Calls for New Design Regulations

Posted: Thursday 15th November 2007

Influential panel of experts at Hyder Consulting Flood Risk and Urban Development Roundtable concludes that short-term attitudes by developers and planners are putting homes and businesses at risk, and that new design regulations for flood plain developments are needed.

Thousands of homes and business are at increasing risk of flooding due to the lack of a clear national flood and water management strategy coupled with ongoing development on flood plains, according to a panel of senior flood risk experts.

The panel called for a joined-up approach to flood and water management, with a formalised national water strategy to provide a framework for co-ordinating the work of local authorities, water and sewerage firms and landowners in England and Wales to ensure that flood defences take into account the regional nature of rivers and drainage.

The Hyder Consulting Flood Risk and Urban Development panel, which is made up of senior hydrologists, insurers, local authority representatives and urban development specialists, concluded that without this holistic approach, coupled with strong national, regional and local co-ordination of flood prevention and management plans, then flooding will take an increasing toll on the economic and social life of the country and could lead to large areas of England and Wales becoming uninsurable. It also called for action by planners and developers to ensure that homes in flood risk areas are built to withstand influxes of water with nationally agreed design and building regulations.

Some members of the Hyder Consulting panel criticised an apparent lack of joined up thinking on water management, where it seems some local authorities don’t appear to be working outside their own boundaries to address flood risk. The work of planners and flood and water management teams in some areas can appear to be less co-ordinated than is required. A chronic lack of funding for flood risk assessment and water management schemes was thought to be exacerbating the problem.

While the panel recognised that climate change was making extreme weather events and flooding more likely, they believed the greatest issue was ongoing development and human intervention, with building on high-risk flood areas and a lack of permeable spaces to allow water storage in new developments putting homes and businesses at risk. It was pointed out that new building in flood risk areas no longer happens in Scotland, Wales or N. Ireland and this is a particularly English problem.

Bob Sargent, Head of Hydrology at Hyder Consulting: “We need to take a holistic view of water management and we are very far from that now. We need to manage flood risk and water catchments using the technological advantages (such as modelling and water management) to reduce flood risk. But we need the institutional frameworks in place to achieve this. We need a national water management authority.

“The question is who is providing the leadership to manage flood risk in local areas? Water courses do not just fall within the boundaries of individual local authorities, it needs multi-agency agreement and management.

“More houses are being built in flood risk areas and climate change is leading to an increased likelihood of flood events. The cost of flood damage will increase.”

Ian Hogarth, Client Development Director, Homeserve Emergency Services: “We need to look at some form of national building regulation and design code that covers building materials used in high risk flood areas.

“In the 1950’s if a home flooded they’d open the doors and windows and let it dry out. Today we have to strip the house out, even the partition walls come out.

“Afterwards, the softwood skirting boards, wooden floors etc go back in – and this is in houses that are at high flood risk. Instead we should be looking at building and repairing properties with more flood resilient type materials i.e. plastic skirting boards, high-level plug sockets and water resistant materials which reduce the cost and damage caused by flooding.”

Tony Beckwith, COO Santander Insurance UK: “Much of the damage from flooding is attributable to human intervention, because roads and buildings had been developed in areas that were natural flood run-offs.

“We are the only country in Europe where the insurance industry is responsible for repairing property after major floods. In other countries there is a tax on insurance premiums that covers this type of event. We are prepared to insure properties but we’d like to know that other parties are doing their bit too and that Government and local authorities are working together to repair damage from flooding.

“We don’t have a problem helping people who have an existing house that’s built in a flood risk area but if people are building new homes on flood plains then why should we insure these buildings if the local authorities are allowing these developments to go ahead in high risk flood areas?

“Why should I say to my other customers that they have to pay more for their insurance premiums because someone else is building houses on a flood plain?”

Liam Foster, Senior Hydrologist, Hyder Consulting: “There is a high incidence of development in water catchment areas and we need to look closely at designing in permeability. Often drainage is put into developments to meet average and expected levels of rainfall and it is done at the lowest cost.

“Parking policies to get cars off the streets is also part of the problem. When front gardens in urban areas are developed it takes out huge areas of permeability and leads to overstretched drainage infrastructure. That increases the risk of flooding.

“There should be across the board action to ensure that water is naturally stored on sites, there needs to be an understanding that flood risk isn’t just someone else’s problem.”

Professor David Crichton, Visiting Professor Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre: “In Hull, over 15,000 houses flooded after the rains in June 2007, and impermeable car parking was part of the problem, drainage is not designed to cope with the volumes of water coming off all these driveways.

The Water Framework Directive is being interpreted in England and Wales in a way which inhibits the necessary modification of rivers and lakes to adapt to climate change whereas in Scotland, sustainable flood management takes priority.”

Richard Bettridge, Technical Director, Hyder Consulting: “Since 1996, flooding level records have been broken 15 times, it’s an increasing problem.

“Land Drainage Authorities have a poisoned chalice. They have permissive powers which means
if they have an emergency or water management concerns, they can do the work but they have to recover the costs from the land owner. It’s a disjointed system for securing flood protection.

“Equally if you have upland Land Drainage Authorities clearing ditches and waterways but downstream Land Drainage Authorities are not doing the same thing then its just increases the flood risk problems. There’s a lack of joined up thinking.”

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