Experts gathered to discuss how to become flood-resilient

May 7, 2014

Representatives from leading housing associations, local authorities, consultancies, universities and architecture companies gathered at a Breakfast at Sustainable Homes (B@SH) event on 1st May. Held at the London’s Living Room, City Hall, in partnership with Green Sky Thinking week, the morning’s discussion and debate focused on flooding and what actions we can take.

Tony Burton, Executive Chair at Sustainable Homes opened the event highlighting the important timing of the event.

floodTim Reeder, Regional Climate Change Programme Manager at Environment Agency, said: “Climate Change adaptation is the poor relative of sustainability”. While there is an understanding to mitigate impacts, e.g. reducing energy and water usage, acknowledgment of already induced climate change and its inherent consequences is often diluted or not factored in.

Tim used the case of London to highlight the magnitude of present-day impacts from climate change stating that currently 14,000 properties are at high risk of tidal/fluvial flooding and 140,000 at high risk of surface water flooding. Apart from live and detailed flood warning maps and updates on EA’s website, Tim encouraged attendees to use the EA developed tool ‘Interactive Flood House’. Tim also reaffirmed his strong support for Sustainable Homes’ publications on adaptation and retrofitting guidance for the housing sector.

Rachel Brisley, Technical Director- Climate Change and Sustainability at JBA Consulting emphasised the severity of climate change to the UK:

 “UK is one of the regions most at risk from the more immediate negative effects [of climate change]… with one in six properties at risk and over 10,000 properties flooded last winter [2013] 

Rachel gave a useful summary of actions to support more resilient properties both through retrofit and new build design elements e.g. flood attenuation and incorporating flood barriers. Rachael was also very adamant on the value of developing resilient communities through education and awareness – facilitating improved preparation, responsiveness and recovery.

Focus switched to a localised analysis of flood risk mitigation. Debbie Harvey, Sustainability Project Officer at Orbit Group, a Gold SHIFT member, highlighted some strategies adopted by Orbit to mitigate flood risk e.g. raising plug outlets and using water-resistant plastering to consulting on best-practice with insurance firms. Interestingly, Debbie mentioned Orbit’s Group plans to promote natural management options to manage rivers and streams such as tree planting or bringing beavers.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session to the panel. Some themes which were discussed:

  • The impact of disjointed approaches to flood adaptation and mitigation 
  • Impacts to insurance premiums
  • Type of measures implemented e.g. fixed versus temporary (requiring manual)
  • Strategies for housing associations to follow

Alex Nickson from Greater London Authority referred to a study which found that on average Brit’s acknowledge floods to be a risk only after being affected between 4-7 times.

Further adding to the risk of flooding is the conversion of permeable surfaces to impermeable one. For example in London, approximately 2.5 Hyde Parks are converted from permeable to impermeable surfaces, every ten years – the sum of small areas e.g. drive ways, playing a big role.

Alex noted that flood mitigation and adaptation works shouldn’t be approached from the perspective of a need to reduce a threat to residents, but rather an opportunity to make improvements to neighbourhoods. To support this approach, resident education and awareness is critical. 

Concluding the morning discussion, the consensus by the panel and attendees called for an improved joint and more holistic approach to reducing the impacts of flooding. Tim Reeder summed it up by stating:

“Flooding is not just the responsibility of Environmental Agency and/ or DEFRA. It is everyone’s responsibility to become more resilient.”


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