Suzanne Heneghan, editor of Utility Week magazine, comments on a new 'flood moment' for the industry and the nation

As the UK’s “storm season” continues, it seems extreme flooding has become the new normal – and utilities are on the frontline.

Anyone who has travelled the length of the country in recent days will have grown accustomed to seeing swathes of prime agricultural land submerged under vast lakes of standing water. Ongoing TV reports show distressed communities battling to rescue their homes from the havoc wreaked by two storms within days, followed by a deluge of snow this week. Tragically, the death toll has now risen to five people.

As 90mph winds battered the country, and more than a month’s-worth of rain fell within just 24 hours in places, water and power providers were out maintaining lifeline services and protecting critical national infrastructure for homes, business and transport.

It has become clear the nation faces a “flood response moment” – something environment secretary George Eustice, just days into his ministerial post, was quick to accept when he admitted that the ­government couldn’t protect every single household, due to the nature of climate change.

Yet he also pointed to how government is spending £2.6 billion on flood defences, with more than 1,000 schemes set to protect 300,000 homes by 2021. And this winter, 90,000 homes in England are said to have been saved from flooding, with a further £4 billion more still to come for flood defences.
Sadly, the devastating scenes have proved the perfect prologue to the government’s long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), due out with the Budget next month. How much it will accord with the 2018 recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment will soon emerge.

A key priority, according to the commission, is a long-term ­programme to deliver a nationwide standard of flood resilience by 2050 – with funding for flood risk management rising significantly over the coming decades. Since that assessment, we heard then-chancellor Sajid Javid pledge an “infrastructure revolution”, with the promise of money earmarked for climate issues when the government’s strategy is published.

All eyes will be on that report, including those of regional leaders who want a review of how future flood defence activity is funded and organised. The tide has turned, and demand is rising for the country to now look way beyond emergency responses and reactive measures – no matter how welcome they have been so far.
Read how industry is responding:
Energy networks: Weathering the storm
Stormtroopers: Water sector battles through