14 December 2015

Is the UK construction industry ready for the next big flood?

We recently launched Water Matters, a series of events investigating a range of water management issues.

The first of these events was a debate titled 'The Next Big Flood - Why The UK Won't Be Ready'. With a panel of high profile expert speakers and guest chair Janet Street-Porter at the helm, this was an exciting, engaging event that stirred up great conversation.

Peter Capelhorn, Policy Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Construction Products Association, was one of our expert panelists for the debate and comments here on how prepared the UK construction industry is for the next big flood.

This is an excerpt from our White Paper summary of The Big Debate which you can request here.

Construction materials for flood prevention

As a representative for the Construction Products Association, Peter was keen to point out that a host of innovative and effective methods to reduce the impact of flooding on buildings have been developed over the years, but a more cohesive approach including mandatory regulations would help ensure a robust approach.

‘’We have a broad range of materials available in the construction industry now which can be used in just about every part of the home to make it resistant to flooding,’’ he observed. ‘’But that’s not to say they can resist all levels of flood.

We have floor finishes that can cope with complete immersion in water, wall finishes and plasters that don’t absorb water and doors and windows, which will take a fair amount of flooding. However, when you get on to things like insulation which people want for comfort and efficiency, it gets really complicated because they are difficult to make in flood resistant forms.

We will always end up with a partial solution to the problem because of this and the fact that homeowners don’t want a house that is completely resilient to water ingress or flooding, because it starts to look a bit like a prison.’’

Peter Caplehorn of the Construction Products Association on why the UK won't be ready for the next big flood

Research and development in flood prevention

While there are a number of things the construction industry can be optimistic about, there are complex issues it haven’t got to grips with.

‘’ The construction industry is in the process of undertaking research and development and there are now new materials on the market and products which are not only water resistant but they actually repel water,’’ Peter commented. ‘’For example, I recently saw some kitchen fittings which can be completely immersed in water and are perfect once dried off.

Such innovations give hope for buildings which will perform fully in a time of flood, but at grass roots level the application of these good things is chaotic. It isn’t governed by any straightforward process and any Code of Practice that covers this is welcomed because it gives people a sense of direction.

What we need is a cohesive approach which brings these products together in a concerted way. One way we can do this is to look at some form of Building Regulations covering flood resilience because at the moment, between developers and local authorities, nobody wants to take on the investment, bite the bullet and get on with it.’’

Read more from Peter in our comprehensive White Paper

Watch videos from The Big Debate: Why the UK won't be ready for the next big flood


Policy Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Construction Products Association (CPA), Peter Caplehorn is a Chartered Architect with over 30 years’ experience including Technical Director of leading architectural practice Scott Brownrigg. In his key role at the CPA, which represents 20,000 individual companies, he leads the organisation’s work to ensure that the UK and EU regulatory framework supports the UK’s construction products industry, particularly for technical and sustainability issues.

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