Academic warns of tough choices ahead

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THE stand-off between Ministers and the insurance industry over ensuring cover for people living in flood risk areas should prompt a wider debate about how Britain protects itself from flooding, and who pays for it, according an academic.

Flooding expert Tom Coulthard, professor of physical geography at Hull University, said Britain was alone among European countries in the way it prepared.

He also said much of the flood defence infrastructure put in place protected areas which may no longer be a priority.

“The whole issue about flood defences and who pays for them is a really interesting one,” said Prof Coulthard, who chaired an independent review of the Hull floods of 2007.

“European countries have a government fund that covers them for disasters or extreme events, but in Britain it’s unique.

“The insurers cover this but they have a gentleman’s agreement with the government – ‘you keep up the flood defences and we’ll keep the premiums low’.

“At some time in the future someone’s going to have to make some tough decisions about who pays.

“In the UK, the flood defences we have today were born after the Second World War and come from when the nation was worried about food security.

“In the 1953 floods, in the North, lots of people died and the country got really worried about whether we would be able to feed ourselves.

“Now we find ourselves in a different world. How much of our food comes from the UK? Very little.

“Now as a population our main interest is to protect towns and cities and businesses.

“The priority of the country has changed but the whole infrastructure was built up to protect agriculture.

“We have to consider whether to carry on funding something designed to protect how the country was 60 or 70 years ago, or is there a different model or way forward?

“People who live in flood risk areas are effectively being subsidised by people who don’t live in flood risk areas; that’s something as a society we take on the chin but the world seems to be moving away from that a little bit more,” he said.