The government’s National Flood Resilience Review, published this month, focuses on increasing the country’s resilience to coastal and fluvial flooding over the next 10 years.
While such a report is clearly a welcome step forward, its view is limited by solely focusing on coastal and river flooding, and it arguably lacks the ambitious approach and brave solutions needed to address the risk posed by flooding in all its forms.
It is of course important to strike a balance between implementing major catchment management schemes, which take time, and strengthening existing solutions to protect against the next flooding event. Nevertheless, too much of the focus in the report is on short-term fixes, rather than long-term aims.
For instance, there is perhaps an over-emphasis on temporary and permanent defences and not enough focus on adaptation and resilience. As events in Cumbria have shown, even the shiniest new defences can be breached. There is always a bigger storm around the corner and we can’t just keep building higher walls and harder defences to keep floodwaters out of our cities and communities.
Not scratching the surface
With its focus on coastal and river flooding, the report fails to consider flooding from surface water run-off, deferring this to the next iteration of the National Risk Assessment. And yet we don’t need to go back very far to find news headlines and communities significantly affected by this form of flooding.
Decades of new development, underperforming or under-maintained infrastructure and increasing rainfall intensities have brought the consequences of surface water flooding sharply into focus.
“The main takeaway from the National Flood Resilience Review is that government spending and central reform can only go so far”
Rather than fall back on more and more defences, whether temporary or permanent, amidst the uncertainty of Brexit there is an opportunity to embrace more radical approaches. For example, we need a greater emphasis placed on better land management – might post-Brexit agricultural reform pave the way for pay major landowners to develop flood storage on their land?
Natural flood management and land management – two areas that are critical to flood resilience – hardly receive a mention until the last page of the report, and yet there is increasing evidence from both the UK and abroad showing that these approaches are effective at building flood resilience at a catchment and community scale.
Furthermore, such measures can mitigate surface water flood risk too, especially as policy drives sustainable drainage systems to become the norm for new development.
The main takeaway from the National Flood Resilience Review is that government spending and central reform can only go so far. To really make our towns, cities and communities more resilient, the onus falls on city and council leaders to implement the brave solutions needed.
Luke Strickland is an associate at Ramboll-Environ