Supermarkets and other major retailers may soon have to build car parks that are designed to help prevent flooding.

Whitehall is looking at the possibility of making permeable surfaces for new car parks and other public areas compulsory following the extensive flooding of north-east England and the Midlands last week.

Many supermarkets were flooded, causing the grocery industry millions of pounds worth of damage (see story, left).

With increasing areas of land covered in tarmac and concrete, the government accepts that the risk of flooding is rising as more ground becomes unable to absorb water.

The minister for sustainable farming and food, Lord Rooker, confirmed its concerns during a statement to the House of Lords on last week's floods.

Stressing that good drainage systems to move water away from urban areas were essential, he told the peers: "That means that even supermarket car parks should be permeable rather than having large areas of tarmac."

A spokeswoman for Defra said research was being undertaken into developing permeable ground coverage systems for car parks and other areas, including pavements.