When it comes to flooding what exactly do we mean by risk?

The full nature of what exactly is meant by risk when it comes to flooding, was one of the central debates in CIWEM's conference to discuss the Defra 'Making Space for Water' consultation.

Edmund Penning-Rowsell Head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, asked delegates whether, when we talk about risk we are talking about risk reduction, or whether we mean that people should just face up to the fact that they are at risk.

"From my perspective there are five key points to consider when looking at how risk should be assessed and managed.

  • What do we mean by flood risk management, and what does it mean for those at risk?
  • Is the only problem in making space for water that there is space, but it is already occupied?
  • How can we retrofit space for water in a crowded island where we need to use all our land as intensively as possible?
  • Can we make space for people and water?
  • Surely, floodplains are too important just to leave to floods?"
Mr Penning-Rowsell gave the example of the Thames Gateway floodplain development: "Are we making space for water in this flood prone area? No. Because housing is deemed a greater political priority. We shouldn't have housing policy determined by something that happens only once every 100 years or so."

This point was picked up on by Rob Oates, Natural Rivers Programme Coordinator WWF: "Floodplains are equally too important to simply use as development spots for wall to wall housing. I know of several places that have experienced their third 'once in a hundred years' floods for the third time in three years."

The full extent of the risks that some areas face from flooding was highlighted by Peter Bye of the Environment Strategy when he raised the subject of compensation. "We need to ask whose risk we are looking at and look at how you compensate whole villages in times of flood disaster. We need to look at drawing up exit strategies for whole communities before we can say we have fully addressed the issue of compensation."

A number of delegates pointed out that the consultation document had been drawn up to focus on economic risks from development without taking account of the other risks to life and ecology which arise from flooding.

This economic approach was clearly the main focus for Mr Penning-Rowsell in his assessment of the dangers of flooding: "We are not talking about something which can bankrupt the country here."

Delegates went on to discuss a number of points from the government consultation document, such as working with natural processes, land-use planning and integrated drainage management, and how to live with a changing coastline.

The need to align the 'Making Space for Water' strategy with the Water Framework Directive was also a key theme of debate, with many delegates criticising the government for a lack of joined up thinking.

Ruth Davis, Head of Water Policy at the RSPB, summed up the feeling of many at the conference: "It is unreasonable to think we can deliver on any of the outcomes of this consultation or of the WFD without more money going into the Environment Agency. The government is not putting anything into this."

The 'Making Space for Water' consultation formally closes on November 1st 2004, and the launch of the strategy is expected in Spring 2005.

By David Hopkins www.defra.gov.uk/environ/fcd/policy/strategy.htm Edmund Penning-Rowsell Head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, asked delegates whether, when we talk about risk we are talking about risk reduction, or whether we mean that people should just face up to the fact that they are at risk.

"From my perspective there are five key points to consider when looking at how risk should be assessed and managed.

  • What do we mean by flood risk management, and what does it mean for those at risk?
  • Is the only problem in making space for water that there is space, but it is already occupied?
  • How can we retrofit space for water in a crowded island where we need to use all our land as intensively as possible?
  • Can we make space for people and water?
  • Surely, floodplains are too important just to leave to floods?"
Mr Penning-Rowsell gave the example of the Thames Gateway floodplain development: "Are we making space for water in this flood prone area? No. Because housing is deemed a greater political priority. We shouldn't have housing policy determined by something that happens only once every 100 years or so."

This point was picked up on by Rob Oates, Natural Rivers Programme Coordinator WWF: "Floodplains are equally too important to simply use as development spots for wall to wall housing. I know of several places that have experienced their third 'once in a hundred years' floods for the third time in three years."

The full extent of the risks that some areas face from flooding was highlighted by Peter Bye of the Environment Strategy when he raised the subject of compensation. "We need to ask whose risk we are looking at and look at how you compensate whole villages in times of flood disaster. We need to look at drawing up exit strategies for whole communities before we can say we have fully addressed the issue of compensation."

A number of delegates pointed out that the consultation document had been drawn up to focus on economic risks from development without taking account of the other risks to life and ecology which arise from flooding.

This economic approach was clearly the main focus for Mr Penning-Rowsell in his assessment of the dangers of flooding: "We are not talking about something which can bankrupt the country here."

Delegates went on to discuss a number of points from the government consultation document, such as working with natural processes, land-use planning and integrated drainage management, and how to live with a changing coastline.

The need to align the 'Making Space for Water' strategy with the Water Framework Directive was also a key theme of debate, with many delegates criticising the government for a lack of joined up thinking.

Ruth Davis, Head of Water Policy at the RSPB, summed up the feeling of many at the conference: "It is unreasonable to think we can deliver on any of the outcomes of this consultation or of the WFD without more money going into the Environment Agency. The government is not putting anything into this."

The 'Making Space for Water' consultation formally closes on November 1st 2004, and the launch of the strategy is expected in Spring 2005.

By David Hopkins


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