flooding are clearly devastating for home owners and, for many, this has been compounded by insurance premiums skyrocketing with exceedingly high excesses, or worse, home owners unable to insure their property against the risk of flood,’ she pointed out.
 
She explained that the Flood Re, which is due to be implemented in April 2016, will impose a fixed premium geared to council tax bands, and should help limit the excess and cover content and buildings insurance. However, homes that are built after 01 January 2009 are exempt, to help discourage inappropriate property development.
 
‘Despite these worrying figures released by Greenpeace, the conveyancing sector is in the best position ever to ensure homebuyers are properly protected and fully informed of potential risks prior to a purchase. Leading search providers are utilising technological advancements in data analytics to help ensure that conveyancers are carrying out their due diligence with confidence and reducing the chance that anything will be missed,’ said Rousseau.