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Housing

Revealed: Thousands of homes being built on floodplains ignore climate change risk

Building more than 5,000 homes on areas at high-risk of flooding is a ‘planning catastrophe’, think tank Localis has warned.

The east of England is facing a “planning catastrophe” without reforms to stop new homes from being built in areas at high risk of flooding due to climate change.

Think tank Localis found that so far this year almost 200 planning applications have been approved to build a total of 5,283 homes on floodplains in the highest-risk local authorities in England.

Most of the homes are clustered down England’s east coast with homes newly built in North Lincolnshire and Kingston-upon-Hull at risk from flooding. Elsewhere homes in Doncaster, Exeter and Windsor have also been greenlit despite the climate risk.

With climate change increasing in the years ahead, Localis’s lead clean growth researcher Grace Newcombe is calling on housing secretary Michael Gove to ban developers from building new homes in high-flood risk areas.

“With climate change another unavoidable reality, we need to strengthen communities to become resilient in adapting to, living with and responding to flood pressures,” said Newcombe.

“Clearly defined flood resilience objectives from the national government aligned with whole-system collaboration is needed to protect homes and businesses and stimulate building back better. Failing to do this and continuing to build new homes in floodplain areas without resilience measures is a planned catastrophe.”

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Almost 1.9 million homes are already located on or near floodplains, according to figures released by the National Audit Office in 2020.

More than 4,000 of the 5,283 homes were in areas pre-identified as highly likely to flood while a third of the homes in the top-five local authorities for flood risk did not have a flood risk assessment.

More than 12 local authorities in England have more than 10 percent of their current homes at significant risk of flooding, with many situated down England’s eastern side.

South Holland, Boston, North Lincolnshire, Kingston-upon-Hull and East Lindsey all make the list alongside Fenland in Cambridgeshire, Runnymede and Spelthorne in Surrey and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire as well as Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

Exeter on England’s south-west coast is also packed with a high-proportion of homes at significant risk of flooding. Parts of the Devon city were hit by flooding following heavy rain in October.

These communities need flood strategies to build resilience by focusing on how to live through the floods as well as building defences to prevent flooding, according to Localis.

Planning systems must also ensure developers are made liable for the sustainability and insurability of new homes built in floodplain areas, the report said.

“Climate change will increase the UK’s exposure to weather-related hazards such as flooding, and it’s vital we prepare for this,” said Martin Milliner, claims director at insurance firm LV=.

“To tackle this, we need to come together and develop a holistic approach to flooding for the long term, with property developers, insurers and government – both nationally and locally – tackling the issue of building on floodplains.”

Last year the Westminster government announced plans to invest £5.2bn in building 2,000 new flood and coastal defences to protect more than 336,000 homes across England.

“Our national planning policy is clear that floodplain development should be avoided wherever possible, and protections must be put in place when building in these areas is necessary – we expect local planning authorities to follow this guidance,” said a government spokesperson.

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