LONDON       -       Building new homes on flood plains in England should be resisted if at all possible, the head of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan has said.

He said where there was no alternative, homes should be made more resilient, for example by using ground floors for garages so people stay safe upstairs. He also argued there may be a need to shift some communities out of harm’s way when the risks become too great.

It comes after Storms Ciara and Dennis caused widespread flooding. In Shrewsbury, river levels are set to reach their highest-ever level on Tuesday, where a severe flood warning - meaning a danger to life - is in place.

Asked whether vulnerable communities could be evacuated, Sir James told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “almost all” residents can remain where they are and their flood defences improved. However, he called for a “conversation” about their sustainability and protection in the long term.

“Most people would accept” that some homes should not have been built, he added, and insisted this was not about forcing people to move but about discussing realities.

For years the Environment Agency - which covers England - has raised concerns about building homes on flood plains, and Sir James is set to reinforce that message in a speech later. Sir James will say the “hard truth” is that it may be better for some communities to relocate

He is expected to acknowledge that it is not realistic to ban all development in these areas because they cover so much of the country.

But he says homes should only be built there if “there is no real alternative”, and if they are designed to be more resilient to flooding.

Examples of some techniques which could “flood-proof” homes include using the ground floor just for garages, planting trees, creating wetland habitats or restoring rivers that have been artificially straightened to their “natural curves”.

Sir James will also question whether it may be better for communities to move out of harm’s way when the risks of flooding - either from rivers or the sea - become too great.

It’s nothing new for the Environment Agency to warn about home building on flood plains - we’ve heard that for years.

But by repeating the message now, in the midst of the continuing devastation following Storm Dennis, Sir James Bevan hopes to attract more attention.