A million new homes could be 'uninsurable'

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The Independent Online

One million new homes expected to be built over the next 12 years could be at risk of flooding unless tougher planning restrictions are introduced, the insurance industry warned yesterday.

The Government has set a target of building three million properties by 2020 but, according to the Association of British Insurers, about a third of these will be erected on flood plains.

In many cases, the ABI claimed, local authorities had pushed for construction to go ahead despite the Environment Agency warning of flood risks.

Justin Jacobs, the ABI's assistant property director, said: "The Government's ambitious housing plans are in jeopardy unless we reduce the flood risk. In the past year, 13 major developments have been given the go-ahead despite Environment Agency advice. 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."

Speaking at a conference organised by the Architects' Journal, he added: "Insurers want to continue to provide flood cover but poor planning decisions will lead to more homes becoming unsaleable, uninsurable and uninhabitable."

Stuart Jackson, the Shadow local government minister, echoed Mr Jacobs' comments, claiming that Labour's obsession with building in flood-prone areas was likely to create the "sink estates of the 21st century".

"We support building more homes but I fear that the Government's poorly thought-through plans are going to leave the country with sprawling housing estates, high-density blocks without proper infrastructure and increase the risk of flooding," he said. "Local communities and not unelected Whitehall bureaucrats should decide where new homes are built."

The Housing minister, Iain Wright, said the Government had introduced the strictest ever planning rules to ensure councils managed flooding risks. He added: "It is up to councils to decide whether to give planning permission for new housing developments but these rules mean they must consult the Environment Agency before allowing new building in flood-risk areas. We are prepared to use our powers to take over decisions if required."

All the developments highlighted by the ABI were approved before the new rules came into force, he said.