In an English town threatened by coastal and river flooding, cooperation between local government, the national Environment Agency, utility providers, and housing developers has allowed for the planning and funding of a flood defense strategy.
Warrington is a large town in northwest England. Parts of the town lay within the floodplains of the River Mersey and smaller tributaries that run through the community into the river. The Mersey River is also tidally influenced. To help alleviate fluvial and tidal flooding, the national Environment Agency worked with local partners to develop the Warrington Flood Risk Management Strategy plan and implement the Mersey River flood defense scheme. To fund the planning and development, the local council gathered contributions from the local utility company and housing developers, as well as from the central government.
In December 2010 the Warrington Flood Risk Management Strategy was approved. The strategy was developed as part of the Environment Agency’s national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The plan identified areas at risk from flooding, and those areas where flooding could be reduced. While the focus was on the town’s rivers, the project was coordinated with a Surface Water Management Plan led by the Warrington Borough Council to reduce stormwater flooding as well. The local utility company, United Utilities, also acted as a partner in developing the Flood Risk Management Strategy. As part of the planning process, the national agency, borough council, and utility company engaged stakeholders, hosted public workshops and exhibitions, and gathered and considered public comments at various phases of the project.
Through the planning process, it was determined that structural flood defenses were needed (such as levees and flood walls). The contributions of the central government (£16.4 million) and the local government (£3.4 million) were not enough to cover all the expenses (estimated at £23 million). Because official policies in England require housing developers and utility companies to protect development from flooding, the local government was able to establish funding partnerships with housing developers and United Utilities to cover the remaining costs of the new flood protection infrastructure. The utility company agreed to partially fund the program because it would provide a higher standard of protection around their infrastructure. United Utilities contributed £2 million. In their partnership with the housing developers, the council agreed to underwrite the provision of flood defenses in the area in the short term, and would then seek to recoup funding from the developers when the housing market picks up. Additionally, requiring new housing to be built with appropriate flood defenses resulted in an in-kind contribution of £1.2 million to the flood defense scheme.
Construction has already begun on parts of the River Mersey Flood Defense Scheme. Although the project will not be completed until 2015, locals are already praising the new structures for reducing flooding. When completed, the new flood defenses will improve flood protection for approximately 2,000 homes and businesses.
- The Environment Agency and Warrington Borough Council engaged United Utilities and housing developers as partners in the planning process for the Warrington Flood Risk Management Strategy. Building relationships with these stakeholders helped the government agencies leverage funding from them for implementation and construction of flood defense infrastructure when national contributions proved insufficient.
- The UK government uses an “Outcome Measure Score” based on a project’s cost-benefit analysis to determine which projects receive national funding. The score from the Warrington Project was not high enough for the national government to cover all expenses.
- Partnerships between the national Environment Agency, Warrington Borough Council, United Utilities, and housing developers allowed the flood defense scheme to be completely funded.
- Mapping flood risk increased the local community’s understanding of their risk. This also helped planners identify where flood risk could be reduced through structural and non-structural defenses.
- Housing developers agreed to provide appropriate flood defenses for new houses they build. This reduces the need for structural flood defenses, such as flood walls, translating into an in-kind donation of £1.2 million to the flood defense system.
- National policy helped the local government leverage funding from housing developers and the utility company. Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25) on development and flood risk aims to “ensure that flood risk is taken into account at all stages in the planning process to avoid inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding, and to direct development away from areas at highest risk. Where new development is, exceptionally, necessary in such areas, policy aims to make it safe without increasing flood risk elsewhere and where possible, reducing flood risk overall.”
This project is an example of how a partnership approach to flood management can provide a local community with a shared understanding of flood risk and long term investment needs.
Although this project is mostly a structural flood defense system, this case study can be considered as a model for establishing partnerships for a variety of projects, including planning and funding. By working together with the local council, local utility company, and housing developers, the national Environment Agency was able to develop a plan to address local needs and fill funding shortfalls. Housing developers and utility companies have much to gain financially from improved flood protection, so it only makes sense that they help pay for it. It is important to note that there was national policy that encouraged housing developers and the utility company to help pay for improvement (Planning Policy Statement 25). In the United States and Louisiana there are some laws and policies that encourage development to consider flooding risk (such as NFIP); however, stronger state or local laws would be needed to require new developments to more proactively consider flooding risks.
Research supported by a grant from the Kresge Foundation.