Ban building in flood plains, report recommends

TDs critical of insurance industry for not offering cover to properties not previously hit

A total ban on building in flood plains is one of a number of recommendations in a report on flooding prepared by TDs and Senators.

The report from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment also criticises the insurance industry for excluding communities from flood cover – even if their properties have never been flooded.

Speaking at the launch of the report committee chairman Michael McCarthy said insurance companies had argued they did not insure a certainty – “only a risk” and could not offer insurance to communities on land which was prone to flooding. But he said there was “a role to be played by insurance companies” in arriving at a solution for the people involved. He said there were areas such as Clonmel, Co Tipperary, where the Government had put in flood defences that seemed to be working, but where people were still denied insurance.

Deputy Catherine Murphy said “there is also an issue of insurance companies taking advantage of flood mapping” and not offering insurance to people who had never been flooded. She said there were anecdotal accounts of homes on hillsides being refused insurance because too wide an area had been included in an flood map.


Devastating impact

Asked about homes built in floodplains Mr McCarthy said the report was in favour of a complete ban on development in these areas. But he said the recurring problem of flooding across the country was having a devastating impact on those already in high-risk areas.

“The extreme weather events of recent years have led to the urgent need for a plan on how we can support households who now find themselves unable to secure or renew insurance,” he said.

Among the recommendations of the committee are:

* Sustained levels of State investment in flood defences and river maintenance in vulnerable areas

* Statewide extension of successful flood warning systems operated by some local authorities

* Planning guidelines for flood risk should be amended to add a a ban on future building on flood plains and in low-lying coastal areas that are prone to sea flooding

* A systematic investigation by the Central Bank of Ireland to determine the extent of the problem of people being refused insurance

*A possible partnership between the Government and the insurance industry to forge a new agreement for the provision of insurance to policyholders in localities excluded from flood cover.

The report said: “If, after examining the various models of international best practice, no adequate solution can be reached, the State could consider the merits of introducing legislation that would compel insurance providers to provide flood insurance to everyone.”

The report also noted costs of weather-related claims, as advised by Insurance Ireland, the umbrella body for insurance companies. According to Insurance Ireland floods in Ireland from 2000-2012, cost €679 million. But when claims arising from freezing conditions are included, the total cost of weather events was €1.3 billion.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist