Impact Of Flood Risk Policies Construction Essay

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The increasingly frequent impacts of climate change have brought policy-maker focus to improve the national flood risk management governance. Political decentralisation has imparted local decision-makers with new responsibilities and liable of those directly affected by natural hazards. The civil engineering sector will be required to comply with more rigorous planning procedures regarding flood risk management and sustainable drainage provision. In order to adapt to climate change consequences, the civil engineering sector will be required to take the new requirements further to achieve innovation and deliver benefits to the wider society.


Despite significant advances in engineering over the last two decades (Huntington, 2006), the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment highlighted flood risk as one of the most important climate change hazards facing the UK (DEFRA, 2012a). The latest climate change models project increases in the frequency of flooding, affecting businesses and infrastructure systems, leaving a substantial impact on the national economy (Fowler et al., 2012). Although there has been a relative decrease in the rate of development in coastal areas, indicators show that development in the floodplain in England has increased by 12% over the past ten years, compared with a 7% increase outside the floodplain. If this trend is to sustain, an increasingly greater part of the society will be vulnerable to flood risk.

The increasing severity and frequency of events has given an opportunity to drive policy change for creating a stable long-term policy strategy for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Government aims to address the arising issues through a decentralised approach to flood risk management by setting-out clear managerial procedures and responsibilities to local authorities. The policy context is not only changing the national governance of flood risk management, but is also setting new standards for the civil engineering industry. The engineering sector will play a crucial role to adopt new practice and methodology deliver the required change for creating a safe and future proof built environment.

Policy Context for Managing Flood Risk

Sir Michael Pitt's review on the summer 2007 floods has set out a clear agenda of recommendations to ensure better preparedness to coastal, fluvial and pluvial flooding, setting a milestone in the attempt to adapt to climate change consequences in the UK (DEFRA, 2009a). The initiative fell in line with the EU Floods Directive and was further mainstreamed into other climate change and national policies (EC, 2009). The review has delivered amendments to the national Building Regulations, and sets more rigorous requirements for planning applications on local development associated with flood risks (DEFRA, 2009a).

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change suggested that through an efficient spatial planning system it is possible to ensure sufficient control and reduction of long-term flood risks (Stern, 2006). This is reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework, stating that inappropriate development should be directed away from high risk areas, thereby reducing or entirely eliminating flood risk to and from new developments (DCLG, 2012a). Following the Pitt review, the Flooding and Water Management Act (2010) (FWMA) was established, recognizing the importance of Surface Water Management Plans and establishing responsibilities for the planning and operation of sustainable drainage systems (SUDS).

The FWMA (2010) has established a better flood risk management process by creating safeguards against rises in surface water drainage discharges and development in areas susceptible to flood risk. The Act imparts significant new roles and responsibilities on local authorities. Under the Act, country or unitary authorities are classed as Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs), with the responsibility to co-ordinate flood risk management. The return to the decentralised approach for managing flood risks will put more emphasis on a wider range of sustainable adaptation strategies achieved at a local level (DEFRA, 2011). A number of small scale projects, such as runoff reduction schemes and flood defences embedded in the design of buildings and infrastructure can deliver a greater long-term benefit than 'old fashioned' one purpose structural schemes.

Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment on Local Planning

As a result of the FWMA (2010), the LLFAs have the jurisdiction over local sources of flooding, including surface water, groundwater, and ordinary watercourses. The new role requires LLFAs to produce a Preliminary Flood Risk Assessment (PFRA) for the authority's administrative area. The objective of the PFRA is to identify areas where the risks associated with flooding might be significant, marked as Areas for Further Assessment (AFAs) (OPW, 2012). Previously flood risks were assessed by individual developers within the limits of the site boundaries and did not study the impacts on the surrounding areas. This allowed local planning permissions to be granted to projects that were not subjected to flood risk, without assessing the impacts to the overall flood management system. The Great Park development in Newcastle upon Tyne serves as a case study to show the consequences of poor flood risk assessment and inappropriate planning provision caused by change of land use (Foster, 2011).

Case Study Great Park Development

A large housing development altered the catchment hydrology, significantly decreasing the areas natural ability to retain rainfall runoff and removed the water storage capacity from the floodplain. Increased surface runoff discharge to the river significantly amplified the flood risk downstream resulting into a large flood event. After the devastative event, appropriate planning and risk assessment led to the implementation of SUDS and local water storage schemes that helped to restore the balance on the river system and reduced the flood risks downstream. (Quinn and Wilkinson, 2008; DEFRA, 2007)

With a clearly established PFRA and risk based planning, the local planning authorities will be able to address issues of similar nature at early stages to ensure that flood risks will not be increased elsewhere. Proposals for development in areas of high risk of flooding will be considered only under exceptional circumstances and if comprehensive protection measures are provided. The developers will be required to demonstrate compliance to the PFRA, proving that the site is at low risk of flooding, the development is resilient to flood risks and that any residual flood risk can be safely managed. The rigid planning procedures will be critical in achieving a low-regret adaptation system to future flood risks, especially in times when funding for local flood defence schemes falls short of target (Heltberg, et al, 2009).

The aftermath of the economic downturn coupled by the addition of flood management responsibilities has put the local authorities under significant pressure in terms of funding and resources. Fulfilment of the requirements, therefore, is likely to take place over a longer timescale, creating job security of consultancy companies who compile the flood risk assessments and related documentation.

In addition to the PFRA, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out a further requirement for site-specific flood risk assessments to inform all stages of decision making process of development planning (DCLG, 2012a). A site-specific flood risk assessment will be carried out by a developer to assess the risk to a development site, and demonstrate how flood risk from all sources of flooding to the development itself and flood risk to others will be managed now, and in future. The new requirements will increase the demand for civil engineering consultancies to carry out flood risk assessments on behalf of property developers, planners and businesses. Development on flat low-lying areas, which are often areas of high flood risk, have been traditionally desired by the housing sector. These areas are most likely to be marked as AFAs, requiring more comprehensive risk assessments and more private investment (DCLG, 2012b).

Changing Approach to Flood Risk Management

In the recent past, the engineering approach to construct defences was the only preferred option to minimise flood risk. Structural defences are most likely to leave an impact on the environment, on recreation and on the appearance of an area (DEFRA, 2010). The cost of implementing rigid structural measures, will be a barrier to adaptation, and will not be available to all risk areas.

In areas of high capital and development potential, such as the Thames Estuary, flood risk management will be based mainly on physical defences (Lavery, and Donovan, 2005). However, with climate change set to increase the risks, alternatives to structural measures are becoming increasingly more important for schemes that are not of high national or economic priority which may struggle to attract the necessary funding (Penning-Rowsell et al., 2006). Small engineering consultancies and contractors will have to resort to non-structural measures for local flood defence schemes in order to deliver cost-effective solutions in a competitive market. The engineering sector will need to focus on new inter-disciplinary and multi-lateral methods as much as on new technologies, targeting social science and economics rather than using physical engineering solutions, and embracing probabilistic methods and flexible solutions (Harriesa and Penning-Rowsell, 2011).

The development of the SUDS management train is an example of the shift away from structural measures, and developing nature's own capacity to deal with extreme events. Developers and planners must now consider SUDS as a part of any construction work that will result in reduced ability of natural water drainage (Anderson, J. and Fletcher, I., 2010). With an obligation to ensure reliance against flood risk and prevent downstream effects, developers will create numerous opportunities for environmental engineering companies for their expertise in landscaping, provision of water retention, and safe drainage systems.

Under the FWMA (2010) and Localism Act (2011), local authorities will be required to plan and support local neighbourhood planning, and serve as SUDS approval bodies (SABs), responsible for approval of design, build and adoption of SUDS from local developments. Policy pressure is raising demand for specific engineering and planning capabilities of the local authority. In order to successfully fulfil the new responsibilities, the local authority will rely on consultancy expertise to tackle the challenges. However, the new responsibilities will also bring new procedures, such as emergency planning and recovery after flood events, requiring appropriate incident management training and certification for the lead consultancies employed by the LLFA.

The decentralised governance and integrated approach for managing flood risks will particularly favour projects and companies that are able to adapt their business practice quickly to adhere to the new requirements with minimal loss of time and capital (DCLG, 2007). Local management of flood risk will lead to better use of locally available resources and increase collaboration between individual sectors (RAENG, 2011). Increased co-ordination and partnership between local authorities, businesses, and the engineering sector will ensure better division of available funds and lead to a multi-lateral approach to manage flood risks as part of sustainable development. As an example, the partnership between academia and the industry will deliver more up-to-date information and methodology for climate change forecasting, or flood modelling that could be used in planning and design (Christierson et al., 2012). Moreover, inter-disciplinary partnerships will increase capabilities of local companies to undertake more complex projects, thereby bringing more revenue to local businesses and raising regional economic stability. However, failing to achieve successful partnerships will result in loss of competitiveness.

For engineering companies there will be continuous opportunities to attract government funding through the Community Infrastructure Levy (2010) if flood protection elements are incorporated in the design (DEFRA, 2012b). The allocation of funding is based upon the benefit-cost ratio over the whole life of a project scheme (Turner et al., 2007; DEFRA, 2009b). This could potentially lead to a situation where more consultancy time is spent fabricating a higher benefit-cost ratio for increased budget and priority rather than delivering innovation. However, with the decentralisation and reporting system in place the risk of counterproductive competitiveness can be reduced. Nonetheless, for the engineering sector, value management will be critical to secure the competitiveness in the market and obtain the necessary investment (ENDS, 2011).


The increasing severity and frequency of events has given an opportunity to drive policy change for creating a stable long-term policy strategy for flood risk management. The consequences of flooding and Pitt review incentivised policy transition into legally binding acts and regulations, setting more rigorous requirements on the current business. On the contrary, the movement towards a decentralized flood management system will create opportunities for civil engineering consultancies experienced in sustainable development and flood risk management. The success of the sector will be determined by the ability to fully embrace the new direction of thinking and deliver value to the client and stakeholders. The required innovation will not necessarily involve high cost, technology intensive solutions, but rather small scale non-structural measures implemented through strategic planning and design.

Although the flood risk policy context has been seen to deliver the much needed change to the flood risk management and local planning system, the issues associated with the transition to adopt the new responsibilities will require more investment and funding for local authorities. In the transition phase, as a result of underinvestment and unpreparedness, the risk of failure should be anticipated higher than previously. Broader range of non-structural adaptation measures will deliver better preparedness in a cost-effective way. However, under the current benefit-cost review it is not possible to measure and allocate appropriate funding for these measures.