Preparing for climate change

Jill Rankin explains how the ESPACE Project is investigating the role of planning in safeguarding our future by developing strategies to adapt to changing patterns of rainfall and increased risk of flooding.

Climate change presents a major challenge for the UK in terms of flooding and its impact on water resources. By the 2050s some parts of the UK may be faced with between a 15-20% increase in winter rainfall and a 30% decrease in summer rainfall. It is now understood that cutting greenhouse gases will not go far enough to protect us from such impacts. This means that mitigation policies and activities are no longer enough and some level of adaptation is necessary to ensure we can deal with the impacts that a changing climate will bring.

Planning has a crucial part to play in adapting to climate change. Take the issue of an increase in winter rainfall for example. Planners currently use historical reference periods of rainfall when designing a new drain. By looking ahead and incorporating higher rainfall averages into the design, planners could help to minimise the impact of increased flooding. Planning systems are currently poorly developed and are unable to deal adequately with the impacts of climate change. Challenges facing the planning process include dealing with decision-making within longer timescales and a lack of flexibility. Difficulties also remain in translating what the scientists are telling us into planning action.

ESPACE (European Spatial Planning: Adapting to Climate Events), is a four year project funded by the European Commission’s North West Europe INTERREG IIIB Programme and the UK Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is the first project of its kind to focus on increasing the awareness of the need to adapt to climate change and to begin to provide some of the necessary policy guidance, tools and mechanisms to incorporate adaptation into planning systems and processes.

ESPACE has been founded by a transnational group of 10 Partners, spanning four North West European countries. They include, Hampshire County Council (Lead Partner), the Environment Agency, South East Climate Change Partnership, South East England Regional Assembly, Surrey County Council and West Sussex County Council from the UK, Regionaal Landschap Zenne, Zuun en Zoniën from Belgium, Waterschap Rivierenland and Ministerie van VROM from the Netherlands and Bayerisches Landesamt für Wasserwirtschaft from Germany.

During the four years of the project, ESPACE Partners will be undertaking a range of actions to help identify how to best adapt to climate change.

One of the key areas of work is the development of a suite of new tools and models for practitioners and policy makers to test existing policies and to look at how they stand up to the impacts of climate change. These include the development of:

  • ‘Guiding Models’ for use in identifying water storage areas in the regional planning process . Developed by Waterschap Rivierenland, these models combine several functions with water storage such as ecology, cultural history, agriculture, tourism and urban issues, ensuring that the models take the characteristics of the local environment into account in the decision making process.
  • A ‘Water Balance Model’ developed by Bayerisches Landesamt für Wasserwirtschaft for incorporating the impacts of climate change into water resource planning. The tool will be used to develop best practice adaptation measures in river basin management.
  • A ‘Decision Testing Tool’ , developed by the Environment Agency that will enable strategic planning decisions to be tested against a range of future climate change scenarios. This tool will help to show which options stand the test of time and which options fail, given the uncertain future of flooding as a result of climate change. The tool will be developed through a series of pilot applications, the first of which involves developing a tool to evaluate and develop the planning decisions for the Thames Estuary Flood Risk Management Project that will deliver a flood risk management strategy in the Estuary for the next 100 years.

    Some of the most severe effects of climate change will be experienced in the South East of England. By the 2080s, the average annual temperature in the region could be up to 4.5oC higher bringing with it hotter, drier summers and warmer wetter winters. Recognising this, South East England Regional Assembly, is developing the new Regional Spatial Strategy – the South East Plan – which will provide a framework for development and land use in the South East up to 2026. Climate change has been identified in the South East Plan as a cross-cutting issue and adaptation measures incorporated into the Plan include:

  • Ensuring that we use and manage water resources more efficiently
  • Avoiding development in areas of high flood risk
  • Making space for water and flood storage
  • Reducing water run-off from developed areas through sustainable drainage
  • Making buildings more resilient to flooding and other effects of climate change.

    The Assembly is working with the Environment Agency, water companies and the South East Climate Change Partnership to ensure that the measures proposed in the South East Plan’s policies are based on robust information, are realistic and can be implemented. For example, the Environment Agency have developed scenarios of water demand and availability depending on levels of housing growth, water efficiency improvements in new houses and development of new water resources.

    Through the ESPACE Partnership, the Assembly is learning from and promoting measures used in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and is then incorporating these lessons into the South East Plan. For example, adapting to greater probability of flooding, building in resilience and adaptability, and creating more space for water storage through land use changes. This exchange of information and best practice is vital in ensuring that the ESPACE Project produces a model for the development and incorporation of adaptation policies into spatial planning.

    Recognising that a lack of awareness of the need to adapt to climate change is a major barrier to the effective implementation of adaptation strategies, ESPACE Partners are also carrying out a range of awareness raising activities aimed at identifying and developing practical mechanisms for communicating to a range of audiences:

  • ESPACE Partner West Sussex County Council’s awareness campaign ‘ A Climate for Change’ aims to develop a model for engaging local communities and businesses that can be applied across North West Europe.
  • South East Climate Change Partnership’s work focuses on developing a partnership model that can be used to raise awareness and ensure that there is more acceptance to adapting to climate change amongst planning practitioners and policy makers.
  • Hampshire County Council’s work on behavioral change is looking into the processes of behavior change to assist with developing a greater understanding of how to engage with stakeholders on the topic of climate change.

    ESPACE has also established an ‘Extended Partnership’ – a targeted network of organisations that are interested in being part of the delivery process of ESPACE and who can act as ambassadors for the project, disseminating to others. The Extended Partnership provides organisations with the unique opportunity to: be involved in the process of developing spatial planning guidance that takes account of climate change; attend relevant workshops and conferences that will provide a range of information on spatial planning and climate change; access a wide network of contacts and experts across North West Europe; and access the outputs of the project such as the ‘Information and Knowledge Base Report’ that provides a comprehensive understanding of spatial planning networks, how they work and how to influence them for all four Partner countries.

    Members include representatives from the European Commission, European Environment Agency and National, Regional and local governments in North West Europe. To join the extended partnership or to find out more information on the ESPACE Project, visit or contact:

    Chitra Nadarajah

    ESPACE Project Manager

    [email protected]

    Jill Rankin

    ESPACE Communications Officer

    [email protected]

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