TWO flood campaigners have called for a change of approach – as the Environment Agency chief claimed not every home can be protected.

Speaking at a conference in London today, Sir James Bevan will say that climate change is continuing to raise the risk of extreme weather, and that the scale of coastal erosion or risk of river or sea flooding will become so great that communities might have to move.

There is also a need for “nature-based solutions”, such as restoring the bends in rivers, planting trees and creating wetland habitats to slow the flow of water downriver and reduce flood risks, he said.

Sir James said it would be unrealistic to ban all development on flood plains, but it should only be done if there is no alternative, and any building that goes ahead should not increase the risk of flooding for other people.

The Environment Agency says it is spending £2.6 billion on new flood defences that will better protect 300,000 properties by 2021 and more than £1 billion on maintaining existing defences in England.

“We need a new mindset to live with rivers, not in them,” explained John Kelsall of Carlisle Flood Action Group.

“We need to look at catchment management. If you look at any river at the foot of the river bank, they are very often filled with gravel and banks aren’t properly maintained, so they don’t provide good conveyance.”

Mr Kelsall questions whether the flooding is getting worse.

“Yes there has been flooding of the same standard as Storm Desmond, but it is not getting worse. It might be becoming more frequent but if we are maintaining rivers properly there is no reason why these storms can’t happen more frequently without bringing more damage.”

He also said asking people to give up their homes without some sort of government reimbursement scheme already in place as “ridiculous”.

Despite the flooding of 30 homes during Storm Ciara, Appleby has been told it will not get defences to protect The Sands area of the town.

Gareth Hayes of Appleby Emergency Response Group said: “The vulnerable part of Appleby is The Sands. The Environment Agency told us the defences would cost £6m to make the area flood resilient. They told us we will not get that money, it is like we don’t exist.

“We’ve been told we’ll get £2m to make part of the other side of the town resilient, with work to start in 2021 – five years after Storm Desmond and after two floods in two weeks. It’s not good enough.”

Mr Hayes said it is one thing to encourage more people to make their properties more flood resilient, but he questions whether some people have the skills or resources to do so.

“One of the problems is that the flood defences wear after some years. If they’ve been put in four years ago they need validating and checking every year.

“Even with the defences, in a super flood like Desmond they aren’t enough.”