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Designing a Flood Resilient Future

Ed Barsley

Founder of ‘The Environmental Design Studio’ and ‘Hazard + Hope’ and author of ‘Retrofitting for Flood Resilience: A Guide to Building & Community Design’

The physical, economic and social impacts of flooding can be both severe and wide reaching, and adaptation to this threat can often seem an insurmountable challenge. Yet it is the manner in which the built and natural environment are configured that can significantly influence a community’s vulnerability and exposure to flood risk and, as such, it is an area that Architects and Planners can play a huge part in helping to effect change.

There is, however, no single ‘silver-bullet’ strategy that will solve the problem of flooding in every location. Each type of flooding has different characteristics that will influence the suitability of any given design strategy and when one factors in variances in construction materials, house types, ground conditions, conservation policies and user preferences, it becomes clear that every approach needs to be tailored to suit a given context. Whilst this array of conditions could be seen as cumbersome constraints, the specificity of response they require actually prompts a more contextually grounded and holistic design response and helps ensure the development of an appropriate suite of Property Flood Resilience (PFR) strategies.

We should never be fall back on a copy and paste approach to managing flood risk. Context is key and the skips that line the streets of flood affected communities are often full to the brim with materials that could and should have been specified and/or positioned differently. Using this kind of site-specific approach, you would for example expect a residential strategy for resilience to surface water and fluvial flooding in the Upper Calder Valley in Yorkshire to be configured differently to one for resilience to groundwater flooding in another location, such as the Somerset Levels.

It is for this reason that those involved in design and planning need to be up to speed and informed on the range, scale and suitability of strategies for PFR as well as the method through which they should be developed and delivered. In the UK, the ‘Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience’ (CoP) is vital in this regard, as it sets out the key standards, requirements and process through which to be working on this topic and applies to both new build and existing contexts.

There really is no excuse for complacency. We know the rains and waters will come again and that an increasing number of communities are going to be exposed and vulnerable to flooding. It is therefore vital that those working in the fields of design and planning within the built environment become literate on the range and suitability of different interventions for PFR and the fundamentals of flood resilient design. If we fail to act and intervene the consequences will be dire, and we’ll see many more communities caught in a repetitive cycle of damage and disruption. But, if we adapt in a considered and consistent manner, as the ‘Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience’ sets out, then we can begin to break this cycle and be prepared for the changing conditions that are coming our way.