Keeping Floods at Bay: Property Level Protection

Cookers at eye-level, water-resistant floor tiles, waterproof brickwork and water pumps: these are all measures that householders and businesses can install to protect their premises from the worst effects of flooding, and to allow them to continue their lives as normal after a flood event. Yet it is not yet standard practice in flood-affected areas to install such ‘Property Level Resilience’ (PLR). Various reasons exist for this, including the desire on the part of house-holders to get back into their homes quickly after flooding, rather than wait for devices to be installed in their properties, along with a lack of trust in the effectiveness of the measures. A new report, the result of a business-led round table convened by the UK Government in winter 2015, has examined the reasons that people don’t prepare their properties adequately for flooding and, most importantly, what can be done to address this deficiency.

The winter floods of 2015/16, which saw the wettest December on record (with December also the wettest calendar month since records began in 1910), led to over 17,000 homes being flooded and caused damage expected to total £1.3 billion when this is finally calculated. Still, 2,000 homes remain unoccupied and 700 businesses across the worst affected areas in Northern England, North Wales and Southern Scotland have not been able to resume trading. The devastating effects of flooding on a personal level are clear. The Government acknowledges that it has an important role to play in addressing the threats from flooding and improving the protection of those at risk. However, Government is also clear that there will be properties that it is simply not economic to protect through the construction of flood defences. It is these buildings where PLR measures are most important.

‘Property Level Resilience’ is the installation of measures that aim to make people less vulnerable to the physical and mental impacts of flooding. The new ‘Property Flooding Resilience Action Plan‘ , published on 28 October, sets out a series of recommendations which aim to ‘set a path for addressing the major barriers to people being able to better prepare their homes and businesses for future floods’. In the words of the Flooding Minister, Thérèse Coffey, set out in the foreword to the Plan, ‘it will empower people to address the impact that flooding has on their lives and livelihoods.’

The Action Plan is the result of a round table and associated task forces, convened and chaired by Dr Peter Bonfield OBE, Chief Executive of BRE. Members of the round table were representatives of the private sector, including insurers, loss adjusters, legal services, surveying and the flood recovery industries, supported by Defra and the Environment Agency. The Action Plan is envisaged as leading the country towards a five-year vision; from year one where the aim is to see a better understanding nationally of what comprises property-level resilience, amongst communities, individuals and businesses. By year five there will exist in the UK ‘an environment where it is standard practice for properties at high flood risk to be made resilient’.

So what are the actions that will get us there? Recommendations include scoping the use of Building Regulations to encourage flood resistant and resilient construction in areas at risk. Industry standards and certification processes could be introduced for flood products and their installation, so that insurers, industry and property owners have confidence in their efficacy. An online portal has been launched as a result of the report’s recommendations, to make it easier for people to find information about how to protect their properties. A ‘national flood risk campaign’ is planned for November this year, run by the Environment Agency, as an outcome of the National Flood Resilience Review. Communication about the value of PLR will be incorporated into this, focusing on simple messages and calls to action.

The organisations represented through the round table process have agreed to actively promote the recommendations of the Plan and will meet again towards the end of this year to check on progress. In the foreword, the chair of the group describes the Plan as the ‘start of a journey’. Time will tell whether it is a journey that does genuinely achieve the five-year ambition outlined.

The RGS-IBG is organising a 21st Century Challenges Policy Forum event on ‘Achieving sustainable flood risk management in the UK’ at the Society on Tuesday 8th November. Find out more.

Image: Flooding. Richard. Flickr.