Risk/opportunity:(from the Climate Change Risk Assessment for Scotland 2012):
BE10, BE11, BE12, BE15, BE18, FL6, FL24 – Property at significant risk of flooding

Narratives: Flooding and infrastructure, Resilience and resource use

SCCAP theme: Buildings and infrastructure

SCCAP objectives:
B2: Provide the knowledge, skills and tools to manage climate change impacts on buildings and infrastructure

Latest figures

SEPA advice not reflected in decision: 28 of 528 (5%) (2012)

Application granted contrary to advice: 21 of 528 (4%) (2012)

At a glance
  • The planning system plays a vital role in controlling development in areas at risk of flooding
  • SEPA provides planning advice to Local Planning Authorities based on its flood risk assessment
  • In Scotland only 5% of LPA planning decisions do not reflect flood risk advice provided by SEPA
  • SEPA’s flood risk assessment work is updated as modelling methods and knowledge improve
  • SEPA also provides flood advice in relation to Development Planning Processes (as distinct from Development Management).  The effectiveness of this advice may also be monitored in future

Increased flooding is a major climate risk for Scotland.  It is vital that action is taken to avoid or at least minimise the flood risk to new developments (and to ensure they do not increase flood risk to existing sites).  

The statutory framework for a risk-based approach to managing flooding is set out in the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has a primary duty under this Act (s. 72) to give advice on flood risk to Scottish Local Planning Authorities (LPAs).  SEPA’s advice (based on its flood modelling and mapping) can thus be used to help avoid or minimise flood risk to new developments – but only if this advice is heeded by the LPAs. This indicator provides a way of tracking the extent to which SEPA’s flood risk advice is incorporated into the Development Management carried out by LPA’s (namely, the extent to which each individual planning decision reflects the advice given by SEPA).

Related Indicators:

BB1/BB3 Property at risk of flooding (residential and non-residential)

Analysis conducted by Dundee University on planning decision data from 2012 across the whole of Scotland shows that the vast majority (95%) of planning decisions on which SEPA did comment that year did reflect SEPA’s flood risk advice (Ball et al., 2014).  This is shown in Table 1, which categorises planning decisions according to the planning response to SEPA’s advice as follows:

  1. Flood advice followed
  2. Flood advice not followed
  3. Other – no flood issue identified by SEPA
  4. Other – planning decision not yet reached or notice has not been made available.

[SEPA’s five options for responding to planning application consultations are set out by the Land Use Planning System Guidance Note 1 (LUPS-GU1), and are - Support, No objection, Objection unless condition(s) attached or modifications, Objection - lack of information and Objection in principle]

Table 1 Extent to which planning decisions reflect SEPA’s flood risk advice

    SEPA Flood Risk Advice and

Local Planning Authority Decisions

Number of Decisions

Percent of total

1  Planning applications in which SEPA gave flood risk advice where the conditions (attached to permission) or reasons (for refusal) reflect SEPA's flood risk advice



2  Planning applications in which SEPA gave flood risk advice where the conditions (attached to permission) or reasons (reasons for refusal) did not reflect SEPA's flood risk advice



3  Planning applications in which SEPA gave ‘unconditional’ flood risk advice (ie no flood risk was identified by SEPA)



4  Planning applications in which SEPA gave flood risk advice but no decision has been made or no notice has yet been made available






* Note that of the 28 cases that went against SEPA advice, only 21 of these were actually granted permission to proceed.  The figure of 28 includes 7 applications that were refused planning permission for reasons other than SEPA’s objection.  Thus the figure for developments that were granted contrary to SEPA advice is just under 4%.

A framework for annual reporting has been proposed by SEPA (Ball et al., 2014).  The various technical and human factors that will determine whether successful delivery of annual reporting is possible are currently under consideration by SEPA. The web-based IDOX system used by LPAs to monitor and report planning decisions cannot automatically provide SEPA with a record of each decision.  Given this, the option of LPAs providing SEPA with a web-based hyperlink to each planning decision is being considered.

Additional study into the effectiveness of SEPA’s flood advice in relation to Development Planning Processes (as distinct from Development Management) has also been conducted, with a view to developing an evaluation and reporting framework. Recommended indicator sets for this work are suggested as follows:

  • Sites where SEPA recommended removal from the local development plan
  • Sites where SEPA recommended removal which were supported by the Planning Authority in the Schedule 4 Report or by the Reporter
  • Sites where SEPA requested a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) as a development requirement
  • Flood risk policies which are supported by SEPA.

Results from a pilot area studied for this work (Perth and Kinross Council) showed that for this area Development Planning Process also aligned with SEPA’s advice.  It is anticipated that this study and reporting will be extended in future to cover the whole of Scotland.  Due to the continuous nature of the Local Development Planning process and differing progress rates, the extent of SEPA’s input to Local Development Planning is likely to vary significantly between years.  Annual reporting may therefore not be appropriate.

This breakdown of planning decision data is not available for previous years.

SEPA has always responded to planning applications on the basis of the best information available, and in accordance with the legislation in force at the time.  In 2009 the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 replaced the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961, and introduced the requirement for flood risk assessments for new developments. Prior to its current flood maps, SEPA provided advice based on an ‘Indicative River and Coast Flood Map’ that was created in 2007.  

Since 2009, there have been a number of changes to the provision of flood risk advice. In terms of policy guidance, SEPA has published a wide range of guidance[1]including: Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Guidance for Development Plans; Land Use Vulnerability Guidance; and an update to the SEPA-Planning Authority Consultation Protocol (Policy 41). 

The various provisions set out in the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 are anticipated to reduce the number of new developments positioned so as to be at flood risk.  The 2009 Act requires SEPA (and others) to reduce overall flood risk and this has led to the creation of an evidence base (Scotland’s National Flood Risk Assessment), Flood Risk Management Strategies and Local Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMP).  SEPA provided new Flood Maps to Local Authorities in January 2014, along with ‘Planning Sub-folders’ which gave information on the fluvial, surface water and coastal flood risks of most relevance to land use planning (i.e.1:200 years and 1:1,000 years). 

Work is now progressing to assess use of the flood maps for land use planning purposes as well as for the management of development.  


Data at individual LPA level are not currently available

Not applicable (as only one year of data currently available)

It should be noted that while this indicator tracks an important adaptive action in the planning system it will also be important to track the flooding fate of new developments – to ascertain the success (or otherwise) of flood reduction and avoidance based on SEPA’s advice.

In addition, it should be noted that this indicator only tracks development management.  In relation to Development Planning, SEPA has used strategic level NFRA information from January 2012 in its responses to planning consultations that relate to development plans and significant national or major applications.  As noted earlier, it may be possible to monitor the effectiveness of this input in future.


Ball, T, Werritty, A, Illsley B & Rennie, A. (2014)  Assessing the Effectiveness of SEPA’s Flood Risk Advice in Planning Decisions. Available at:  http://www.crew.ac.uk/publications/assessing-effectiveness-sepas-flood-risk-advice-planning-decisions

Scottish Environment Protection Agency (2011) Flood Risk Management Strategies and Local Flood Risk Management Plans. Available at:  http://www.sepa.org.uk/flooding/flood_risk_management/idoc.ashx?docid=ab161a16-c497-4296-bf60-fa4681fb2051&version=-1    (Accessed 15 December 2014)  


Flood Risk Management:

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009  http://scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/Water/Flooding/FRMAct

Contents of the above Act - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2009/6/contents

SEPA (2016)  Flood Risk Management Strategies http://apps.sepa.org.uk/FRMStrategies/

A wide range of SEPA policies and guidance on flooding (including the ‘SEPA Interim Position Statement on Planning and Flooding’ and  their Flood Risk and Planning Briefing note) can be downloaded from http://www.sepa.org.uk/planning/flood_risk/policies_and_guidance.aspx

A wide range of SEPA policies and guidance on planning, including SEPA’s Planning Guidance Notes can be downloaded from http://sepa.org.uk/planning.aspx

Planning policy:

Scottish Government (SG) (2014)  Scottish Planning Policy   (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/06/5823 (Accessed 16 December 2014)

 Scottish Government (SG) (2014) National Planning Framework 3. Available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/planning/NPF3-SPP-Review/NPF3   (Accessed 10 December 2014)  

Lead author: Katherine Beckmann (Heriot-Watt University)

Authors of the CREW report (Tom Ball, Alan Werritty, Barbara Illsley, Andrew Rennie)

SEPA – Frank Bradley