Industry Insight

Suk Bhupal – COO RiskPlace

Flood risk considerations when buying a UK property

When buying a property there are many factors people usually consider ranging from local schools, size of property, ease of parking, transport links, crime rate and council tax band, but to name a few. The risk of flooding is probably not very high on most people’s list of things to consider.

But, according to the UK’s Environment Agency, around one in six properties in the UK is at some risk of flooding. The increase in the number of flooding incidents has been caused by climate change, land management practices and rapid urbanisation due to a growing population.

As it currently stands, the residents of around 2.4 million UK properties are at risk from fluvial (river) and coastal flooding each year, while a further 2.8 million are susceptible to surface water – or pluvial – flooding. As global warming continues to exacerbate sea level rise and extreme weather, our nation’s floodplains are expected to grow by approximately 45 percent by century’s end. Climate change & population growth is set to double number of properties built on flood plain over next 50 years. The current rate at which the number of vulnerable properties is increasing is five times faster than property level resilience measures are being fitted.

The warnings follow a pattern of severe flooding over the past 10 years linked to an increase in extreme weather events as the country’s climate changes. Met Office records show that since 1910 there have been 17 record breaking rainfall months or seasons – with 9 of them since 2000. As intense storms are becoming more frequent, sea levels are also rising because of climate change. Major floods had been expected every 15 to 20 years in the last century but in the past decade this has shortened to every two to five years. Winter storms are becoming the norm. Storm Desmond, which occurred in 2015, wreaked havoc in parts of Cumbria, Lancashire, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man breaking records for national rainfall accumulation in a 24-hour period.

Skewen Flood in January 2021, indirectly attributed to Storm Christoph

In the last year we have seen three major storms. February 2020’s Storm Dennis was followed by Storm Bella in December. Last month storm Christoph increased river levels in parts of North Wales the Midlands, South Yorkshire and north-west of England. All these events have brought with them extensive flooding, prompting evacuation orders and high water rescues.

Despite 5.2 million homes and other properties in England being at risk of flooding, only a third of people living in those areas believe they face a threat, according to Julie Foley, director of flood risk strategy for Britain’s Environment Agency. Sea levels have risen about 16 cm (6 inches) in Britain since 1990, Foley said, making coastal areas more vulnerable to storm surges. This lack of awareness – combined with fast-increasing demand for new housing, limited available land and often disjointed policymaking and regulation – mean efforts to keep people and property safe are struggling.
And fully two-thirds of properties in England rely on infrastructure – from roads and railways to power plants and water treatment plants – now menaced by flood. Many homeowners and communities do not want to discuss flood risks, fearing it might hurt their ability to get insurance or drive away buyers and investment.

Thousands of England’s vital flood defences are in such a state of ruin they would fail to protect communities from extreme weather, a recent investigation by the Guardian has found.
More than 3,400 of England’s “high consequence” flood assets, defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail, were judged by the Environment Agency to be in such a bad condition they were almost useless. This means that more than one in 20 of the country’s crucial flood defences were in disrepair in 2019-20, the highest proportion in years. This rose to nearly one in 10 in the regions battered by Storm Christoph last week. The findings comes from Environment Agency data obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace UK, and shared with the Guardian.
The Environment Agency has said it needs £1 billion a year to build and maintain England’s flood defences, significantly more than the £5.2bn announced by the government for 2,000 new projects up to 2027.

The chair of the environment agency Emma Howard Boyd feels that “We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond.”
The exceptional nature of the present-day flood-rich period calls for process-based tools for flood-risk assessment that capture the physical mechanisms involved, and management strategies that can incorporate the recent changes in risk.

It also calls for people to be educated on the risks associated with their properties and the types of adaption and remedial works that may be most effective.

Yet there seems to be little progress in achieving this. As houses are bought and sold there is often no indicator of their flood risk and indeed, as flood risks change, neither are existing homeowners assessing their risk. Given both climate change and the dramatic changes in our flood defences, this need for awareness is becoming ever more important.

Property surveys in the traditional sense only happen within the buying process and even then, right at the very end of that process. Owners, sellers, buyers, and financial institutions only ever get sight of this once they are well into the process. Also, with the worrying trend of people not undertaking surveys, the understatement of flood risk is only increasing and is in fact going completely unassessed by those at most risk.

At RiskPlace we have spent a considerable amount of time bringing together all of the information points on a property and its location so risk can be understood immediately. By driving standardisation of a property risk score in a simple way for everyone, it enables the ability for any party (owner, insurer, financier, seller, or buyer) to understand the risks at any time for what for almost all of us is the single biggest investment of our lives.

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.