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INSIGHTS FUTURE WATCH Designing for flood resilience


Although we are in the midst of summer the risks of winter flooding remain critical – Norman Hayden looks at the strategies and solutions currently being implemented


O


n a wild night in late January 2014, families on the flood-inundated Somerset Levels began to be evacuated from their homes. The widespread media coverage of the resulting devastation and hardship helped to make this a pivotal moment in Britain that winter. Storms over a four month period brought torrential rain that wreaked havoc with property through- out the country.


The effect of the 2013-14 floods was significant: around 2,000 properties were hit and clean-up costs alone were £1bn – including repair costs ranging from £30,000 to £100,000 per dwelling – with insurers paying out over £1.5bn. The overall cost to the UK was an estimated £3bn.


The problem is predicted to be a recurring one with climate change likely to cause further major floods in the future. Since 2007, the Government has made considerable investment in defences, which have been very reliant on heavy engineering, tidal barriers and river- side and coastal protection, but even those were to be breached. The building industry, planners and politicians realise urgent action is needed to deal with the threat long term by protecting and adapting older properties while designing new homes for long-life durability.


Addressing the flood factors


According to the Building Research Establishment (BRE), some 5.2 million homes – nearly one in six properties – are still at risk from surface, river and coastal flooding. Some estimates see the cost of flood damage in the UK rising fivefold by 2050, to £23bn a year. What factors fuel the problem? Firstly, there’s the design and age of our housing stock. Many homes date back to the Victorian era or are far older, and are not flood-resistant, having been built with permeable materials like timber, lime mortars and plasters and soft bricks. Secondly, homes have increasingly been built on floodplains – particularly since the 1960s and 70s. Quite naturally, where concrete and asphalt has replaced grass and vegetation, water gets directed into surface drainage systems, often overloading them and causing floods.


Official warnings about the consequences have not been heeded and there are growing calls for a blanket ban on building in flood- prone areas. Despite this, and the fact that councils have to consult the Environment Agency on significant planning applications in districts at risk, around 200,000 homes have been built close to rivers between 2001 and 2011 and this continues today as part of efforts to meet Britain’s housing crisis.


Another reason why floods continue to be a significant problem in the UK is the low uptake of alternative drainage solutions. In


RESILIENCE ON THE THAMES Amphibious House, Marlow, designed by Baca Homes ©Fremantlemedia


The twin challenges of resistance and resilience are being tackled


2015, surface water drainage strategies were introduced. Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are required to be considered for new buildings or projects that increase a site’s built footprint. This covers any development of over 10 units in Flood Zones 2 and 3, or within an area identified as having a surface water flooding problem.


The idea is to do away with pipes by trying to reproduce natural systems with dirty and surface water drained off through collection, storage and cleaning and then released slowly into watercourses. SuDS strategies comply with national and local planning policies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as with the relevant Environmental Agency guidance. However, they are not being fully enforced.


Uncertainty over long-term performance and costs associated


19


ADF JULY 2017


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