Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience

The long awaited Code of Practice has been delivered. This document purports to be the collective thoughts and best practices as laid out by the great and the good of the property level flood protection world. In essence this is a relatively small band of people with diverse backgrounds who share the view that buildings can be made better able to deal with flooding, if the appropriate adaptations are adopted, installed and then deployed. Without exception I can confirm that every one of the contributors is well motivated, intelligent and determined to make a positive difference to those whose lives are turned upside down by flooding.

But is it any good? Well the Code itself is 7 pages long (excluding introductions acknowledgements and glossaries). It is very easy to read and sets out six steps to flood resilience. Unfortunately the 200 page explanatory note that will accompany the Code, has yet to be finalised. We understand may not be available for a few months yet.

The Code of Practice’s six steps

So these six steps. Hazard assessment, followed by a property survey that then informs a designer of the resilience measures. This is then given to a contractor to price and install before step five sees the commissioning and handover, with the final step being instruction on “operation and maintenance”.

All good so far? The Code requires –  as far as I understand it –  three sets of consultant reports before the job can even be priced. The suite of flood resilience measures are then delivered by a contractor who has had no input on the specification, and who must somehow arrange for independent commissioning before handover and the commencement of a maintenance contract.

The Code infers that each of the steps be carried out by an “appropriate person”. Table 2.1 has the most inappropriate and wide open definition of an appropriate person that I think I have ever read, but as it requires each of the contributors to “act impartially without favouring any particular supplier of equipment, materials or services”, and they must buy Professional Indemnity Insurance(PII), everything should be fine.

The Code of Practice from the homeowners viewpoint

Let’s now look at satisfying the Code from the point of view of the owner of a modest home in a flood affected village in the hills of Cumbria, or Yorkshire, or on the floodplain of Gloucestershire/Cambridgeshire. A homeowner wants to buy something to protect their home so where do they go and how do they find out were they need to go?

The normal way to buy home improvements is to call a reputable contractor. The contractor would then provide advice on regulation and certification, provide a competitive quote with a specification and do the work before issuing any guarantees.

The Code directs the user to something a little different. The contractor can’t get involved until a specification for works is presented to him. This schedule of works cannot be drawn up until the property has been inspected by a surveyor, whose report must be read in conjunction with another report prepared by a flood risk specialist. So on the face of it, the client needs to pay three consultants fees before the job goes to the contractor to be priced.

The homeowner must then employ someone to inspect the work as it is being undertaken, so that it can be signed off. Now unless I am misunderstanding something, this seems a little long-winded and feels like an expensive, convoluted process for the procurement of unregulated construction products. How does this empower or persuade the homeowner to buy flood resilience?

A Local Authority’s view of the Code of Practice

Then let’s look at it from the point of view of a cash strapped local authority. They may have money for flood resilience projects, but their driver is to deliver resilience to as many properties as possible, as cost effectively as they can. The model for procurement set out in the code is designed to deliver quality, but does it really meet the needs of an overworked project coordinator that now needs to manage bids and reports from consultants and surveyors, while sending specifications to at least three contractors to get the lowest possible price for the specified work? It doesn’t seem efficient or simple to manage and the cost of employing the assessor, surveyor designer and verifier are all drains on funding that have to be justified to the elected officials.

The first reaction I have would be to see if steps in the process can be undertaken by the same people. Can the specification be drawn up by the surveyor and can the survey and the specification be supplied by the contractor? Well the guidance is yet to be published, but this seems to be impossible bearing in mind the phrase in table 2.1 that says contributors must “act impartially without favouring any particular supplier of equipment, materials or services”, and the assertion that all processes should be carried out by appropriate people who are covered by Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII).

Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)

There is another more practical obstacle to the successful operation of the Code. To make any of it work these appropriate persons need to buy PII. In today’s market with unknown risks attached to a new form of policy, there is no assurance that the correct PII will be available, or in the event that an underwriter can be found, will it be affordable.

The market for PII is currently very challenging, the established supply chain is incredibly depressed and good companies with good flood protection products are failing. Would professional people taking a look at the terrible state of the flood protection market be incentivised to invest in the training needed to become “appropriate” and how on earth will they justify paying thousands for new PII without a promise of regular consultancy fees?

The questions that linger have been posed to the team that drew up the Code but as yet I think they remain unresolved. Who is going to promote the Code as a means of procurement? Are all public bodies going to adopt the Code as their means of procuring property level flood resilience? Will AVIVA (project sponsors) insist that their claims managers adopt the Code when delivering resilience work during flood recovery? Are the three pathfinder projects going to embrace it? Who will own and police the code? Who will decide what constitutes an “appropriate person”?

FloodRe have a role to play in supporting the Code of Practice

FloodRe also have a role to play in kickstarting and supporting the adoption of the Code. They have the mandate to undertake work that will promote resilience and ultimately make themselves redundant. To date I see little real evidence of them doing this. Dermot Kehoe of FloodRe has just been made Chairman of the Flood Resilience round table, so perhaps they may start to act like a company established for the public good, empowered by a tax on all domestic insurance premiums and a little less like a dusty, conservative insurance outfit that pays impressive bonuses to its publicly funded Directors but plays lip service to its wider social mandate!

There is another scenario that may play out. The Code becomes an interesting step guide, but all the steps consolidate within the supplier who employs or contracts out each element of the process. They take all the risk, absorb all the liability and reap all the reward. To me if the Code is to be adopted at all this seems the logical way of working. A single point of contact for the client and an end-to-end service backed by insurance and guarantees. Unfortunately however, this seems out of step with the spirit of the Code, if not the letter of it.

The Code does present a pathway to procurement but without the accompanying guidance book, we are all guessing at how it is intended to operate. It looks like a document that has been constructed by a committee that has been preoccupied by the need to deliver a transparent and professionally driven process that brings accountability and delivers quality. These are very laudable objectives however, I fear that in doing so they have lost sight of the idea that the Code is supposed to drive the adoption of Property Level Flood Resilience, not make it impossibly complicated and almost impossibly hard to deliver cost effectively.

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