Architects have called on the government to develop a long-term strategy to tackle the nation’s ongoing flooding problems
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Heavy rainfall over the weekend saw more than 270 flood alerts issued with around 800 homes flooded and two people killed.
ADP chair Roger Fitzgerald said a ‘big picture vision’ was needed to allow government to make decisions about flood defences while also taking account of plans for airport expansion, high speed rail and population growth.
He said: ‘Where’s the masterplan for UK 2050? How can politicians make decisions about the next five years, if there isn’t a long-term strategy?’
Ben Adams of Ben Adams Architects called for a ‘concerted’ response. ‘[This issue] is not going to go away, we do tend to see it every year and it is always treated as a disaster then it seems to go quiet in intervening periods.’
Adams said building in flood plains had to proceed in an ‘intelligent’ way and suggested public awareness needed to improve so that flood resilience measures, where needed, were as commonplace as loft insulation.
He added building control and the planning system could be used to ensure new homes were designed to be properly flood resilient.
Holder Mathias partner Peter Gamble said architects would have to be ‘extremely careful’ in giving initial advice on sites, suggesting increased flood risk would have a ‘significant’ impact on the availability of land for development.
He said: ‘Architects can add value by developing design approaches which allow insurable development of marginal flood risk sites.’
Gamble said his studio worked with a specialist piling contractor to develop a bore pile and cassette floor system for a 1,000-cabin development inside a forest. ‘This solution clearly has great potential for the residential development in marginal flood risk sites and is the kind of solution, and there will be many others, that architects should be considering.’
Techniker’s Matthew Wells said: ‘These phenomena are worldwide and we can develop responses here and contribute globally. We are designing floating houses but they are for specific uses and only palliatives to the proper control and exploitation of water resources which is Northern Europe’s engineering heritage.’
Dominic J Eaton, director, Stride Treglown
What the recent weather has demonstrated is that flooding is on the increase.
We design residential schemes with the help of a flood risk assessments, and this is an informed design response to the problem. I do wonder, looking at the longer term predictions whether this is enough? There seems to be two main issues, and that is new build and the existing housing stock. With new build prevention is better than cure, and we have choices about location and finished floor levels. Porous paving and SUDS. Swales are a standard feature in all our housing layouts.
We can chose to build on ‘higher ground’ which is a simple practical response to the problem.
It appears to be our existing housing stock which is suffering the most. Homes that have been built on flood planes and that are fighting a losing battle against a flooding problem that is getting worst. There is also the issue of our existing surface water drainage system which is struggling to cope with the unprecedented density of rainwater. During the down pour last week, I witnessed a resident, who’s front door was on the back edge of pavement. Trying to sweep water out of his house that was building up as the result of a gully in the road not being able to cope with the amount of rainwater that was building up.
On a personnel note, I live in a Georgian town house where the gutters to the roof are behind parapets and run the rainwater from the front to the back through the roof. We have lived there for over 22 years, and over that period, of the 4 times that we have experienced water ingress problems, 3 of these have occurred over the last 5 years. Also, I live in Camden, Bath, which was on the news last week because of a landslide and a 2 metre diameter rock which mercifully stopped before it could do some real damage. This is the stuff of disaster movies!
It seems to me to be a double edged issue, given on the one hand the problems with flooding, and on the other some of our best residential sites are next to water. Where there are great opportunities for views, amenity and ecology.
As developable land becomes more of a premium, new and innovative solutions will be required to unlock large areas of land blighted by the potential of flooding. But how much future proofing can be accommodated within sustainable budgets? I was concerned to see on the news residents taking about defence measures that had been installed a few years ago, failing.
There is also the huge issue that most of our major cities are built around rivers. The Thames barrier is a fairly robust solution to control the level of the Thames, but is this a permanent solution, or is it simply putting off the inevitable.
The full force of Mother Nature seems impossible to control, and some of the images of damage and devastation, that now appear to be an annual event. Seems to highlight the battle that we are involved with and that we are losing.
I sincerely feel for the people who are repeatedly being flooded and realise that their homes are now worthless and uninsurable.
It is easy to say that a full and detailed review is required and a strategic plan drawn up to deal with this increasing problem. But this is being done and still there are horrendous images on the news.
As an architect we can work with data such as flood levels and no go areas. There are even ideas for putting houses on hydraulics, but I can’t really see this as a sustainable solution to the problem.
The world and its climate is constantly changing and evolving, and we have to change and adapt to suit.
Tony Grist, head of architecture at HASSELL
The recent flooding in Queensland, and responses and studies following, give us some insight into the issues associated with severe weather and its impact on the built environment. Australia is known for its weather extremes and as climate changes in Europe (sceptical or not), there is much that is relevant.
Of course, the building end of the equation is important, but a long way down the food chain of events. At this end, the Queenslander - homes built on stilts in flood prone areas, have been a long established vernacular of Australia. In fact, you can see a vernacular completely borne out of an extreme environment.
However, at the other end infrastructure is the issue. Look at how the lowlands of Europe have historically invested in modelling their landscape to provide for flooding – it defines those countries’ identity. Imagine the UK landscape gradually remodelled to deal with increasing issues of deluge rainfall from first principals. Where does the rain fall; how is excess rain redirected away from residential areas; how do dams deal with excess build up and safely release without flooding; how do we create safe flood plains that become part of a new landscape (look at the wide expanses in New Zealand to cope with melting snow and increase river volumes)?
Planning forward needs to deal with these major infrastructure issues, hopefully in passive design way, working with the landscape, understanding natural responses to these events and designing with them rather than against them.
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