Policy of building homes on flood plains to be reviewed | Politics

The government has announced a review into the building of thousands of homes on land at the highest risk of flooding following the worst winter storms in years.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, told MPs on Thursday that officials would review the policy of building homes on high-risk flood plains and bring forward changes “in the coming months”.

The announcement, made at the end of a wide-ranging speech on the future of planning, will have significant implications for the government’s aim to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to ease the chronic housing shortage.

It comes after the Guardian revealed that one in 10 of all new homes in England since 2013 have been built on land the government considers at the highest risk of flooding, with more than 11,000 planned for high-risk flood zones in the counties battered by storms in November and February.

Building on land prone to flooding is a risk to new homeowners and compounds the danger for surrounding areas, experts have said, as flood water that could otherwise be soaked up by green space instead runs quickly off concrete and into rivers.

A new development site is flooded beside the River Ock in Abingdon, Oxfordshire

A new development site is flooded beside the River Ock in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Photograph: Cate Gillon/Getty Images

Jenrick told MPs: “We should seize this opportunity to consider how the built and natural environments can work together more harmoniously, and in that spirit, I will be reviewing our policy to prevent building in areas of high flood risk.

“Given the recent devastation suffered by so many of our communities, we are putting an extra £5.2bn into flood defences.”

Jenrick said the review would prioritise steering new developments “away from needless urban sprawl and the ruination of the countryside” and away from areas at the highest risk of flooding, which is about 10% of land in England.

He added: “I hope more broadly that the announcement I have made today of a review of how the planning system interacts with flood plains and the increased risk of flooding that we are seeing in many parts of the country will be good news to those parts of the country that have seen floods in the last few weeks, and that we can bring forward changes in the coming months.”

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace’s Unearthed news unit last month found that of the 11,410 new homes planned across seven flood-stricken English authorities, 1,479 are in four of the areas hit hardest by Storms Ciara and Dennis: Calderdale, Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcester.

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s chief scientist, said “The government has provided no details on this, but it seems as if ministers may have finally realised that building new homes in areas with high flood risk and inadequate defences is a recipe for continual disaster.

“This is one of many examples where for far too long, the government has talked about the climate emergency without treating it as if it was real. The widespread damage and human suffering from the recent flooding have shown just how real it is.

“The government should work up a more sensible policy that empowers local councils and the environmental watchdog to stand up to pressure from developers who are putting profits before people’s safety.”

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