SEPA publishes new and updated flood risk and land use planning guidance


In early August 2017, we published new and updated guidance relating to flood risk and land use planning. Here we explain more about the guidance, and why we believe taking account of flood risk in the planning process is so important.

The first line of defence against flooding is to avoid building in flood risk areas.

With 108,000 existing properties in Scotland at risk of flooding (almost three quarters of which are residential), and an additional 60,000 predicted to be put at risk in future due to climate change, and a cost of £252 million in expected annual flood damages, the planning system has a critical role to play in ensuring that new development doesn’t add to this total.

No one can stop the rain from falling or other extreme weather events that lead to flooding from occurring, but by considering the location, design, and layout of new developments, we can make sure that the decisions and investments we make today take account of the known risks and deliver high-quality sustainable places for Scotland.

By engaging in flood risk issues and providing clear and informed input to the planning process, we can help planning authorities and other stakeholders better understand and take account of flood risk and positively plan for the future. Ultimately, this will give greater certainty over the delivery of development on the ground and help ensure that the number of people and properties exposed to flood risk does not increase.

As an independent advisor on flood risk to the land use planning process in Scotland, we have a duty to co-operate with planning authorities in the preparation of their development plans, as well as a statutory role to provide flood advice for certain development management planning applications. In providing advice to planning authorities on flood risk, our aim is to:

  • effectively contribute to sustainable flood management by:
    • ensuring development is avoided in areas at medium to high flood risk, from any source, unless it accords with the risk framework in Scottish Planning Policy;
    • exercising our planning functions with a view to reducing overall flood risk.
  • support the delivery of Flood Risk Management Strategies and Local Flood Risk Management Plans:
  • promote the health and well-being of the people of Scotland by ensuring that proposed development does not place communities and businesses at unacceptable flood risk.

This is the first time that we have published flood risk guidance on the development management aspect of land use planning, and its publication completes our suite of flood risk and land use planning guidance already available online.

The purpose of the guidance is to inform our response to planning consultations, and you will see it being referred to in our consultation responses from now on.  Although primarily intended for internal SEPA purposes, we publish our guidance online so that anyone can access and understand the framework we use to guide our planning consultation responses. As you might expect, it is based on Scottish Planning Policy and our duties under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009.

It’s important to highlight that, for the most part, the development management guidance does not represent a change in our approach from that which has gone before.  The only area where we have slightly altered our approach is in relation to development protected by flood protection schemes, and this change has been subject to consultation with a range of stakeholders involved in the planning process in recent months.

By publishing our development management guidance online, we can help stakeholders in the planning process understand the basis for our responses to planning applications.

Below is a brief overview of our new and updated guidance:

New guidance and advice

Development management guidance on flood risk

This sets out our requirements and recommendations for development management consultations on flood risk. More detail on the background to the requirements and recommendations can be found in the background paper on flood risk.

Planning Information Note 4: SEPA position on development protected by a flood protection scheme.

This outlines our position on proposed development protected by a flood protection scheme, and is now embedded in all of our flood risk and land use planning guidance.

Updated guidance and advice

The publication of the two new pieces of guidance above has necessitated some updates to the following documents, all of which have been available on our website for a number of years:

We intend to arrange a number of awareness-raising events on the new and updated guidance later in 2017.  If you have any questions on these documents, or you wish to attend such an event, please email us.

If you’d like to find out more about how flooding is managed in Scotland, please visit our flooding webpages.


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