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Living with flood risk

Living with flood risk

With one in six homes in the UK at risk of flooding, a number that is expected to double by 2050, the RIBA recently called on the government to develop a new approach to decision making and regulation to address flooding risk.

Last month’s report on The Value of Flood Resilient Architecture and Design called for regulatory change and more appropriate design that allows homeowners and businesses to live with water rather than having to deal with the risk and costs of flood damage.

RIBA Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Forth, warns: ‘The latest figures show that more than 1 in 10 new homes in the UK is built on land with a very high level of flood risk – and that percentage is rising. With development land at a premium and a huge shortage of housing, the temptation will always be to build homes wherever space can be found. We will never be able to remove the risk of flooding completely – especially as climate changes threatens to dramatically alter our climate - but we can do more to ensure that our homes and offices are better able to deal with flood waters.’

Sue Illman, CIC Champion for Flood Mitigation and Resilience, agrees: ‘Building resilience to surface water flooding in new development in a way that delivers attractive usable environments with a sense of place should be at the top of our agenda.’

Conceptual masterplan for a brownfield site in Littlehampton by Baca Architects for the government-funded ‘Long Term Initiatives for Flood-risk Environments (LifE)’ research project. Image © Crown.

There are examples of comprehensive plans to tackle flood risk in urban centres. Copenhagen has put in place an award-winning Cloudburst Management Plan consisting of 300 projects across the city aimed at preventing flooding while still enabling growth in the Danish capital.

In Aarhus, another Danish city, climate change and storm water management initiatives such as sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) have been integrated in major regeneration projects, where a holistic approach to planning supports attractive liveable communities, Chief City Architect Stephen Willacy reports.

Both Danish and British initiatives will be discussed at the 'Climate adaptation – Creating flood resilient urban areas' seminar at the Liveable City conference in London (18-21 June), the annual free event hosted by the Danish Embassy to promote a dialogue on architecture and urban planning between both countries.

Elaine Toogood, Senior Architect at The Concrete Centre, is part of a task group set up in the wake of the government-backed 2016 Property Flood Resilience Action Plan. She reports that a new Code of Practice and guidance on property flood resilience of existing buildings is in the pipeline.

The Plan is partly retroactive, with an emphasis on remediation measures that incorporate the installation of flood resilient measures as part of routine business practice in repair works post flooding, and encourages them to be proactively taken up by home and building owners exposed to flood risk.

‘Current planning policy in the UK aims to steer new development to areas with a low probability of river or sea flooding, but some new development in areas of higher flood risk is inevitable. But as recent events have shown; many properties are liable to flooding even when not in a recognised risk area or close to a river or the coast,’ says Toogood.

‘Surface water flooding, burst water mains and blocked drains are flood hazards affecting all housing irrespective of location and should therefore be taken into consideration.’

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government still references the 2007 document Improving the flood performance of new buildings – flood resilient construction for guidance on suitable materials and construction details when building in areas at risk of flooding, although Toogood points out that guidance has since been updated by BS 85500:2015, Flood resistant and resilient construction –Guide to improving the flood performance of building.

Richard Coutts, Director at Baca Architects and proponent of a water-centric ‘Aquatecture’, is one of the voices calling for an altogether different, proactive design approach to flooding:

‘Cities which today start to embrace water and take advantage of its benefits, whilst understanding the threat of climate change and flooding, will be cities that perform better economically, socially and politically in the next 20 to 30 years and beyond. Through this balanced approach we can create cities that are better prepared, adaptable and are fit for the challenges of the 21st Century.’

Thanks to Elaine Toogood, Senior Architect, The Concrete Centre; Richard Coutts, Director, Baca Architects; Stephen Willacy, Chief City Architect, Aarhus City Council.

Information and registration for the Liveable City conference on 18-21 June.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum Topic: Sustainable architecture. As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, Professional Features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD Core Curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

Are you interested to learn more? Attend the 2.5hrs Detailed Knowledge RIBA Core CPD 2018 seminar, Designing for flood resilience: tips for architects and designers.

Posted on 7 June 2018.

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