In recent years, the UK has experienced extensive flooding; with wide-scale winter flooding crippling the north of England in 2015 and flash summer flooding grinding Cornwall to a halt in 2017. Flooding causes devastation, not simply disruption to homes and businesses, but exponential costs due to failure in protecting our infrastructure.
For example, in 2015, Storm Desmond set new records of rainfall across Lancashire and Cumbria, leaving more than 100,000 homes without power following flooding of an electrical substation1. Is this failure in our infrastructure, failure in our ability to be resilient and/or failure in our decision making?
It is the case that current infrastructure projects regard water as a risk rather than an opportunity, preferring to undergo costly, space intensive and time consuming means of separating water from infrastructure. It is imperative that Britain seeks opportunities to embrace water within our infrastructure to harness the multi-functional benefits that it presents.
Our current approach, unnecessarily, sterilises significant areas of land useful for development, critically reducing the remaining areas and ultimately lending to an unsustainable development model. Through considered change to our approach and a shift in our perception, Britain may overcome its ‘fear of water’ and embrace the opportunity to ‘live with water.’ Water needs to be considered as an asset; to be embedded within our infrastructure, to enrich our social and environmental infrastructure and to ensure flexibility and resilience to changes in our climate.
I believe the UK’s most important 21st century infrastructure project will be the project which pioneers the use of water in a manner that compliments infrastructure development, creating a catalyst for Government Authorities and private infrastructure developers, alike, to change their attitude and approach to water.
Globally, many countries surpass Britain in their approach to embracing water. It is time to draw upon these resources to remove Britain’s barriers to linking infrastructure and flood management, and integrate our approach to across all organisations. It is critical that the integration of infrastructure and flood management is prioritised to ensure longevity and resilience of our nation to the ever present threat of climate change.
A nationally led, integrated approach to flood management, in particular green infrastructure and natural flood management should be embodied in our strategic policy. Through proactive consideration of the threat and social, environmental and economic impact of failure, Britain may shape our future infrastructure to be resilient to change. This will enable targeted, strategic and proactive investment into developing improved and innovative infrastructure, such as highways, which incorporate sustainable and complimentary flood management infrastructure to ensure the effective management of water.
Through proactive investment in our infrastructure, Britain may transform water from a threat to an asset, seizing the opportunity to unite national and local organisations in their approach to flood management.
This blog was written by Alison Caldwell, WSP Principal Engineer in Development.