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Conference: Are we planning to flood?

How can planners, developers and communities work together to build safer places for the future?

This was a one day conference & evening reception, held on Wednesday 1 February 2017 at SOAS, University of London

The following outputs from the conference are available:

Overview:

Every year thousands of homes, businesses and people are affected by flooding.  At the National Flood Forum we support people living with flood risk and they tell us that one of their main concerns is proposals for development that will increase their flood risk.  Whether it’s new, planned or permitted development, or the threat of flooding from existing new builds, people are worried that their lives will be placed at risk.

Yet with a growing population, an increasing demand for housing, an ageing infrastructure and the effects of climate change, the impact of flooding is likely to increase and with it the human and economic costs.  So, what can we do now to make sure we’re planning and building flood resilient communities for the future?  How can planners, developers and local people work together to ensure that existing and new developments are sustainable – not just today, but in 30 years-time?

Are we planning to flood? provided an opportunity to address these issues.  Delegates heard from a range of speakers from politics, community groups and industry professionals who considered:

  • How do we know that current development will result in flood resilient communities in future?
  • What is the evidence our planning system is helping to reduce our flood risk?
  • How can planners and developers work with communities to reduce flood risk?
  • What do we need to do to create a society that is willing and wants to adapt?

It opened up the opportunity to:

  • Discuss the development challenge from the community and planner perspectives.
  • Hear about successful partnerships where developers and communities are working together.
  • Learn about innovative projects where flood resilience measures have been built-in retrospectively to reduce flood risk.
  • Address how more people can adapt their homes and businesses to be flood resilient

 Reflections on the conference

As we take stock of our conference, which was followed by a busy few days for us in Westminster and around the country, it’s timely to think about what we learnt from Are we planning to flood? and consider the big question: What next?

As a charity supporting those at the grassroots, we were delighted to see so many Flood Action Groups and community representatives at the conference.  It’s the best attendance we’ve seen from communities which just goes to show the theme of the event clearly hit the right note with the people we seek to support.

Such a topical and, frankly sometimes emotive, issue really got people going.  Indeed, it was refreshing to read in another blog about our event that one delegate broke his usual rule of always asking a question at a conference because he wanted to hear the concerns of the various Flood Action Groups present.

“It was refreshing to spend a conference speaking to the flooded rather than fellow flood risk professionals.  To re-invigorate occasionally jaded professional interests by putting faces to the real world situations we are trying to manage.”

Precisely the point.  People on the ground have the knowledge and the expertise, but too often feel unheard and powerless.  We hope Are we planning to flood? gave people the chance to have their voices heard and to challenge, raise questions and use the networking opportunities to discuss their views.

The day was crammed with back-to-back presentations but we hope that by keeping them short, we maintained a momentum throughout the day.  Some of the key themes seemed to be:

  • An urgency to take action now to address the challenge of climate change and avoid people being ‘locked in’ to future flood misery.
  • The hollowing out of the planning system at the cost of people’s right to feel safe in their homes.
  • The frustration of residents who feel more action could be taken to maintain and manage water in their neighbourhoods.
  • The presumption to build takes precedence.
  • A willingness and recognition that collaboration is key but a question mark remains over how this actually works in practice.
  • A need for a national strategy to tackle flood risk
  • An understanding of the ambition required to meet the challenges we face, particularly in light of the Flood Re deadline in 2039.

Big issues, with some chinks of opportunity and positivity in the mix too:

  • SuDs do work. Local schemes are happening.  We all have a part to play.
  • Developers are beginning to listen in some areas, such as Shifnal. There are still challenges ahead but at least this local Flood Prevention Group has a place at the table.
  • Flood Action Groups can collectively have a voice and share common concerns, as in the case of West Sussex.
  • There is a growing recognition that these issues affect people all over the country. You are not alone.
  • There are lots of organisations who are potential partners who will work with us

What has happened since the conference and what next?

  • The NFF supported a group of flood action groups from Cumbria to present to the Efra select committee. They made a really powerful and passionate case for action, promoting the need for communities to be listened to and actively involved in shaping their futures, using their knowledge and skills in combination with the technical expertise of professional organisations.  Amongst the topics discussed was the need for a long term, adaptive approach to flood risk management, supported by the planning system, as well as action now to deliver quick wins.
  • The NFF has already met with Defra officials to press the case for action and meetings are planned with many of the organisations that presented at the conference
  • The NFF submitted a consultation response to the National Infrastructure Commission pointing out that flood risk management is part of our national infrastructure and that we need a long term national strategy to invest and maintain it. It also submitted case studies for meetings with ministers on SuDS.  A submission is being developed for the Efra Select Committee Post Legislative Scrutiny.
  • A great deal of evidence was presented at the conference, but we need to consider what is really going to make a difference and to set about collecting it with your help. We will be developing this over the next few weeks and discussing with partners how we might turn this in to reality.

In summary…Are we planning to flood? was a fabulous first step, but only a first step and we all have much more work to do.  Let’s keep the issue alive and continue the discussion.  Your views are always welcome.  Please email info@floodforum.org.uk

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