THE BLOG

If We're Going to Build on Floodplains, We Must Ensure Homes are Adequately Protected

03/11/2015 16:44 GMT | Updated 03/11/2016 09:12 GMT

As the wetter autumn months start to fully set in and with winter just around the corner, we can soon expect to start seeing UK flooding events hitting the headlines.

It may seem like a long time ago now, but it was only two years ago that large parts of the UK, including huge sections of the Somerset Levels, were devastated by flood waters, destroying infrastructure, damaging homes and even claiming lives.

Of course it's obvious to everyone that a lot more preventative measures need to be taken to help combat this annually reoccurring issue. But, as with most things in life, it's not cut and dry.

A key problem in the development of a sustainable anti-flooding solution for the UK is the extensive use of flood plain land for building new homes; between 2001 and 2011, 200,000 new homes were built on floodplain land. Clearly, in a perfect world, we wouldn't build on flood plains; however we are in the midst of a very serious housing crisis and the country urgently requires hundreds of thousands of new homes to meet demand. So, the need to build new homes - and fast - is critical. And there's no denying that flood plain land is some of the cheapest available to developers.

And this is the crux of the issue. Houses need to be built quickly and cheaply in order to fulfil sky-high demand, and using cheap flood plain land is the quickest and most affordable way to do just that. While I've previously championed other solutions to this problem, such as utilising brownfield land (reclaimed, former industrial land), I do understand that building on the floodplain can at times be unavoidable. But, if we are going to build on floodplains, we need to ensure that adequate flood defences are in place to protect these new builds. Otherwise, what is the point?

In modern Britain our public services generally do well to avoid widespread loss of life during flood events, but are largely powerless to lessen the catastrophic damage caused to homes and businesses. This is where pre-emptive, and well executed flood defences are crucial. As the saying goes; prevention is better than cure.

So how exactly should homes built flood plains (and often those that aren't) be protected from flooding? There are a few methods. A method which was recently made compulsory for new housing developments is the addition of SUDs (sustainable urban drainage systems) for any new development of over ten homes. These are cost-effective solutions that often require little maintenance, and mimic natural drainage solutions by collecting water and storing it, before releasing it slowly back into the ground.

The introduction of SUDs regulations for new housing developments is a huge stride in the right direction, highlighting the need to ensure houses in Britain are properly protected from flood water. However, relatively low level SUDs solutions are no defence when Mother Nature decides to really go to town.

Fortunately, despite being a fairly wet little island, massive periods of sustained rainfall are rare. And even in some pretty dismal winter weather the majority of SUDs defences will do the job. However, when SUDs fail there needs to be a final line of defence to protect people's homes, which in my mind can only be large scale engineered anti-flooding solutions, including culverts, flow control chambers and vast subterranean storage tanks.

The floods of 2013/14 should have provided a catalyst for a real change in our approach to flood management, but seemingly the message hasn't quite hit home with both housing developers and the UK government. Managing risk is key - limit the amount of homes that are built on flood plains and our country's flooding woes will be minimised. And for those properties that are already in harm's way, it is important to protect them with the best engineered solutions we have. There can be no half measures when it comes to combatting merciless flood waters.

Simon Thomas is the managing director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer and the UK licencee of the Weholite range of large diameter plastic pipes.

Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework www.weholite.co.uk