New houses in flood areas "uninsurable"

LONDON (Reuters) - Major housing developments are being given the go-ahead despite flooding risk, meaning they could be “unsaleable, uninsurable and uninhabitable”, the insurance industry trade body said on Thursday.

An aerial view shows flooding around Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, central England July 23, 2007. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said 13 major developments had been given the green light in the past year, despite the Environment Agency warning of flood risk.

Of the government’s target of three million new homes to be built by 2020, a third could be on floodplains, it said.

“Insurers want to continue to provide flood cover, but poor planning decisions will lead to more homes becoming unsaleable, uninsurable and uninhabitable,” said Justin Jacobs, the ABI’s assistant director of property.

Tougher planning controls were necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of new homes being uninsurable.

“The government’s ambitious housing plans are in jeopardy unless we reduce the flood risk,” said Jacobs.

“Where a local authority plans to ignore flood risk advice, the government should step in and review the proposals and be compelled to publish their decision.”

The worst flooding in Britain in 60 years ravaged parts of the country last summer -- and insurers have warned that they might not be able to provide cover in flood-prone areas unless the government puts more money into defences.

Insurers put the estimated damage of the flooding, which mainly hit Yorkshire, Humberside, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, at 3 billion pounds and some of Britain’s biggest companies subsequently hiked their premiums.

Responding to allegations that builders had built too many homes on flood plains, John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Homebuilders’ Federation, said his members were not ignoring advice about flooding.

“It’s not in our interests to build homes that are subject to undue flood risk, that aren’t resilient if it does flood,” he told the BBC.

“We want to build homes to meet the housing crisis, but not just wherever they are, because it’s not in the industry’s interests to do that.

“We have to think of our members’ reputation long-term. If they’re building unsound products in unsound areas that’s going to come back and haunt the industry pretty quickly.”