By: 16 June 2021
ABI and Flood Re urge continued upkeep of UK flood defences

A joint report published by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Flood Re ahead of the UK government’s consultation on its comprehensive spending review calls for flood defences to be kept in good condition.

Flooding is the greatest natural disaster risk in the UK, with an estimated one in six properties in England and Wales, one in 11 in Scotland and one in 34 in Northern Ireland now at risk of flooding. Six of the 10 wettest years on record have occurred since 1998. 

The report, ‘Modelling the Impact of Spending on Defence Maintenance on Flood Losses’, was carried out by flood risk specialist JBA Risk Management, which evaluated the benefits of maintaining flood defences over a 30-year period for several different spending scenarios. 

Key findings from the research highlight that: 

  • River flood defences provide protection to flood risk communities valued at £568 million a year. Without such defences, the research suggests flood losses of approximately £958 million a year. With defences, inland flood losses reduce to £388 million a year, saving £568 million. 
  • Flood defence maintenance is very cost effective—for every £1 increase in maintenance spending, almost £7 is saved in capital spending on defences. The report highlights that increasing current maintenance spending by 50% could extend the lifespan of defences by an average of eight years. 
  • Well-funded flood defences rarely breach. As long as a flood defence does not deteriorate to, and remain in, a poor condition, then it is unlikely to breach—which is why it is so important that flood defences are maintained in a good condition. Conversely, if maintenance spending is cut, flood defence lifespan reduces, and overall annual costs will rise.  
  • Based on the current state of existing flood defences, London and the Southeast have the highest estimated annual flood loss with 30% (£117. 4 million) of the total, followed by the Northwest at 11% and Central Scotland at 8%.
  • While this report focuses on flood defences and the important role they play in reducing the impact of flooding, with the UK’s surface water flood risk increasing, it is important to ensure that other flood risk management measures, such as clearing culverts, are also funded appropriately. 

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, said: “This report makes the compelling case for greater spending on the maintenance of flood defences on which our flood vulnerable communities depend. Our report makes clear that not properly maintaining flood defences reduces their lifespan and increases costs overall, so not investing in maintenance is a false economy. ”

 “At the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, we urge the government to ensure that adequate investment is allocated to flood defence maintenance projects as well as capital as part of the new funding cycle. The flood risk in the UK is only going to worsen as a result of climate change, so it is vital that investment in flood defences keeps pace.”

Andy Bord, chief executive of Flood Re, added: “2014 saw the devastating damage and cost in failing to invest in flood defence maintenance. This simply cannot happen again. Our primary concern must be to protect communities and families from the impact of flooding. Today’s report shows that it is also financially reckless to do otherwise.”

“The government must embrace the opportunity to commit additional budget to maintain our flood defences. If maintained, flood defences provide long-term security for communities which may otherwise be devastated by flooding. Protecting against flood risk is also critical to ensuring the long-term availability of affordable home insurance for those living in flood-prone areas.”

Simon Waller, executive chair at JBA Risk Management, commented: “The effectiveness of flood defences plays a significant role in the resilience of our communities and will continue to do so, especially with research suggesting that flooding is likely to increase in frequency and severity. We are delighted to have applied our flood science expertise in support of this important investigation that underlines the cost-benefit of investment in flood defence schemes.”