Should water companies be forced to pay for flood defences in problem areas?

Water companies should pay for defences to protect individual properties which repeatedly flood when the drains are unable to cope with heavy rainfall, Lancashire’s Labour county councillors have said.

But a motion calling on United Utilities, the water provider for most of the county, to make the commitment to so-called “property-level” flood defences – which include automatic or manual products to block off water entry points – was defeated at a full meeting of Lancashire County Council.

Should properties be given special protection in areas where the drains cannot cope?

Should properties be given special protection in areas where the drains cannot cope?

Members heard that the company provides support to residents when its drainage systems are found to have failed and resulted in a flood. But the drains are not expected to be able to deal with any flood event which is deemed to have had a less than three percent chance of occurring.

Moving the motion, County Cllr Erica Lewis said that it was designed to give protection to residents whose properties “are routinely flooded because the system is not designed to cope with the rain which we experience”.

“This is proposed as a targeted solution that would limit the expense to United Utilities, who, much as I would like to just redo the drainage across the North West, I acknowledge are probably unlikely [to do so].

“This is having a significant detrimental impact on residential properties and particularly small businesses who find the cost of flood doors and things like that prohibitive,” County Cllr Lewis added.

But a Conservative-backed amendment asked for United Utilities simply to “work towards” providing property-level defences in the circumstances described by Labour.

“When you start to get into these issues, you realise the complexity and the number of agencies that are being cut across – not just one organisation is responsible,” said County Cllr Andrew Snowden, who recounted instances of flooding in his Hoghton with Wheelton division.

“Part of the issue is the water table and the number of service reservoirs that have been filled in over the years…and when you get to coastal areas, it becomes even more complicated.”

The amendment – which also referred the matter to an existing council working group on flooding which is due to report next month – won the support of the Liberal Democrats and some independents.

But Labour’s Gillian Oliver, who told the meeting that a property on Blackpool Road in her Preston South West division had been experiencing flooding for 22 years, said that “those that have genuine responsibility [should] take it”.

After some bad-tempered exchanges, Conservative Matthew Salter said the working group was the best place to consider the issue in detail.

The original motion also noted that government support for property-level flood defences is not currently routine. While some Lancashire residents were given grants following the floods caused by Storm Desmond in 2015, which hit places like Croston in Chorley, no money was made available following the flooding which struck parts of Lancaster and the Fylde coast in November 2017.

United Utilities was approached for comment on the issues raised in the debate.

WHAT IS PROPERTY-LEVEL PROTECTION?

Products to protect individual properties from flooding have been available for over 20 years. They include measures such as 'water doors' which are made up of individual metal panels that can be slotted into place at times of heightened flood risk via a permanent fixture installed either side of all the entrances to a property. Specialist air bricks are also available which automatically shut off in the event of a flood to help prevent premises becoming inundated.

A British Standard for such devices is expected to be in operation before the end of the year, which will tighten up requirements about the performance of the products over the course of their lifetime.

A survey by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2014 found that property protection successfully mitigated against flooding in 84 percent of cases. However, the same government review noted "a wide range of problems...relating to flood protection products, their installation, operation, maintenance and storage - and, in some instances the expectations, awareness and understanding of the residents involved". These issues were found to have adversely affected the performance of the products, causing flood damage as a result.

ADVICE

Advice on flood protection can be obtained from the National Flood Forum charity - nationalfloodforum.org.uk