Planning key to lower flood risk in housebuilding boom

Britain's new urban developments could be an opportunity to reduce flood risk rather than a cause of flooding if the planning system is used to its full advantage, a major water industry conference in London heard on Wednesday.

Planning can be used to implement sustainable, holistic measures from the regional scale down to individual buildings, to avoid flood risk to and from urban areas, Peter Bide of the Department for Communities and Local Government (formerly ODPM) told the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management conference.

“Planning controls the type and location of new development, which is crucial in managing flood risk, and the planning system is the primary way of doing this – by avoiding flood risk in the first place.”

“What planning offers is huge opportunities for reducing flood risk through changing the urban fabric. That’s the new development opportunity,” he said.

Integrated urban drainage, the theme of the CIWEM conference, uses natural flood risk management methods, such as including wetlands and green spaces in built-up areas, or “sustainable urban drainage systems” (SUDS), which can help reduce flooding caused by intense rain.

Ideally, urban flood risk should be managed in a holistic way at all levels and across the catchment area, Peter Bide said. But as with all “holistic” solutions, this requires cooperation between the stakeholders including developers, water practitioners and the Environment Agency.

“If we can get stakeholders to agree the objectives through the strategic flood risk assessment then we can get common ownership of the solutions,” Mr Bide said.

“The new planning system with the local development frameworks it offers is a structured means of involving local communities in flood risk management, much more so than before,” he said.

With major developments planned for Southern England, and the Water Framework Directive bringing the issue of surface water quality to the foreground, urban drainage and its effects on surface water quality are becoming increasingly important, the conference heard.

The Government is currently revising planning policy for flood risk with this in mind. New guidance (replacing the PPGG25 with the PPS25) should make it easier for stakeholders to engage in the planning process at all stages, and place new development away from high risk areas.

Details of planning policy for flood risk can be found at the Department for Communities and Local Government website.

Goska Romanowicz

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