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A two-year stint on Halcrow's Broadlands flood defence PFI for the Environment Agency on the Norfolk Broads has emphasised assistant engineer Shaunette Babb's belief that "nature knows best". "We've been designing flood defences that don't need much maintenance or input in the future," she explains. "That means using natural and recycled materials and staying away from piling because it is unsustainable."
The new defences tend to be embankments built with soft edges and fringed with local reeds. They are designed with stable, wide
bases so they can be built up without too much difficulty in the future if water levels rise.
"The older defences were built on narrow bases, so if you needed to raise them, they had to be completely rebuilt," says Babb. "And piles would have to be replaced after 25 or 30 years.
"We won the Broadlands PFI on the fact that our bid was more sustainable," she adds. But sustainability in this case also means lower lifecycle costs, proving that the two often go hand in hand.
Babb says the Broadlands experience has made her think automatically about sustainability on other projects. "I'm aware that we want solutions that give longevity and reduce maintenance," she says, "but some things don't naturally lend themselves to that type of thinking
and you have to consciously look at it and ask yourself if there is an opportunity to use a sustainable solution."