Economic pressures, social divides, and pressing environmental problems fuel angst in today’s world. The pessimism of ‘eco-anxiety’ is driven by fear for the environment’s future, and flood risks feature large. We must shape something different.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it”
TED speaker, Alan Kay

Governments across the UK are trying to prepare for climate change.

We can’t control all future events, but preparations can be made to predict and avert negative impacts to people and property. A more secure future can be protected.

It will require changes in established practices across a multitude of different sectors. The challenge is to create a new future scenario different to the one that our established practices are on course to produce.

Flood and Coastal Erosion Management (FCERM)

Much of our current approach to flood and coastal erosion management results from lessons learnt in the 2007 floods, brought to public attention by the Pitt Review of the same year.

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (FWMA) turned learning into practice and the role of lead local flood authorities was created. The multitude of risk management authorities already in existence with varying responsibilities relating to flood risk management was also recognised.

Sections 7 and 8 of the FWMA required the EA and NRW respectively to develop national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategies for England and Wales. This confirmed their strategic overview of other risk management authorities and responsibility for coordinating actions.

The strategies produced were:

  • The National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England
  • The National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in Wales.

There are many broad similarities between them. In particular:

  • both maintain an overview of risks and act to implement FCERM-strategy measures to mitigate risk
  • both seek to involve the public, local authorities, and other stakeholders in decision-making processes
  • both have responsibilities to reduce flood and erosion risk, and maintain environmental resilience.

There are also notable differences. Significantly, in the detail to which specified actions are described.


The EA’s approach in The National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England is to outline an overarching set of broad ‘strategic objectives’ and the ‘measures’ by which they would be achieved.

For example:

Strategic objective 2.2 Between now and 2030 risk management authorities will encourage environmental net gain in all new development to support resilience to flooding and coastal change.

This is achieved through the following measures:

Measure 2.2.1 From 2021 risk management authorities will plan all flood and coastal defence projects and programmes to deliver biodiversity gain, in line with the government’s mandate, and seek to encourage other environmental benefits.

Measure 2.2.2 From 2021 risk management authorities will work with developers and planners to maximise the opportunities for flood and coastal resilience as part of contributing to environmental net gain for development proposals.

The progress that risk management authorities make in meeting measures is monitored and reported to ministers annually in Section 18 reports, as prescribed by the FWMA.

Objectives and measures provide the overall direction for risk management authorities to be heading in, while allowing room for individual organisations and locations to determine their own particular route.

This is particularly relevant to WHS. Sections 9 and 10 of the FWMA require lead local flood authorities to produce local flood risk management strategies and WHS has been tasked with developing the strategy for Oxfordshire.

Following the direction set out in the EA’s national strategy, WHS is working innovatively towards the priorities specified. These include a strong focus on climate change, resilience, data sharing and incorporating natural flood management to achieve a safe and sustainable future for the region.


NRW’s approach is perhaps less thematic and more specific, laying out short-term targets to achieve five overall objectives.

For example:

NRW to utilise the National Asset Database to ensure the Wales Flood Map reflects the reduced risk from all flood alleviation schemes by 2022. (This can be seen in the defended zones shown on the new Flood Map for Planning Wales)

Many of the targets relate almost entirely to NRW and the Welsh government, and make far less reference to other risk management authorities. This is reflective of a less centralized approach than that of the EA.

NRW’s strategic emphasis on reducing flood risk in a way that supports sustainable development and improves the future natural environment in Wales is another key difference.

This is largely reflective of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 for which there is no equivalent in England. All activities must be sustainable in nature and lead to net environmental improvement. All specified actions to mitigate flood risk in Wales are required to comply, resulting in a heavy emphasis on wellbeing at all stages.


Rather than setting national direction with one overarching strategy, Scottish legislation requires a set of flood risk management plans (FRMP), updated in six-year cycles.

While England and Wales differ in nuance, Scotland’s approach is fundamentally different. The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009, albeit also building on the lessons of the 2007 floods, requires each of the 14 flood risk management districts in Scotland to have their own plan. These are the responsibility of the lead local authority for each district.

There is no single document drawing together common themes, instead these are guided by two categories of objectives laid out in the 2015 iterations of FRMPs.

  • Reduce overall flood risk to reduce the risk of flooding from all sources (river, sea and surface water) as far as reasonable, taking account of economic, environmental and social priorities.
  • Avoid an increase in flood risk to avoid increasing flood risk through land use planning and maintenance of existing flood management infrastructure.

The last word

Time will tell whether the lack of a document detailing strategy across all three nations comes in for criticism in the future.

England and Wales take the ‘all for one and one for all’ approach. The differences between their respective deliveries of this demonstrate some of the differences between their approaches to holistic societal issues.

Scotland has chosen its own route.