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Lessons learnt from winter floods published

Cumbria floods

The government has today published a new report on “lessons learnt” from last winter’s floods.

Last winter saw extensive and severe flooding around the country damaging more than 600 flood defences and causing an estimated £250M worth of damage to key infrastructure.

The National Flood Resilience Review covers the lessons learnt and aims to help make the country more resilient to flooding.

As part of the review, government said that its first programme of work had been to improve its understanding of the fluvial and coastal flood risk in England. It stated that describing flood risk in traditional terms such as a “one in a 100 year risk” was not helpful as it did not describe the impact of potential damage when such an event took place.

As a consequence, in conjunction with the Met Office, it said that it had developed new plausible extreme rainfall scenarios based on recently recorded extreme events.

Using these new extreme flood outlines, it has tested the resilience of key local infrastructure assets (such as energy, water, health, transport and telecommunications) on key local infrastructure around the country.

The review has also aimed to bring the water and telecoms sectors in line with the electricity supply industry, by getting them to agree to develop and implement plans for temporary improvements to resilience by Christmas this year.

In addition to the £700M already pledged in this year’s budget, the report outlined plans to set aside a further £12.5M for new temporary defences, such as barriers and high volume pumps, at seven strategic locations around the country. It said that by this winter, the Environment Agency (EA) would have four times more temporary barriers than last year.

Furthermore it went on to say that it had stress tested the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea in England. It said that for the first time, Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios would be linked with EA modelling to provide a new assessment of flood risk.

“It is important that policy on flood risk is underpinned by credible and objective scientific evidence and analysis. This review used new modelling techniques to challenge our ideas around the frequency and location of extreme flooding,” said government chief scientific adviser Mark Walport.

“We were able to model what level of rainfall would be worse than anything that we have experienced but still possible for our climate. This information enabled us to look again at how bad coastal and river flooding could be under such extreme conditions to ensure we are better prepared.

The work has been overseen by an expert group brought together from across industry and academia.

Commenting on the publication, Ramboll associate Luke Strickland said: “While the report is clearly a welcome step forward, it is limited in its view and arguably lacks ambition. It is of course important to strike a balance between implementing major catchment management schemes, (which take time) and strengthening existing solutions to protect against the next flooding event, but too much of the focus is on short term fixes, rather than long term aims.

“There is perhaps an over emphasis on temporary and permanent defences and not enough focus on adaptation and resilience. Recent events have shown that even the shiniest new defences can be breached. There is always a bigger storm around the corner and we can’t just keep building higher walls.”

Register for New Civil Engineer’s Flood Management Forum for more insight into the key issues. Click here for more information.

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