Flooding – The European Commission Report

March 11, 2014

The recent European Commission report on Flooding is timely in light of the recent scenes on our TVs, particularly in the South of England. It is equally timely for Northern Ireland where stacked sand bags, high tides and storms mean the fear of flooding has not been far away. The Commission Report found that damage from floods throughout the European Union had averaged 4.9 billion Euros a year between 2000 and 2012 but rose to 12 billion Euros in 2013. The Report recommended that member states need to work together more closely to prevent flooding damage and in particular recognises the significant economic benefits which come from timely investment in flood defences.

This is particularly interesting in the context of the ongoing consultation by the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment on the draft Single Planning Policy Statement (draft SPPS) which was published on 4 February 2014 with the consultation closing on 29 April 2014.

The draft SPPS sets out to replace the current Planning Policy Statements in a single consolidated document and is part of the planning reform package which will see the transfer of planning powers to newly constituted District Councils in April 2015. Of particular significance in Climate Change Week are its proposals in respect of Flood Risk. The draft SPPS will replace Planning Policy Statement 15 (which is currently under revision) and the provisions within the draft SPPS are said to give “strategic expression” to the emerging revised draft and the draft SPPS will be updated to reflect the final version of the policy document.

The important role of the planning system in managing development so as to reduce the risk and impact of flooding is clearly recognised in line with the European Union Floods Directive.

The primary aim of the draft SPPS is to prevent future development that may be at risk from flooding or that may increase the risk of flooding elsewhere. This includes the prevention of inappropriate new development and the adoption of a precautionary approach to the identification of land for development through the Local Development Plan process. Although there is also recognition of the need to protect development that is permitted within flood risk areas by ensuring that adequate and appropriate measures are employed to mitigate and manage the flood risks, more detailed consideration of flood defences is essential, as advocated by the European Commission Report. The answer to the flooding problem cannot be managed solely by saying “no” to inappropriate schemes. There is an urgent need for a wider and more strategic view of flood prevention.

For more information in relation to the draft SPPS please get in touch with Karen Blair or Claire McNally on 028 9024 3141.