Building resilient infrastructure and communities. All change?

Around five million people in England are still at risk of flooding. In the context of Brexit and the uncertainty that lies ahead, it is imperative that we keep current flood risk management structures in place and working as smoothly and efficiently as possible – but is this alone enough? We have all seen the impact flooding has on the country. Last winter, 15/16, the country suffered from a string of storms - Desmond, Eva and Frank - which cost the UK economy an estimated £5billion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, spoke in the Autumn Statement about the need to improve the productivity of the country by investing in infrastructure. Protecting our homes, businesses and infrastructure from the devastating impact of flooding is therefore critical to achieving this goal. Without improved flood protection, people will continue to have to deal with the consequences of flooding – from everyday inconveniences such as not being able to get to work, to catastrophic issues such as businesses ceasing production. Ultimately, when flooding happens, productivity drops and the UK economy is massively impacted.

So, what can we do differently?

The report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Future Flood Prevention - is making some bold proposals which if implemented, would shake up the established ways of working. The report states that the current flood risk management structures do not encourage widespread use of catchment scale approaches and furthermore, the Government’s National Flood Resilience Reviews will not rectify these problems. England needs a new governance model to manage its flood risk.

The report makes three proposals:
1. Establish a new National Floods Commissioner for England – accountable for delivery of strategic and long-term flood risk reductions
2. A new Regional Flood and Coastal Board to co-ordinate delivery of national plans at a regional level in partnership with local stakeholders
3. Parts of the Environment Agency to become a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority dedicated to national flood risk management.

The report recommends that the Government must publish its 25-year ambition for flood reduction, and the cost of securing this, against different climate change scenarios by the end of 2017. Therefore, now is the time to open the debate:
• Do the water and sewage companies have a bigger role to play? 
• Can they leverage borrowing if the flood management assets are given to them to manage and do they even want this? 
• How can a more coordinated approach between local authorities and developers solve two problems at once – the national housing crisis and flooding – by leveraging land value? 

One thing is clear, funding the necessary investment is the key to delivering the protection required. 

There are many lessons to learn from flood resiliency systems around the globe and in particular, from our Dutch neighbours. Rotterdam emerged as the lead Resilient City in our Sustainable Cities Water Index, due in part to its innovative and proactive approach to water resiliency. Although below sea level, the city and country are well known for excellent water management and robust flood protection practices, with continuous investment programmes in dykes, dunes and flood barriers. The UK cities Birmingham, Manchester and London ranked slightly lower in the index and whilst there were plenty of positives, it’s clear there are improvements that need to be made, mainly in water efficiency.

Arcadis is committed to sharing knowledge of best practise around the world to help shape the future of flood risk management and as such we are a platform partner of the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered 100 Resilient Cities (100RC). This forum is dedicated to helping cities become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges of the 21st century. 100RC supports the adoption and incorporation of a view of resilience that includes not just the shocks – such as earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks, etc. – but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis. By addressing both, a city can better respond to adverse events and is more capable of delivering basic functions in both good times and bad.  

If you would like to hear more and meet some of our experts, Arcadis is sponsoring and hosting a CIWEM (Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) event which will provide an up to date picture of the country’s preparedness for Winter 2016/17, lessons learnt from Government, critical infrastructure providers and other stakeholders, and taking a longer-term view towards the requirements of delivering flood resilience fit for the future.

For more information and to register for the event click here.

Roger Sherrard

Partner, Water +44 (0) 7748327950 Ask me a question