The head of the Environment Agency warned against building houses on the flood plain due to pressure on the government during the worst winter storms of the years.
Sir James Bevan said that the properties should not be built in flood risk areas “as far as possible” and that some developments should never have been approved.
Before a speech in London on Tuesday, he said: “We must think about making our places more resistant to the floods that will occur in the future. Part of that is making sure that we don’t rely on the flood plain as much as possible. “
The Guardian revealed Sunday that over 11,000 homes have been planned in areas that the government considers a high flood risk in the seven British regions flooded by Storms Ciara and Dennis.
Ministers face renewed appeals to review housing strategy as experts, local authorities and insurers warn that construction in high-risk flood areas is increasing the danger to thousands of people due to extreme weather conditions, which climate scientists say they will become more common.
The government was also targeted by the National Farmers Union which blamed a “third world” approach to managing water resources for the devastation.
NFU President Minette Batters said the government has done “nothing” in the past eight years to act on its 2012 manifesto involving multiple reservoirs and a national plan to transport water elsewhere in the country to meet needs.
“Years of neglect have created an urgent problem,” he said. He said that farmers’ efforts with wooden dams or the introduction of beavers to naturally manage the flow of water were only part of the solution.
Batters said plans for British water companies to move water across the country were a start, but “the government will have to bite the bullet and commit major funding” for a national water pipeline.
The government aims to build 300,000 homes per year by mid 2020 to help reduce chronic shortages across the UK. However, local authorities say they have been struggling to meet these demands due to the shortage of available land, leading to one in 10 of the new homes in England built on high-risk flood sites since 2013.
Speaking about BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Bevan also raised the possibility that some vulnerable communities on the coast and river valleys could move to avoid repeated flooding.
He said those communities should not be “forced”, but that there needs to be a conversation about how they can be protected in the long run.
In a Tuesday speech at the Water-Tech Innovation Summit in Central London, Bevan will say that it is unrealistic to ban all construction of houses on the flood plains given England’s geography.
However, he will add: “The clue is in the name: flood plain. So we can and should insist that development takes place there only if there is no real alternative, that such development does not increase the flood risk of other people … and that the properties built in the flood plain are resistant to floods, for example with the garages on the ground floor and the people above. “
The work called for an immediate end to the construction of land considered to be at high flood risk, which is equivalent to 10% of the land in England. The Guardian’s analysis found that over 84,000 homes had been built in these high-risk flood areas between 2013 and 2018, with the annual total doubling over that period.
England experienced one of the wettest Februarys in 254 years of recordings, with some areas suffering a month of rain in 24 hours. River levels have surpassed existing records across the country, including Severn, which is Britain’s longest river.