There are various types of flooding which can occur in Suffolk including coastal, surface, and fluvial (river). All of these could have potentially devastating consequences on communities and businesses.
More than 14,900 properties in Suffolk are at risk of flooding, of which approximately 11,730 are at coastal properties at risk. In addition, many more people who either work in, visit or travel through potentially vulnerable areas, could be unfamiliar with the risk.
As a result of climate change, both the chances and consequences of flooding are likely to increase. Sea level rises, more frequent and higher storm surges, wetter winters, and more intense summer rainfall will add to the existing risk both in Suffolk and across the country.
Flooding can happen without warning and occurs from a variety of different weather events including heavy rainfall and melting snow and ice.
Not only does flooding carry a risk to life and risk of injury, but it can also have many other consequences including:
- Health and psychological impacts
- Damage to homes and businesses, sometimes rendering them uninhabitable for periods of time
- Disruption to utilities such as electricity and water
- Pollution and contamination of the local environment
- Economic damage to businesses, tourism, and agriculture
- Damage to roads and infrastructure
Impacts of flooding can take months or even years to recover from, so ‘Getting Prepared’ is essential.
Some steps to prepare for flooding include:
- Check whether your property is within a flood risk area – Check the long term flood risk for an area in England – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Sign up for the Environment Agency’s free flood warnings service, via telephone, text, or email – Sign up for flood warnings – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Have sufficient insurance for your property (see Flood Insurance section below)
- Know how to turn off your water, gas and electricity.
- Keep drains and gutters clear of potential blockages.
- Vulnerable households can benefit from extra support by signing up to Priority Services Registers with utilities companies.
- Create a ‘Get Prepared’ bag and know where to find it.
- Further information on both Priority Services Registers and creating a ‘Get Prepared’ bag is available on the Prepare Yourself page.
- Check out Suffolk Flood Risk Management Partnership’s What to do before, during and after a flood guide for more practical advice on protecting yourself and protecting your property.
It is the responsibility of the property owner to protect the property from flooding.
In Suffolk, local authorities do not supply sandbags.
There are other ways you may be able to protect your property, using flood protection equipment such as flood boards and doors or seals for airbricks. For more information, visit nationalfloodforum.org.uk or Blue Pages for information on property flood protection products.
Reporting a flood
The affects and incidents of some heavy rainstorms can be very localised, affecting just a few properties or a small area. If you are affected or have been previously by flooding please report it on the Suffolk County Council website.
Building in flood prone areas
The Government’s Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) policy statement (July 2020) sets out its long-term ambition to create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk, as part of a wider commitment to tackling climate change. This involves the twin goals of better protecting the country to reduce the likelihood of flooding, and better preparedness to reduce the impacts of flooding when it happens. Flooding and its management costs the UK around £2.2 billion every year.
There is a requirement to build new housing each year but building on land prone to flooding is a risk to new homeowners and compounds the danger for surrounding areas. With the growing pressure to find sites for housing, flood plain land is some of the cheapest available to developers. The planning system does allow new homes to be built in areas at risk of flooding, but only in exceptional and very specific circumstances.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) advises that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk. Known as the ‘sequential approach’, it ensures that, if vulnerable forms of development are necessary in such areas (like housing), they deliver sustainability benefits, are safe for their users over their lifetime and avoid increasing flood risk elsewhere. Developers planning to build in a flood plain should be familiar with the framework and accompanying guidance and should seek pre-application advice from the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
In addition, the Government has more detailed Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) for Flood Risk and Coastal Change which states:
‘Developers and applicants need to consider flood risk to and from the development site, and it is likely to be in their own best interests to do this as early as possible to reduce the risk of subsequent, significant additional costs being incurred. The broad approach of assessing, avoiding, managing and mitigating flood risk should be followed.’
Each council in Suffolk has Local Plans, which set out how areas should be developed and policies that councils use when making decisions on planning applications. Each LPA has prepared a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment to inform the Local Plans, which identify areas at risk of flooding both now and in the future after taking climate change into account. This includes flood models prepared by the Environment Agency (EA). These Strategic Flood Risk Assessments should be used in assessing flood risk of new development proposals. All sources of flooding should be considered include surface water and flooding from sewers.
Assessing Flood Risk
For planning purposes, the risk of flooding is determined using the Environment Agency’s ‘Flood Map for Planning’, which divides the England into three different zones depending on the likely flood risk.
Sites in Flood Zone 1 are those with a low risk of flooding. At the other end of the scale, sites in Flood Zone 3 have more than a 1 in 100 chance of flooding each year and includes the ‘functional flood plain’ – areas of land where water is stored during flood events. The map also identifies those areas of land which are protected by flood defences.
Climate change must be considered as part of the flood risk.
The Sequential Test
National planning policy seeks to mitigate the risk of flooding by restricting vulnerable new development within areas at risk from flooding. It does this by requiring development proposals in areas at risk from flooding to be subject to a sequential test where it has to be proven there are no suitable areas of land with a lesser risk of flooding. Applying the sequential test must incorporate an allowance for climate change.
The search area to be used in applying the sequential test should be agreed with the Local Planning Authority (LPA).
The Exception Test
If the outcome of the sequential test is that homes have to be built in an area at risk of flooding (either Flood Zones 2 or 3) then the proposals will need to follow the exception test which identifies sustainability benefits of a development, ensures the development is safe for its lifetime and demonstrates that the risk of flooding elsewhere will not be increased.
Flood Emergency Plans
When an exception test is required, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) should consult with local authority emergency planners and with the Suffolk Resilience Forum (SRF) on the suitability of flood evacuation plans to ensure that there are no implications for the emergency services. The SRF will assess the contingency plans to highlight issues or concerns over the proposed development. The process will not state the development is safe or that the Flood Evacuation Plan is adequate. See Appendix 1 for a Flood Evacuation Plan Template and an outline of what information should be included.
The Government has collaborated with the insurance industry in an initiative to make household insurance policies more widely available and affordable for properties at risk of flooding. Flood Re helps household at the highest risk of flooding get affordable home insurance.
Funding for Flood Re comes from various sources – levy, a premium and an excess – paid by insurers. When a homeowner buys property insurance cover, the insurer can choose to pass the flood risk element of the policy to Flood Re for a fix price based on the property’s council tax band. If the homeowner then claims for flooding, the insurer will pay the claim and the money will be reimbursed from the Flood Re fund. This helps keep home insurance premium down for properties at high risk of flooding.
Insurers also provides information about reducing flood risk and some policies cover ‘resilient repairs’ to allow homeowners to install flood resilience measures when repairing their homes after a flood. Flood Re is due to run until 2039.