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Jim Hall: national standards vital to improved extreme weather resilience

The National Audit Office has voiced concerns about the government’s progress on ensuring the UK can be resilient to the impacts of extreme weather events, in a new report out yesterday (6 December).

Government resilience: extreme weather finds that while central government has in place a range of existing protocols for managing the impacts of extreme weather events such as the drought the UK experienced in 2022 and the flooding and disruption caused by Storm Arwen in 2021 and Storm Ciaràn this autumn, more action is needed to improve coordination of decision making and ensure funding and investment is targeted effectively, in order to limit the impact of such events on communities and businesses. Chief among the NAO’s recommendations is a call for the government to set clearly defined standards for national resilience, echoing the Commission’s own policy position.

In response to the NAO’s findings, Professor Jim Hall of the National Infrastructure Commission said:

“Extreme weather events present an acute threat and this report rightly highlights the need for urgent action to ensure our resilience to their impacts. The NAO’s call for clear standards for how national infrastructure should perform echoes a recommendation in our recent National Infrastructure Assessment: if everyone is clear about what effective resilience looks like, targeting funding, securing private sector investment and joined-up responses across multiple responsible organisations become that much easier to achieve.

“We also welcome the report’s call for a whole system approach and a clearer understanding of the risks associated with surface water flooding, both areas where the Commission has set out specific recommendations to government to improve governance arrangements and planning.”

The Second National Infrastructure Assessment in October 2023 made ten recommendations to government on improving the resilience of the UK’s water, energy, transport and digital infrastructure systems, in the face of the growing risks from more extreme weather events as a result of climate change. This included a call for government to set out by 2025 outcome-based resilience standards for these four sectors, and take action to ensure regulators took account of these standards in their settlements with infrastructure operators to ensure investment is appropriately targeted towards resilience improvements.

The Assessment also included specific recommendations on improving access to climate data for infrastructure operators, upgrading engineering standards to better reflect future climate impacts, and action on controlling the growth of impermeable surfaces along with the development of single joint plans by flood authorities to reduce the risk of surface water flooding, drawing on recommendations first made in the study Reducing the risk of surface water flooding.

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