Flood protection under real threat from funding crisis

Written By: Market Development Director, Hydro International.

Bradford Upon Avon Flood

HIGH-PRIORITY flood defence projects in England and Wales – in jeopardy following tough spending cuts – need a fresh injection of innovative, sustainable and lower-cost engineering to avoid future flooding disasters.

On February 9, the Government revealed a 27% cut in capital funding for flood risk management schemes leading to high-profile flood defence projects being shelved indefinitely.  Opposers have questioned the ‘false economy’ of cutting priority schemes that could end up costing much more in clear-up costs after a flood.

There can be little doubt of the huge gap between the Government’s ambitions for flood protection in the UK and the harsh realities of available funding.  That’s why the emphasis has got to be on flood prevention, rather than flood defence.

Capital flood defence projects are £multi-million long-term schemes, whose benefits are shared across a large river catchment area.   But traditionally they have been designed using expensive, conventional technologies to defend against floods already raging close to homes and businesses downstream.

During the February 9 adjournment debate on funding for flood risk management, MPs mooted up-stream solutions as a more sustainable method of protecting at risk communities using a forestry planting and attenuation dams to hold back flood water.

Current up-stream flood prevention projects underway at White Cart Water to [link to case study on the site] protect the people of Glasgow and another just beginning in Wigan are precisely such examples of novel, innovative engineering solutions, which provide lower-cost and more sustainable answers to flood protection.

Both schemes use Hydro-Brake® Flow Control technology [link to product page on the site] to hold back water up-stream and release it at a controlled rate to protect homes and business downstream.    They have delivered an unconventional, ‘out of box’ solution, which has saved money not only in construction but in long-term operation and maintenance.

Up until now flood defence investment has been on an upward trajectory.   As a result of Climate Change we are likely to experience more intense rainfall events in future, and river levels are expected to rise.  Meanwhile population growth and increasing developed impermeable areas are putting pressure on our surface water drainage infrastructure.

Seminal reports such as the Pitt Review confirmed the consensus view that flood protection demands the highest priority. The Environment Agency has estimated that funding on flood defences needs to double by 2035 just to maintain current protection levels.   It also states that every £1 spent on most new flood defence schemes, generates an £8 return in the long term.

The false economy of reduced floods spending is also a matter of concern for the insurance industry.   The Association of British Insurers has warned that its commitment to insure at-risk properties through the Statement of Principles agreement with the Government could be in question after 2013.

County and unitary local authorities are currently under tremendous pressure to build capacity for their new responsibilities as the Lead Local Flood Authorities.  Funding for their new responsibilities has not been ring-fenced during hard-pressed budgetary times.  In future, there could be a greater expectation for them to contribute to local flood defence schemes that might previously have received central funding.

No-one can deny that flood defences should bear some of the brunt of spending cuts in the current economic situation.  But what should be encouraged is a more sustainable, innovative approach to finding solutions to flood risk issues to make the money go further in future.

The Government is consulting on a new mechanism for funding capital projects based on  ‘payment for outcomes’  and sharing funding with local beneficiaries.    Sufficient education and knowledge sharing about the sustainable solutions available for flood prevention are vital, so that those with the power to make and influence decisions – whether in the Environment Agency, Local authorities, Regional Flood Defence Committees,   consulting engineers and developers, or in universities and institutions are aware of the full range options.

Encouraging engineering innovation though an at-source principle must be the cost-efficient solution, whether for large scale river protection or local surface water management.

With the next major flood only ever just around the corner, innovative engineering in nature’s way must become the mantra of future flood defence planning.”

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