A year after extensive flooding affected the north of the country, Ian Joyner, flood risk lead at CBRE, discusses the significance of two recent announcements.

Thousands of homes and businesses were flooded last winter, leading to much finger-pointing from politicians and the media.  Two reports reviewing the Governments flood risk management performance have been published:

Firstly, the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review, addressing criticism of last winter’s response.  Met Office models suggest flood conditions 20-30% worse are possible over the next decade, but the review found existing flood models successfully predict areas at risk.  Encouraging the public to make use of this information is the challenge.  The review identities significant infrastructure at risk and outlines improvements to temporary defences, but the nation’s geography means complete provision of infrastructure services during all floods is likely unobtainable.

The review illustrates the importance of critical thresholds in flood risk.  Great Yarmouth, which escaped flooding in 2013 when a storm surge peaked just below its defences, would suffer extensive flooding if the same surge was only slightly higher.  Flooding remains an inherently local issue, defined by specific thresholds and geographic characteristics.  As climate change continues apace, protecting riverside and coastal areas will increase pressure on these thresholds.

Secondly, the Environment Food and Rural Affairs committee report considers how to better manage flooding.  It criticises current governance, proposing a new model led by a Rivers and Coastal Authority, with water companies assuming local authorities’ responsibilities.  This would represent significant upheaval when organisations are just adapting to new responsibilities arising from the overhaul following the 2007 floods.  Untimely responses from public bodies are a major constraint affecting our clients’ understanding of flood risk. More reorganisation may increase frustrations for those making rapid business decisions about environmental risk.

The committee recommends natural flood management methods, which can play a role reducing flood flows, particularly for smaller floods.  Evidence is lacking on value for money and they pose a dilemma for a farming industry averse to flooding of agricultural land.  The problem is protecting the most people with limited funds, whilst accepting that not all can be protected.   Larger single-location short-term projects will derive better value for money than dispersed, longer-term solutions, until we get better at monetising the numerous other benefits of a natural approach.

The committee calls for simpler communication.  Whilst vital that people understand their risk, our clients are responsible, sophisticated decision-makers who appreciate assigning percentages or probabilities against a particular scenario. Such detail must remain publicly-accessible.

On reflection, another major flood has played out and the focus has been on pointing the finger of blame, criticising existing rules and regulations and recommending new management structures.   Our advice to clients remains consistent: relying on government efforts to manage risk, however they are organised, is extremely unwise.  Avoiding risk, informed by thorough due diligence for new assets and regular review of existing flood exposure, is the best strategy for commercial property investors and occupiers to ensure they do not find themselves knee deep (or worse) in floodwater.

Climate change, Environmental, Flood risk, Flooding,
Ian Joyner

Ian Joyner

Associate Director

Environmental | Flood Risk

+44(0) 20 3214 1960