Political commitment on all sides is needed to tackle the rising risk of flooding, the Association of British Insurers said today.
Speaking at a summit on flooding organised by the Labour Party, Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance, said political consensus was 'essential' to address 'the greatest natural threat facing the UK'.
In particular, he called for improvements to the planning system to prevent developments in high flood-risk areas. Sustained, long-term flood defence spending is also needed to keep pace with the rising threat posed by flood risk, he said.
Today saw the government reveal that 93 new flood defence schemes, protecting 64,000 homes from flooding, would be able to begin construction this year after receiving a share of a £60m funding pot.
Starling said that the government must also recognise that it has a role to play in ensuring affordable flood insurance is widely available, as happens in other countries.
'Flooding is the greatest natural threat facing the UK and the risk is rising, so political consensus on how we effectively adapt to it is essential,' he said.
'Insurers know the traumatic and devastating impact of flooding, through helping their customers recover after a flood.
'Political commitment in the key areas of investment in flood defences, sensible planning decisions and working in partnership with the insurance industry will ensure that flood risk communities get the protection and reassurance they need.'
Starling noted that talks were continuing between the insurance industry and government to develop an arrangement that guarantees insurance for homeowners at high risk of flooding when the current Statement of Principles agreement expires in June. The ABI has proposed the introduction of a not-for-profit fund with resources drawn from a levy on insurance policies.
Speaking ahead of today's summit, Labour's shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, claimed the lack of a new deal was the result of 'incompetent ministers' having 'sat on their hands' for the past two years.
This meant 200,000 homeowners would face difficulties getting flood insurance when the current arrangement expires, she said.
'Any new deal on flood insurance would require primary legislation so ministers need to end the brinkmanship and get a deal to give certainty to homeowners and businesses at risk of flooding,' she added.
Today's flood defence investment announcement is based on the partnership funding approach, where government guarantees money for projects to enable local authorities and businesses to make cost savings or find money from other sources for projects to go ahead.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: 'The 93 schemes given the green light today will bring huge relief to tens of thousands of homes and businesses that have lived with the fear of flood waters hitting their doors. They can get on with their daily lives and work knowing that there are well built defences.
'This is also a message to the business community. By building defences that will unlock the economic potential of once blighted land we are saying to them that it is safe to come and set up. This will create jobs and grow the economy so we can compete in the global race.'