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Flood warning


GLOBAL warming, the prospect of rising sea-levels and the recent increase in flood incidents have caused many to question the wisdom of sitting Europe's biggest regeneration project in the Thames floodplain.

But Rachael Hill, senior technical specialist with the Environment Agency, insists that flooding in the estuary is manageable and does not pose a major obstacle to the regeneration of Thames Gateway.

Thames Gateway will be a major test for the Environment Agency's new flood risk management strategy, which moves away from the traditional focus of defending against flood, to managing flood risk.

'Our aim is to put flood risk into perspective, ' says Ms Hill.'It is about land-use planning and not putting the most vulnerable developments in the areas most at risk.The premise is that you must understand the risk before you can mitigate and manage it.Where the probability of flooding is high, you need to select a land use that can tolerate the risk.'

This ties in perfectly with the Gateway's 'green grid' concept, which will provide parkland, sports facilities and wildlife habitats that will also serve as flood storage capacity or 'manageable washlands'.

Alex Nickson, environment and sustainability officer with London Thames Gateway Partnerships, believes we need to be much more sophisticated in our understanding of the landscape.

'In adapting to climate change, we could even improve the environment, ' he says.

He believes that the Thames Gateway, should embrace the river.He says: 'It is one of the region's greatest assets and the last thing you should be thinking about doing is raising the river walls.'

This requires a cultural shift in the public's expectations of the consequences of flooding.While some land uses, such as hospitals and electricity substations, should never be located in areas at risk of flooding, parkland doesn't need to remain dry at all times - especially if it's designed to double as flood storage.

The Association of British Insurers is also taking a radically new approach to flooding, says policy advisor on natural perils Sebastian Catovsky.

ABI recently published guidance documents that set out good principles of development in areas at flood risk.This supports the Environment Agency's position, says Mr Catovsky, and the documents outline the basis on which insurers will offer cover for developments within flood risk areas.