Scenes of devastation from the recent UK floods would suggest the last thing we should be doing is building more homes in areas at risk of flooding, but Floodline Consulting Ltd, a flooding and drainage solutions consultancy, says UK planners are ignoring innovations in building techniques that can be used to build on bluefield sites to meet rising housing demands.
Flood management innovation and flood resilient building techniques are already being used successfully in countries like the Netherlands to meet housing demands. ‘We do not hear of a flood crisis in Holland, a country in which 40% of the land lies at or below sea level and with an additional 15% at risk from rivers, which is much more prone to flood risk than the UK,’ says Justin Meredith, Managing Director of Floodline. He continues: ‘Rather than try to build taller and taller flood defences, the Dutch realised that they have to learn to live with the water and give it the space it needs. This strategy has been the real success and game changer in Holland. With scientists predicting that climate change will lead to more frequent flooding events, leading to more devastation and misery for those affected, it is simply not good enough for planners to continue to ignore technology that will enable safe sustainable development.’
Floodline’s technical director, Faruk Pekbeken, points out: ‘In earthquake countries no-one questions the logic of building earthquake resistant homes, yet in the UK, where floods are our national disasters, objections are made when we propose flood proof developments in areas at risk from flooding, even though these plans include flood mitigation for the whole community as well as the obvious benefit in terms of creation of new flood proof homes.’
Floodline is working on several projects that illustrate new ways to build in flood zones, using techniques that have already been tried and tested in the Netherlands in areas such as at Maasbommel on the Maas river. The Environment Agency’s definition of flood risks ranges from zone 1 – low probability of flooding (once every 1,000 years or less), to zone 2 (between a 1 in 1,000 year event and 1 in 100 year event ), to zone 3a – high probability (between a 1 in 20 year event and 1 in 100 year event) and it is in between these ranges that Floodline believes development is possible. The company is working on several projects which include construction of ‘can float’ homes in areas on or close to water, which can rise and fall in times of flood. The homes have buoyant bases that are contained in a concrete basin and are held in place by guide piles attached by spring loaded rollers to ensure there is no lateral movement when the building rises or falls when floods enter the basin. The basin may be self-draining or water can also be pumped out after flood waters have receded.
Floodline is currently involved with two planning applications for ‘can float’ homes to be built in Christchurch in Dorset and near Theale In West Berkshire. Its experience has shown that councils seem unable to differentiate between plans for conventional housing versus flood resilient housing during the course of their planning deliberations, owing to fear of building in a flood risk zone. The company believes there is an urgent need for the Government to direct Councils to be able to take a pragmatic approach to appropriate development in flood risk areas that are sustainable and safe.
It’s not just about the new buildings being flood proof, what Floodline is also focussing on is ensuring all its new larger developments are able to reduce flood risk to existing communities. This provides flood mitigation at no expense to the Local or Central Government while at the same time providing much needed new housing stock in the right areas - where people want to live, close to existing infrastructure and services.
Justin Meredith comments: ‘Changes to National Planning Policy Framework in 2018 guide local authorities through two key measures: the Sequential Test and the Exceptions Test when considering planning applications. The Sequential Test, set out in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF], states that new developments should be steered to areas with the lowest probability of flooding, ie to Flood Zone 1. Where there are no reasonably available Flood Zone 1 sites, local authorities can consider Flood Zone 2 sites and only where there are no Zone 1 or 2 areas is the suitability of Zone 3a considered. A guide produced in May 2018 entitled ‘Planning for Climate Change – A Guide for Local Authorities*,’ encourages the authorities to consider design innovation when applying the sequential test and exceptions test. The difficulty we’ve had is that an authority which is naturally nervous of encouraging development in a flood-risk area can say that the NPPF doesn’t say they have to consider the fact that a building has been specifically designed for that area and may not be suitable for an area at less risk of flooding. If planners were more pragmatic and more open to flood proof homes we would not only unlock land for development, but could also solve some of the problems of replacing homes that already exist on flood plains as well as offering viable options to take these homes out of the flood risk all together.’
Notes to editors:
1. Floodline Consulting is a multi-award winning civil engineering company based in Woking, with a unique specialism in complex water, flooding and drainage related engineering solutions. Working with investors, developers, house-builders and Councils they have successfully implemented sustainable development solutions in and around flood risk areas, where the water is given space without encroaching onto residential or commercial areas.
*‘Planning for Climate Change – A Guide for Local Authorities’, which was produced in association with the Town and Country Planning Association in May 2018, supported by companies including Floodline. This document states that the application of the sequential test and the exception test should include consideration of design innovation. Many EU nations have pioneered design approaches that allow communities to live with flood risk and the UK’s planning system should seek to encourage such innovation, particularly in places that have no alternative realistic development options.