Key commentators from the flooding industry, Environment Agency, DEFRA, and builders merchant Jewson took part in a debate about the key issues affecting the UK following the increase in floods in the last 12 months.
Organised by Jewson and supplier partner UK Flood Barriers, the debate highlighted issues such as the need for better, clearer legislation and for increased public awareness.
The roundtable was chaired by Mark Lane, Partner, Pinsent Masons and panellists were:
The panel discussed the recommendations of the Pitt Review into flooding. This recognised that Building Regulations are a major driver towards change and to ensuring the uptake of flood resilient and flood resistant measures at the design stage. However, the view from the building community, represented by LABC was that they had had little communication from the Government to take this forward.
The view from LABC was that while some of the recommendations are currently being taken forward, much of the recent environmental agenda has focused on ‘green’ issues, such as carbon reduction and energy efficiency. In addition, it was suggested that the Government has a deregulation agenda and are less motivated to bring in new building legislation to ensure homes are flood resilient.
Mary Creagh MP suggested that it is possible to change building regulations, but that a profile raising public awareness campaign is the route to do it; she compared it with the similar campaign to combat hot water scalding.
She also suggested that regulations are filtered down to local councils, who simply do not have resources or inclination to prioritise this. For example, legislation has been implemented to stop homeowners concreting over their lawns, in order to combat flooding, but councils have simply not been able to enforce this.
She felt, also, that the flooding issue was complicated by the fact that it sits within various different government departments.
Whilst the Environment Agency provide a ‘flood risk’ assessment via its website, this may not necessarily be reaching everyone. Tony Andryszewski of the EA stated that the organisation regularly ran public surveys to ascertain awareness, as well as running regional publicity campaigns.
He felt the problem wasn’t necessarily people not taking the measures to protect themselves, but that they did not understand the risk they were under. He also felt that the mood was changing, that in the past communities would see the building of flood defence projects as an imposition or inconvenience but that they were now beginning to understand the benefit.
In order of raising awareness of flood protection available, Andryszewski suggested the public be incentivised in some way, (a ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ approach). Marcus Jefford compared this with the Green Deal the government initiative which stimulates businesses and householders to make their buildings more energy efficient.
He suggested that if victims of flooding knew the products that were available, may be more likely to drive their Local Authority to do something about it, and raise awareness.
Another issue raised by Paul Everell of LABC was that there is no universal solution for flood defence, depending on the types of property, where the property is, the type of flooding that it might be subject to etc. which makes any regulation more challenging.
Simon Purcell of WSP however, pointed out that the issue was not with new homes as those in the building sector embraced flood defence, but that old buildings were the issue. He also said that while enforcing a Code of Practice would have some impact, many housing developers, as commercial entitities, may be less inclined to attribute funds if they do not feel their competitors will be doing the same, and that legislation may be necessary to guarantee this.