A clear route to flood management
Aecom’s Jon Robinson welcomes the initiatives proposed in the National Flood Resilience Review to reduce the impact of flooding throughout the UK.
The much-anticipated National Flood Resilience Review published earlier this month is welcome recognition that climate change could fuel more frequent and extreme weather events.
The widespread flooding in the north of England last winter was some of the worst the country has experienced, with many communities still recovering from the effects. The commitment in the review to a new integrated approach to flood risk management, if enacted, will certainly help strengthen resilience to similarly severe events in the future.
With changes in the climate only likely to increase, pressure on flood defences over the coming decades, protecting vital infrastructure from the devastating impact of flooding, must remain a priority.
It was therefore encouraging to see the commitment to a cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration in the review.
The government’s plan to work with relevant utilities providers and regulators to develop and implement plans for temporary improvements to the resilience of critical water and telecoms infrastructure by Christmas 2016 is key. These plans will be in line with those already available in the electricity supply industry, helping make sure that utilities companies obtain stockpiles of temporary defences in advance.
Given the importance of a secure supply of services for communities and local economies, building resilience quickly ahead of any potential floods this coming winter could prove invaluable.
The review also advocates a new approach to flood risk management, with greater integration between stakeholders. A more holistic approach that brings together local authorities, the Environment Agency, utilities providers, communities and private landowners working across entire catchments is certainly required.
While this type of approach is not without challenges and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it will bring opportunities for greater innovation and more cost-effective flood risk management.
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The review hints that the government’s upcoming 25-year plan for the environment will aim to achieve this type of approach by managing entire river catchments intelligently, using sophisticated modelling to work out what can be done in each catchment area to minimise flooding.
Implementation of a strategic, long-term approach to flood management is key, but it is critical that funding also increases in real terms in recognition of its importance.
The government’s six-year capital investment programme for flood defences that was put in place in 2015/16 was lauded in the review. The programme, supported by central government funding of £2.3bn, aims to tackle the stop-start investment that has hindered flood defence work in the past. It allows schemes to be packaged, which enables more efficient delivery by both the client and the supply chain.
There is a clear delivery route with money directed with due consideration of benefits. But the programme must not become back-end loaded with the bulk of construction occurring in years five and six. The design, maintenance and construction of flood defences must be a continuous process to achieve the required outcomes.
If flood risk management is organised over the longer term, there may be greater will from developers, contractors and other private sector companies to invest in major programmes of work. To encourage private sector funding, more efficient delivery routes with clear packages of work will be required.
Importantly, the National Flood Resilience Review makes the link between flood management, resilient infrastructure and urban regeneration. The opportunities to create social and economic value from improved flood management must be maximised. Given the scale of the challenge, looking at innovative ways to deliver flood defences in urban areas will be key.
To support this challenge, Aecom has been working with government as part of a group of senior business leaders and experts from a range of sectors and disciplines, including the water, engineering, architecture, finance and technology industries. The group is exploring flood risk management solutions in core cities across England. Part of this work includes looking at international examples where significant economic value has been created through flood defence schemes, such as the Netherlands.
The review undoubtedly provides a fresh look at how industry, public sector bodies and communities can work together to tackle the unpredictable challenge of flood risk management. Improving flood incident response and conducting a long-term rolling programme of improvements is crucial for the country’s ability to tackle and recover from future extreme flooding events.
There must be a strong commitment to increasing the number of defences, using a combination of hard and soft engineered methods, and new ways of managing extreme rainfall. Multiple stakeholders will need to collaborate like never before to deliver the solutions needed to protect vital infrastructure and communities from future flooding.
Jon Robinson is director – water, at Aecom