Thames Barrier

‘Funding gap’ in crucial plan to protect London from flooding

Image credit: Thames Barrier Jrockar |

A multibillion-pound plan to protect London from flooding has been published this week by the Environment Agency (EA), but there is a “funding gap” which needs to be filled, the regulator has said.

In the updated plan, which was consulted on over the autumn, the EA said defences upstream of the Thames Barrier in inner London will need to be raised 15 years earlier than had originally been planned.

The regulator's new and improved climate models had illustrated the “heightened risk of flooding from a warming climate and rising sea levels” and that these defences would therefore need to be raised in 2050.

The plan, known as 'Thames Estuary 2100', sets out how the EA aims to protect more than 1.4 million people and £321bn of property until the end of the century. It is estimated the plan will cost £16bn to implement.  

There is a network of more than 330km of walls and embankments, nine major barriers and gates - including the Thames Barrier - and over 400 other structures including flood gates, outfalls and pumps currently protecting the capital and the Southeast of England from tidal and fluvial flooding. However, the EA only maintains 12 per cent of the flood defences in the Thames Estuary.

In the plan, the EA says it expects the Thames Barrier to continue to protect London until 2070. It says it is “working with partners to review and decide” by 2040 whether to replace or upgrade the existing barrier.

The plan also calls for riverside strategies to be embedded into local planning frameworks by 2030 to ensure that new development is designed to factor in future flood defence requirements. The EA estimates that over the next 50 years the current number of properties on the flood plain are likely to double.

However, many respondents to the EA’s consultation said funding was the main challenge.

The City of London Corporation said: “The biggest challenges remain uncertainty in funding and the legislative mechanism for requiring [flood] defence raising. Until these are largely resolved it is unlikely that early and proactive delivery will be undertaken and this risks works not being complete by the raising deadlines.”

The EA said it will publish an investment strategy in 2025. It noted that since 2012, the estimated cost of putting Thames Estuary 2100 into action had increased by around 50 per cent. It said this increase had been due to inflation, flood defences deteriorating faster than expected and “a better understanding of the current defence system”.

Currently, the main form of government investment to manage flood risk in England is the Flood Defence Grant in Aid (FDGiA). However, the FDGiA will not be enough to fund all the flood defence work needed in the Thames Estuary, the EA noted. “We need to fill this funding gap,” it added.

A condition of FDGiA funding is that it must secure contributions from people who benefit from flood defences these could include businesses, landowners, infrastructure providers and others. The EA says it needs to work with these groups “to explore opportunities to obtain contributions”.

The EA can also require landowners whose land is immediately next to a flood defence wall or embankment, known as riparian owners, to pay to upgrade flood defences that are in a very poor condition. The regulator said it would also work with stakeholders including councils, developers and charities who can fund improved public or recreation spaces that could be used as floodable spaces during high tides.

An EA spokesperson told E&T that the regulator would work with partners across the estuary to develop "a long-term, sustainable investment strategy by 2025 that will give confidence in our collective ability to secure the funding required to deliver it".

They added: "This is likely to require innovative funding approaches". 

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