08 January 2016

Why did the UK flood?

If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the UK still isn’t prepared to cope with flooding.

December 2015 was the wettest month ever recorded, with nearly twice the amount of rain falling than average. Over 16,000 UK homes were flooded and heavy rain forecast looks set to cause further chaos.

The Big Debate

The subject of flooding was at the heart of The Big Debate we held in conjunction with Building Magazine in October. Chaired by Janet Street-Porter with a panel of experts, including representatives from the Environment Agency and Construction Products Association, the debate foresaw a number of key issues affecting the UK’s ability to cope with extreme weather.

Why did the UK flood?

Climate change has had a great effect on our environment

Not only was December the UK’s wettest month ever, it was also the warmest. As our climate changes, our ability to cope is compromised and we face extreme consequences.

Sue Illman, Construction Industry Council’s Champion for Flood Mitigation and Resilience, one of the experts at The Big Debate, commented that, ‘’Climate change is bringing more intensive, longer storms and most of our towns and cities are located along rivers which – with surface water and rainwater flooding – exacerbate the problem.’’

As climate change continues, it’s inevitable we’ll face more extreme weather conditions, so improved flood defence and prevention are imperative.

Flood defences require more investment

At The Big Debate, Alison Baptiste, Director of Strategy and Investment at the Environment Agency, was hopeful that adequate defences were in place for the UK’s next big flood.

‘’We are working with partners so that, if we do our bit, they can do theirs,’’ she stated. ‘’We will be ready for the next big flood if we all do our bit. We have record investment over the next six years with £2.3bn in defences and we are investing in social media such as Twitter to warn people.’’

We’ve since learnt that the UK simply wasn’t prepared for flooding and, in response to recent events, the government has promised an annual spend of £400m on defences. Whether this amount is sufficient is questionable, with a staggering 92% of respondents to Building Magazine’s recent poll voting ‘No’ it’s not enough.

Our cities aren’t designed to cope with excess rainfall

Put simply, our built environment can’t cope with excessive rainfall. In areas lacking green spaces and natural drainage areas such as towns and city centres, floods occur because high volumes of water can’t be attenuated, highlighting the need for SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems).

‘’We have to ensure that all new development deals with its own water adequately and doesn’t contribute to the problem and that redevelopment isn’t let off the hook,’’ commented Sue Illman at The Big Debate. ‘’From planning authorities to highways, developers, water companies, business people and the population at large, we have to involve everyone to understand the problem. We can use a range of hard and soft SuDS. It doesn’t matter as long as we deal with it.’’

Building Regulations need to be revised

Speaking at The Big Debate on behalf of the Construction Products Association, Peter Caplehorn was optimistic that the construction industry has materials which can be used to make homes resilient to flooding, but that may not be able to 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,’’ he commented. ‘’However, when you get on to things like insulation which people want for comfort and efficiency, it gets complicated becausea home that is completely resilient to water begins to look like a prison. We need to look at Building Regulations covering flood resilience because, between developers and local authorities, nobody wants to take on the investment, bite the bullet and get on with it.’’

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

Watch our webinar: ‘Soft or Engineered SuDS? Building on a brownfield site.’

This engaging webinar examined the different approaches to sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) on a brownfield site and how this can be managed practically on site.

Watch the webinar