Government investment in flood defences is substantial, but concerns about its adequacy persist. As we look ahead to the future of flooding, it becomes increasingly clear that the involvement of the private sector is crucial in bolstering overall investment and delivering enhanced flood protection. Up until now, the private sector's contribution has been limited. In this article, we delve into the potential of partnerships and their pivotal role in addressing this challenge.
Government Initiatives and Existing Challenges:
The Environment Agency has consistently emphasised the urgency of addressing flooding and its wide-ranging consequences. Recognising the gravity of the situation, the government took a significant step by increasing its investment in England's flood defences to a substantial £5.2 billion for the period between 2021 and 2027. While this allocation may appear substantial at first glance, its significance diminishes when considering that it is expected to fund only 2,000 flood defence projects.
Introducing Partnership Funding:
To bridge this funding gap, the government introduced partnership funding in 2011, aiming to support a broader range of flood defence schemes. Unlike previous approaches where funding was allocated to specific projects, partnership funding encourages contributions from diverse sources. Julie Foley, the Environment Agency's director of flood risk strategy and adaptation, explains that instead of the government solely financing all schemes, partnership funding encourages financial support from local authorities, communities, and other infrastructure providers. This approach ensures that the allocated funds can be maximised, offering better value for public money.
Navigating Complexity and Considering Factors:
Creating partnership funding packages is a complex and resource-intensive process that involves extensive negotiations among multiple stakeholders over several years. The initial step involves determining the government's funding contribution and identifying the necessary funding from other sources. To streamline this process, the government has developed a sophisticated partnership funding calculator that assesses each scheme based on various factors. The primary criterion for government funding is the number of properties that a scheme will protect, a sensible approach aimed at maximising the benefits for a larger number of beneficiaries.
Expanding Beneficiary Circles:
Not all flood defence schemes are situated in densely populated areas that automatically qualify for full government funding. In such cases, scheme promoters must actively seek additional beneficiaries and secure their contributions, highlighting the critical role of partnership funding. Government agencies, such as National Highways and Network Rail, often become the initial funding sources due to their infrastructure's need for flood protection. For example, after Storm Eva caused extensive damage to both homes and the Manchester to Leeds railway line, Network Rail agreed to contribute £3 million to a flood defence program for the affected area. Such arrangements have become prerequisites for flood defence schemes to be eligible for partnership funding, underscoring the need to consider wider benefits from the project's outset to attract funding partners.
Shifting Dynamics and Skillsets:
This shift towards partnership funding has necessitated a change in the skillsets and expertise of professionals working in the sector. Effective third-party funding requires increased engagement and understanding of diverse perspectives and benefits beyond technical proficiency. The involvement of individuals skilled in effective communication, collaboration, and stakeholder engagement has become vital in making partnership funding a success.
Unlocking Greater Private Sector Contributions:
While partnerships with the private sector already exist, there remains untapped potential for increased involvement. The Environment Agency is actively exploring avenues to secure more funding from businesses by emphasising the tangible benefits they stand to gain. For instance, reducing surface water flooding not only safeguards communities but also mitigates business disruptions, particularly for vital road networks. By highlighting the broader advantages of flood defence schemes, partnership funding can be harnessed more efficiently. Over the past decade, partnership funding has demonstrated its adaptability and sophistication, continuously evolving to address emerging challenges.
The future of flood protection lies in forging effective partnerships that combine government investment with significant contributions from the private sector. While challenges persist, the evolution of partnership funding has showcased promising results. By leveraging the expertise, resources, and shared responsibility of multiple stakeholders, we can strengthen flood defences and mitigate the impact of flooding on communities and infrastructure. With a proactive approach, we can build a resilient future that prioritises collaboration and effective partnerships to address the growing threat of flooding.