Future of Flooding | How partnerships can deliver more flood protection
Government investment in flood defences is significant, but is it enough? Partnership funding can boost overall investment in such schemes but the private sector’s contribution so far has been low.
"Adapt or die”; “there’s no time for complacency about flooding”; “its impacts are in your village, your shop, your home”.
The messaging from the Environment Agency has been strong and staunch as we head into what is forecast to be another wet winter. Even those who live far from coasts and floodplains are being warned: the knock-on effects of flood events mean that nobody is unaffected.
The government knows this and in 2020 it doubled the amount of investment in England’s flood defences to £5.2bn, to be spread between 2021 and 2027.
While substantial, this sum’s significance diminishes when you consider that the Environment Agency expects this to fund 2,000 flood defence projects.
This is why the government introduced its partnership funding policy in 2011. Where previous flood defence budgets have had money allocated to selected projects, partnership funding allows a wider range of schemes to be paid for.
“Rather than [government] fully funding all schemes, the money can go further if you garner some partnership funding contributions,” explains Environment Agency director of flood risk strategy and adaptation Julie Foley.
“These are contributions that aren’t central government funding. They can come from a local authorities, communities or other infrastructure providers.”
Royal Haskoning DHV flood and coastal management advisor Jaap Flikweert adds: “It’s quite a neat approach, certainly conceptually but the trouble, of course, comes in making it actually work.”
Putting together partnership funding packages is resource intensive, involves plenty of people and years of negotiations.
The first step is figuring out how much money central government will contribute and how much must come from elsewhere.
To help work this out, the government has created a partnership funding calculator – acomplex spreadsheet that features a bevy of levers and input variables which enable each scheme to be accurately assessed.
The calculator’s main criterion for determining how much government money a scheme will receive is the number of properties it will protect.
Foley believes this is a sensible approach. “You’ve got to choose where your money will go furthest in terms of public value for money,” she says.
“You’ve got projects that would better protect thousands of homes and wider properties, and they would probably get fully funded [by government] because there’s such an enormous number of beneficiaries.”
If you really want to make third party funding work, there’s so much more talking and engaging that you need to do
But not all flood defence schemes are in areas that are heavily populated and, even though they are still vital, will not qualify for full government funding. Scheme promoters must then look for other beneficiaries to chip in, and this is where partnership funding comes into play.
Often the first ports of call for partnership funding are government agencies like National Highways or Network Rail, whose infrastructure needs flood protection.
For example, 2015’s Storm Eva flooded 320 homes in Rochdale as well as a key part of the Manchester to Leeds railway line, causing extensive delays and cancellations to train services. So when it came to creating a flood defence programme to protect the area in the future, Network Rail was persuaded to contribute £3M in partnership funding.
This type of agreement is now understood to be a prerequisite for any flood defence scheme to benefit from a partnership funding arrangement. It is a big change from the pre-2011 system and it means that wider benefits must be considered from the very beginning so that funding partners can be attracted early on.
This shift in approach has also necessitated a change in the type of people who work in the sector.
“If you really want to make third party funding work, there’s so much more talking and engaging that you need to do,” says Flikweert.
“It needs different people from what we’re used to; it needs people who are good at engaging, good at understanding other perspectives and other benefits and not just people who are good at the technical stuff.”
ICE flooding community advisory board member Paul Mackie has also noticed that there is a more diverse mix of people in terms of their skills and backgrounds working on flood schemes now. He sees this as a great benefit, especially when it comes to trying to crack the toughest part of partnership funding: obtaining private sector cash.
This money is often harder to secure as businesses already contribute to local economies and pay taxes.
“You need to make a case for how much they should contribute to your flood scheme – over and above what they’re already contributing,” Mackie says. “That can be really difficult.”
You need to make a case for how much they should contribute to your flood scheme – over and above what they’re already contributing
Nonetheless, such partnerships do exist, whether contributions are relatively small amounts from beach side caravan park owners wanting the coast by their sites maintained or bigger sums from utility companies who want to protect their assets.
Mackie points to the sandscaping scheme he was involved with in North Norfolk, where approximately 1.8Mm3of sand was put on the coast, not just to protect local homes but, crucially, Shell’s Bacton Gas Terminal – provider of a third of the country’s gas.
Of the £21M required for the scheme, £14M was secured from the terminal operators including Shell UK and Perenco UK.
“It has delivered resilience for the Bacton Gas Terminal, plus delivered some fantastic benefits for really vulnerable communities downstream by creating a huge new beach,” says Mackie.
More needed from private sector
Still, there is a feeling that the private sector could contribute much more. Foley says the Environment Agency is working really hard to find ways to source more money from businesses.
She believes that better highlighting ways they would benefit could be a solution. “For example, the benefits to roads by reducing surface water flooding will avoid business disruption,” she suggests.
It is clear that greater emphasis on the wider benefits of flood defence schemes is needed to make partnership funding work efficiently for everyone, but in the decade since its initiation it has proven to be sophisticated and flexible.
“It’s not a policy that’s stood still in time,” says Foley. “It’s continued to evolve.”