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The Jubilee River story - EA against insuring homes on flood plains (Dec 2007)

20 areas most at risk to flooding

Agency against insuring homes on flood plains

By Brendan Carlin, Political Correspondent
Last Updated: 3:46am GMT 03/12/2007

People living on flood plains should be refused home insurance to discourage building on unsuitable land, Environment Agency chiefs say.

The tough stance comes after the dramatic floods this summer when torrential rain, which caused more than 5 billion of damage, left towns marooned and tens of thousands of people without running water.

But the advice will put the agency potentially at odds with Labour's plan for a large expansion of home-building.

The advice, from Baroness Young of Old Scone, the Environment Agency's chief executive, will come in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, which also alleges that ministers were warned that spending on flood defences was being "severely rationed".

It quotes a leaked policy paper from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written in June 2006 that an extra 150 million was needed just to maintain existing defences, let alone cope with rising sea levels.

Insurers have already threatened to withdraw cover for low-lying areas as a result of the summer floods.

Two months ago, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) spoke of its "deep disappointment" at the announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review that only 2.15 billion was being made available to prevent floods between next year and 2011.

But in the Dispatches programme, Baroness Young specifically urges the insurance industry to refuse cover.

She points out that many properties inundated this summer were built on flood plains between the 1960s and 1980s, and indicated that only drastic action would prevent more homes being constructed in unsuitable areas.

"We'd like the insurance companies to be tougher and to refuse to insure properties built on the flood plain against our advice," she says.

The programme draws on evidence that last year alone, 13 "major developments" -including housing estates and a holiday park - were given planning permission against the EA's advice.

As well as disclosing the leaked Defra document, the programme also found that since 2004 there had been six other major safety incidents at dams in Britain before the emergency at Ulley dam in Yorkshire this summer when cracks appeared at the height of the floods.

Overall, 2,500 families affected by the summer's floods are still living in temporary accommodation because of delays in getting insurance and repairs done, the programme claims.

After this summer's floods, Defra said that annual flood defence funding would rise from 600 million to 800 million, but not until 2010/11.

The ABI told the programme: "When dealing with such a huge number of claims some problems may arise. Insurers try to resolve these as quickly as possible.

"The industry has pledged to continue to offer flood insurance to all existing customers, providing there are adequate flood defences in place.

"For new customers, individual insurers will decide if they are able to offer flood cover."

Defra declined last night to comment on the details of a leaked document, but a spokesman said that the Government was "committed to effectively managing flood and coastal erosion risk".

That was why it had nearly doubled spending to an estimated 600 million in 2007/08.

"It is a long-term business and requires thorough assessment and proper planning, so increased funding alone would not bring about improvements any faster," said the spokesman.

20 areas most at risk to flooding

Boston, Lincs: 15,906 homes

Windsor and Maidenhead: 11,673

Enfield, London: 9,656

King's Lynn and West Norfolk: 8,387

Spelthorne, Surrey: 8,131

Runneymede, Surrey: 8,106

Warrington, Cheshire: 7,832

Newport, South Wales: 7,762

East Lindsey, Lincs: 7,484

Leicester: 7,369

Shepway, Kent: 7,328

Birmingham: 6,497

Reading: 6,095

Elmbridge, Surrey: 5,614

Merton, London: 5,467

Sir y Flint, Flintshire, North Wales: 5,294

Kirklees, West Yorks: 5,230

Gwynedd, North West Wales: 4,439

Calderdale, West Yorkshire: 4,424

East Riding, Yorks: 4,361

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