The chair of the Environment Agency warned that flooding could become “more extreme and more frequent” amid the climate crisis.
Alan Lovell said the agency “hopes to be able to deal with” storm surges and floods coming in from the sea, but in the case of coastal erosion, some people could be advised to move.
He described climate change as a “great risk facing us all” and urged people to do “whatever they can to make a difference to that”.
Mr Lovell said “we can do our best” to build more defences against the increased flooding and coastal storms associated with climate change.
“We can never do enough to be absolutely sure because of course the risk of climate change means that we risk more floods, more serious and more frequent,” he said.
“But we can do our best and we have done a lot all the way up the east coast because of a clear risk of surges from the North Sea.”
Asked if some people could be asked to move, he said: “Not from flood, I hope.
“Coastal erosion is different because there’s really nothing we can do about that and in the odd places then we will be having to advise people to move, but that shouldn’t be the case with flood.”
He said that “in general where we’re worried about storm surges and floods coming in from the sea, we will hope to be able to deal with those”.
Mr Lovell was speaking on a visit to the Ipswich Tidal Barrier, which opened in 2019 and offers better protection from flooding to more than 1,600 homes and 400 businesses.
The centrepiece of the £67 million flood defences is a 200-tonne rotating barrier which can be raised in minutes, helping to keep the town safe from tidal surges during storms.
Asked about the summer of drought, which came just months before his warnings over flood risk, he described the situation as “frustrating”.
“Of course they’re both the effect of climate change and that’s what we must expect, that both become more extreme and more frequent,” he said.
He said there was “some relationship between the two”, and that hard soil means water “hasn’t been able to flow away and we’ve had some surface flooding resulting from that”.
“Climate change is a great risk facing us all and we urge everybody to do whatever they can to make a difference to that,” said Mr Lovell.
“Particularly this week, Flood Awareness Week, what we’re really asking people to do is to find out what the risk is to their own home which they can do on the Environment Agency website and then to sign up to our flood alert system which will alert them when there’s risk to their home and then to take appropriate action.”