Attitudes to Flood Protection must change!

I am sitting on a crowded train tapping out a few lines on my way to an event that will, no doubt, be attended by the luminaries of the flood world at the British Standards Institute in Chiswick.

Good news: the NEW flood protection standards are an improvement

The event has been laid on to mark the publication of the new BS 851188 flood protection standards. This new British Standard has emerged from what was PAS1188 and set the standard for flood protection products. The PCA was pleased to be involved in the drafting group that was – I am pleased to report – a pretty sober lot with bags of experience and commitment to pulling together what I think is a pretty good document. It is not perfect (these things never are) and it will get some criticism (that is inevitable), but it is a great improvement on the previous PAS1188 flood protection standard!

So why when these blogs are usually so grumpy, am I telling people how great we have been from an event designed to tell everyone else how good we are at drafting standards? Because I fear what we have spent the last year and a bit doing is probably largely irrelevant!

Flood warnings are expected across the country this week

We are told that torrential rain is forecast and we are being advised to expect flood warnings right across the country this week. Rising sea levels and climate change have been a constant feature of the nightly news for months. The UK government rightly promotes preparedness for these events and yet, the companies who specialise in the provision of flood protection are in terminal decline and are going out of business at an alarming rate.

The UK flood protection industry leads the way in mapping, risk assessment, design and products. It is the ubiquitous story of British ingenuity, engineering prowess and problem solving. Products that started as ideas in the heads of people that recognised a problem and created an application. Often prototypes developed in small workshops and engineers’ garages that, through tenacity and a desire to make a difference, have been developed into what is a range of highly effective, world-leading property flood protection products.

Are we any more resilient to flooding than 10 years ago?

Trouble is, no one buys the stuff unless it is too late. Though flooding is never far from the news, the reality is we have had a few very benign years when it comes to extreme rainwater events in the UK. There have been some very severe localised events, but nothing to rival the events of 2012 or 2016. The next BIG event is now perhaps overdue, the question is, are we any more resilient to flooding than we were 10 years ago?

We know more. We can probably clear up more effectively. In some places, civil flood defence projects have even been built or improved on. For all these points, there is no argument. But all those homes, businesses and communities that are away from areas of high population density and the protection of flood banks and high volume pumps (and there are millions of us), are probably no more prepared from the threat of flooding than the day we moved in.

Why is the flood protection industry not booming?

So what is preventing the flood protection industry from booming? The products are good, they work and they are not as expensive as you may think to supply and install. The levels of protection that can be derived from professional flood protection measures are real and tangible. Less lost stuff and far quicker returns to houses with massively reduced recovery costs are readily achieved. Everyone sees the value and yet still take up is glacially slow.

Attitudes to flood protection must change

Blight, a lack of compulsion and an “it will never happen to me” attitude seems to prevail. That and a lack of support from organisations like Building Regulations (who could insist on flood protection as part of any new project or as part of a repair or refurbishment in a flood risk area). The Government seems to understand the benefits of resilience and has set up pilots, studies and initiatives to understand the issues, yet we still don’t see widescale take up or the promotion of buildings that have been made resilient to floods by developers, architects and local authorities.

Perhaps because to admit preplanning for such events, admits the probability that the building may flood at all. I am yet to see an estate agent boast that a river front property has been equipped with flood resilient measures in the sale particulars, or indeed the sale of million pound beach front houses fall through because they are not there!

Attitudes to flood protection must change. Awareness must be promoted, incentives for take up must come, rather than us sitting around congratulating ourselves on the production of a new standard that will soon be joined by an almost completely, unworkable PAS for the procurement of flood resilient work!

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