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Flooding – can we turn the tide?

Flood prevention and repairs cost the UK billions of pounds each year, but simple, small-scale solutions can be remarkably effective

Author: Robbie Craig

03 March 2021

Storm Ciara hits the coast of Porthcawl in South Wales

Storm Ciara hits the coast of Porthcawl in South Wales

When Storm Christoph broke across the UK in January, flood defences in affected areas protected about 49,000 homes. It is hoped that over the next six years, extra Defra spending will protect a further 336,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion, but what about the properties in areas where technical constraints mean that building up defences just isn’t practical?

Every year, flooding in the UK causes damage worth an average of £1.3 billion. Helping people in these vulnerable areas, many of whom have experienced repeated episodes of flooding, to manage the impact that it has on their properties and their lives is vital. Fortunately, small changes to the fabric of buildings through Property Flood Resilience (PFR) could considerably reduce the level of property damage and make their homes and businesses usable again far more rapidly.

Defra’s Pathfinder projects have looked at the actions people can take to make their properties more resilient. In one instance, a hair salon owner in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, explained how she had made her business flood resilient. The measures she took included, laying stone flags over a new concrete sub-floor, tanking and rendering the internal walls and raising all the electricity sockets to waist height. Last year, water reached a height of almost a metre in her salon but, when it receded, she was able to power wash the walls and floors and, with the help of a humidifier, her uninsurable shop was back in business within four days. Damage from the 2015 floods had left her premises unusable for months.

The Association of British Insurers estimated that insurance claims after Storms Ciara and Dennis in 2020 were, on average, £32,000 per property but the government’s long-term investment scenarios show that flood damages and the cost to society of flooding, could be reduced by up to a quarter, if residential properties at risk of flooding were made more resilient. To reach people in these at-risk properties, the PFR sector will need to grow to include professionals from other sectors – RICS members who learn about resilience would be well-placed to advise their clients of the most effective ways to protect their homes and businesses.

 

Robbie Craig is a Defra policy adviser in the Flood & Coastal Erosion Risk Management team. He has worked on property flood resilience since 2011 and has commissioned a number of research projects to progress normalising the use of property flood resilience.

Flooded streets of York after the storm Dennis, February 2020

Delivering PFR

In the past 10 years, research and trialling has demonstrated the efficacy of PFR but undertaking the necessary work in a property as a stand-alone task is rarely cost effective. It makes much more sense to integrate it into other building works which could take place while repairing flood damage, when a property is being refurbished or when it is bought or sold. Studies by Defra and, most recently, by Flood Re, have demonstrated that this additional investment could be up to £35,000, but averages out at about £5,200 for most properties. The value of this investment is more than recouped, if flooding reoccurs, through the reduction in repair cost and a quicker return to normality.

The precise mix of measures that will make a building flood resilient will vary from property to property. Flood Re and the Environment Agency have co-financed a brochure demonstrating how homes can be adapted - methods include simple, relatively cheap solutions such as installing non-return valves, using airbrick covers and flood resistant coatings on walls and floors. A further option could be installing flood barriers or doors to stop water coming into the building. One problem area has been insulation and a key factor is choosing products with the ability to return to their expected level of thermal performance after a flood.

In 2015, the then Floods Minister, Rory Stewart, commissioned work on a Property Flood Resilience Action Plan. The recommendations in the report were developed on a voluntary basis through a business-led roundtable. This group has continued to meet to implement their recommendations and has led on collaboration across all sectors of the industry. In February 2020, a Code of Practice on PFR service delivery was published by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (Ciria), with support from Defra and the roundtable, to complement British Standards on flood resilient construction and retrofit, and for resistance products. The roundtable is now considering how best it can build on the code, increase the number of training opportunities and develop accreditation.

 

Aerial view of the Stourport-on-Severn after heavy flooding from storms Ciara and Dennis, March 2020

Government Action

Grants and public funding have allowed at least 23,000 publicly-funded installations of PFR measures since 2009 and, in 2018, Defra also invested £2.9 million to support three regional pathfinder projects in Yorkshire, the south west and the Oxford-Cambridge arc that will raise the profile of taking PFR measures.  

In the March 2020 budget, the government announced a new £200 million “place-based resilience programme” to run until 2027. Applications are now being considered but it is hoped that the funding will help about 25 local areas take innovative actions, including PFR, that will improve their resilience to flooding and coastal erosion.

Last July, Defra’s Policy Statement set out commitments to flood resilience:

· Exploring ways to provide greater clarity about the use and effectiveness of property flood resilience measures for homes and businesses at high risk of flooding, including how the benefits can be recorded.

· Reviewing the current approach to flood resilient design in order to ensure quality and safe housing for all, as part of a wider commitment to support the development of high-quality buildings.

· Highlighting the need for, as well as normalising the process of, making properties flood resilient and encouraging more businesses to enter this sector.

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