The system for allocating taxpayers’ money to flood defence schemes favours protecting wealthy families and those in the south-east, analysis suggests.
The government has said it applies a strict economic formula to deciding where funding should be spent. But an investigation by the Press Association reveals the methods to determine where funding goes focus on the value of assets protected – which could tilt the system towards richer households and those in parts of the country where house prices are higher.
To secure funding, a flood protection scheme has to demonstrate that it delivers more in benefits than it costs to implement and maintain the defences – by calculating the economic losses avoided through protecting property and infrastructure. To calculate losses from homes, properties are divided into 28 standard categories based on age, size and type, according to the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management manual, which along with an online handbook advises appraisers on how to assess flood defence schemes. The costs of a given level of flooding for larger properties – for example a detached Victorian house – are considered to be up to several times greater than for smaller homes such as a 1970s semi. People who are in a higher social class, such as upper-middle or middle class, in professional or managerial roles, are considered to have better-quality household items than working-class families, so losses from their properties are greater.
Treasury guidelines also require appraisers to “cap” or limit the value of the damages expected so they do not exceed the market value of the property – which is likely to be much higher in London and the south-east than other parts of the country. This means the losses from properties in the south-east could be calculated as higher than elsewhere, making a flood defence scheme that protects those homes look more attractive. The flood manual says: “This capping at market values creates regional distribution issues (eg houses within the M25 are significantly more expensive than comparable houses in the north of England) for which there is, at present, no official counter-mechanism.”
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “This is further evidence of how the poorest are hit hardest by floods – something that will only get worse as climate change worsens flooding. All communities at risk of flooding must be adequately defended. As climate change worsens extreme weather, communities have every right to press the government for a fairer approach to protect their families, homes and livelihoods.”
MP Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said it seemed the funding formula was not “Whether you are rich or poor, having your home damaged by flooding is devastating – and a postcode lottery to decide who gets protection simply isn’t fair. It’s simply wrong for richer areas to get more protection than poorer ones.”