MPs are debating measures to protect homes from the threats of surface flooding and sewer overload.
On Monday, the issue was raised in the House of Lords as part of the Housing and Planning Bill.
Surface flooding is a growing problem in the UK, with at least 20,000 sewer overflows occurring every year. The overloading of Britain’s antiquated sewer and drainage networks causes the issue, along with concreting large swaths of land, leaving water with nowhere to be absorbed.
With the Government planning to build hundreds of thousands of new homes in the next few years, the problem is likely to worsen. Currently, property developers can connect new homes to existing sewage and water networks without having to upgrade them, which puts new houses and nearby existing ones at risk of overload and flooding.
An amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill would remove this right and require builders to use sustainable drainage systems, which can include incorporating vegetation and other features to allow water to be naturally absorbed.
The Government opposes the amendment, but a cross-party group of peers could defeat ministers.
Baroness Parminter of the Liberal Democrats, Baroness Barbara Young of Labour and crossbench peer Lord Krebs tabled the amendment. It has the support of water companies and expert organisations, such as the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
Head of Government Affairs at the WWT, Richard Benwell, believes the bill will test whether the Government is serious about tackling flooding: “Building new homes that are naturally resilient from the outset is much more affordable than dealing with the consequences later, and can do wonders for water quality and nature.”1
Baroness Parminter states: “We see this as a vitally important step in cutting down the risk of surface water flooding. There are big let-out clauses for housing developers, as they don’t have to put measures in place that would help prevent flooding, and that is putting people at risk.”
The Home Builders Federation, representing developers, is not taking a definitive position on the amendment. A spokesperson says: “The industry will continue to engage with all the relevant authorities and water companies to agree surface water drainage strategies for new developments in a way that meets the proposed amendments to surface water requirements.”1
Although it is impossible to determine how many of the tens of thousands of cases of homes every year that suffer surface water flooding are new build properties, the problem will increase if housebuilding picks up, as the Government plans. The bill aims to build 300,000 new homes a year.
The Environment Agency found that two-thirds of the 55,000 properties affected by flooding in 2007 were due to drains, sewers and ditches being overwhelmed with water. In London, almost all flooding was down to surface water overload. A majority of insurance claims made annually for flooding are now because of surface water.
Parminter insists that it will be disastrous for new housing if properties are built without regard to surface drainage and sewage networks.
“If you buy a new house, you have the right to expect that it will be built to the highest standards,” she says. “People would be shocked to find that they could be liable to flooding because of the failure to take these basic measures.”1
Remember that if you have a rental property at risk of flooding, our Landlord Property Insurance will cover you against loss or damage.