Sunday, December 2, 2007

Insurance ban for flood-risk homes

Guardian (UK): Homes built on flood plains against official advice should be refused insurance to stamp out the threat of millions more flats and houses being erected in high-risk areas, according to the head of Britain's Environment Agency (EA). The rising risk of flooding to homes and businesses across Britain was dramatically highlighted this summer when torrential rain caused up to 14 deaths and £3 billion of damage. Following the disaster, The Observer revealed an Environment Agency investigation had found 5,000 sites of 'critical infrastructure' were at risk of flooding. In a separate agency report, to be published this week, officials warn they are 'currently unable to provide meaningful warnings for imminent surface water or sewer flooding' - the problem which caused much of this summer's chaos.

With weather forecasters predicting an increase in river, sea and drainage flooding as a result of climate change, the EA's chief executive, Baroness Young, has called on the insurance industry to refuse to insure new properties where planners have given the go-ahead against the agency's advice. Last year 13 'major developments', including housing estates and a holiday park, were given planning permission in such circumstances. Such a proposal would also affect government plans for 3 million new homes, up to one third of which, experts say, could be built on flood plains. In an interview in tomorrow's Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Barbara Young said many properties flooded this summer were built on flood plains in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and called on the Association of British Insurers to help prevent the problem spreading. 'We'd like the insurance companies to be tougher and to simply refuse to insure properties built on the flood plain against our advice.'

Dispatches will also reveal a leaked document from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in which, the programme claims, officials admitted in June 2006 that flood defences were 'severely rationed' and good schemes were being routinely turned down. The programme also found there have been six other major safety incidents at dams in Britain since 2004, before the emergency at Ulley dam in Yorkshire this summer when cracks appeared at the height of the floods. In the same period owners of 40 other dams have been threatened with prosecution over safety issues. And it claims that 2,500 families affected by this summer's floods are still living in temporary accommodation because of delays in getting insurance and repair works done.

After the floods, Defra said annual flood defence funding would rise from £600m to £800m, but not until 2010-11. The ABI told Dispatches: 'When dealing with such a huge number of claims some problems may arise. Insurers try to resolve these as quickly as possible. The industry has pledged to continue to offer flood insurance to all existing customers, providing there are adequate flood defences in place. For new customers individual insurers will decide if they are able to offer flood cover.'…

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