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Area (2006) 38.

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t4Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Sustainable flood management: oxymoron or new paradigm?
Alan Werritty
Department of Geography, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 4HN Email: Manuscript received 2 December 2005 The existing paradigm of UK flood risk management that privileges structural solutions over non-structural ones is evolving in response to threats posed by climate change and higher environmental standards required by the EC Water Framework Directive. This paper examines the contrasting reactions of DEFRA and the Scottish Executive. The Scottish ‘experiment’, which embraces a strong definition of sustainability, is contrasted with a weaker version emerging in England and Wales. Divergent levels of risk and histories of managing that risk explain many of these contrasts. Scotland’s more radical approach has the potential to become a new paradigm. Key words: UK, Scottish Executive, flood risk management, sustainability, DEFRA a growing population and the need to bring more land into production meant that as early as the twelfth century piecemeal drainage had begun in the Fens and the Somerset levels (Hoskins 1955) and, with rapid improvements in technology, most of lowland England’s wetlands had been drained and converted into productive agricultural land by the end of the nineteenth century. Population pressures also resulted in coastal saltmarshes being reclaimed and protected with embankments to provide grazing for sheep – Romney Marsh providing the best example (Purseglove 1988). In Scotland a similar story can be told, although on a lesser scale with, for example, the Howe of Fife drained by 1750, the Loch Inch Marshes on the River Spey by the mid-nineteenth century and saltmarshes on the upper Forth estuary reclaimed by 1840 (Cadell 1929). Other lowland floodplains with potentially fertile soils but high water tables were brought into arable production by field drainage throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the English lowlands this peaked between 1840 and 1875, with a total of 5 million hectares being drained by 1900 (Smout 2000). In Scotland field drainage proceeded

A seismic shift is taking place in managing flood risk in many countries. Well-established reliance on structural defences is being questioned and cheaper and more sustainable alternatives are being sought. This paper examines the existing paradigm of flood risk management in the UK, which is being questioned, and provides a critique for the newly emerging paradigm of ‘sustainable flood management’ being introduced by the Scottish Executive. Finally, in light of this critique, two questions are addressed. Is this a seismic shift or an oxymoron? Can flood management truly be sustainable?

Since time immemorial, floods have exacted a high toll on human society. As a result, floodplains and wetlands across Britain initially were avoided for settlement and commerce – except where they provided defence from attack, potential for water power or a source of livelihood for which appropriate precautions could be made. However,

ISSN 0004-0894 © The Author. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2006

but they remain second order activities with a lower level of investment. farms typically occupy slightly elevated sites just above the level of normal floods. many rivers in the lowlands were transformed in the 1970s and 1980s into straight or slightly sinuous trapezoidal channels designed to efficiently evacuate runoff from the adjacent field drains and the occasional upstream flood (Purseglove 1988). flood insurance bundled with household insurance (Priest et al. Planning Policy Guidelines 25: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 2005). Penning-Rowsell et al. with an increase in impermeable surfaces (mainly asphalt and concrete) putting pressure on stormwater sewers and locally increasing flood risk in areas with under-designed or poorly maintained urban drainage (Evans et al. 2004). Such wise avoidance of floodplains for settlement broke down during the 1930s and 1940s as unplanned urban growth spilled onto floodplains and low-lying coastal areas – most notably in SE Essex. Similarly along the floodplain of the Rivers Tay and Tummel upstream of Perth. for England and Wales. which recorded many of the deaths caused by the 1953 storm surge. The EA has a general supervisory duty relating to flood and coastal erosion risk and. often yielded to the developer rather than taking advice offered by the environmental regulator or risking the application being ‘called in’ by the appropriate Secretary of State. meant that highly productive floodplains across the UK needed further drainage and protection from flooding. Werritty with Chatterton 2004). The current paradigm for flood defence As a result of this history of draining wetlands and floodplains for agriculture. over several decades. 2004.Sustainable flood management 17 more slowly. via its Regional and Local Flood Defence Committees. are made by the operating authorities following DEFRA guidance and rigorous implementation of flood frequency and benefit-cost analyses using appropriate proprietary software and manuals (Institute of Hydrology 1999. the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) develops national policy whose implementation is undertaken by the operating authorities comprising the Environment Agency (EA). Maps of early settlement in lowland Britain reveal a pattern of villages located just above areas periodically inundated – this being especially clear around the margins of the Fens and the Somerset Levels (Purseglove 1988). Public expenditure on land drainage and flood defence in Scotland generally has been proportionately lower than that for England and Wales. changing family structures (increased single person households) and the high amenity value afforded by proximity to a river have triggered renewed urban encroachment onto floodplains. used structural schemes to provide increased protection for the most vulnerable urban populations. Complementary strategies involving land-use planning (e. recently permitting steady encroachment of settlements onto floodplains and the construction of more impermeable surfaces within urban areas. builds and maintains flood defence schemes on ‘main rivers’. In England and Wales the drive to be self-sufficient in food production from 1930 onwards triggered the creation of Catchment Boards which effectively transferred the costs of drainage from land owners to the state (Scrase and Sheate 2005). faced with pressure to release more land for development. reflecting a lower proportion of agricultural land on clay-rich soils (Werritty in press). Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and local authorities. flood risk across the UK has increased over recent decades (Evans et al . More recently. This emphasis on structural defence has privileged alleviation above complementary strategies such as promoting avoidance. successive governments have developed a complex system of governance for land drainage and flood defence in which. Further intensification of agriculture after 1945. raising awareness and providing assistance. In response. plus agricultural subsidies delivered via the Common Agricultural Policy following Britain’s admission to the EEC in 1973. In England and Wales decisions on where to defend. The EA also provides and disseminates flood warnings and is a consultee when new developments on floodplains are being reviewed by local authorities. 2003). Local authorities. Internal Drainage Boards and local authorities undertake schemes on ‘ordinary watercourses’ and manage land drainage in the lowlands (Institution of Civil Engineers 1996). 2005) and flood warning schemes coupled with emergency action have all been adopted. and to what design standard. population growth.g. The process of suburbanization has also changed runoff patterns. As a result. In part this reflects an agricultural sector with less land needing to be drained and cities located on the coast or on rivers that do not pose a major flood . Governments responded to this disaster with a major programme of inland and coastal flood defence which.

many towns and cities contain streams which are either culverted or flow between concrete-lined banks. This pan-European critique of river engineering even extends to the Rhine and the Danube. The drive for environmental enhancement and sustainability has triggered a separate critique of the current paradigm. For many decades the paradigm for UK flood defence has privileged engineering structures over other strategies (Nixon 1963). This reported that across England and Wales 4 million people. the Institution of Civil Engineers’ report Current paradigm questioned For many decades this paradigm has been highly successful. England has recently registered a series of catastrophic floods. are at risk of a 1 in 100 year flood. Across the whole of the UK this paradigm has generated a culture of dependency by floodplain occupants. who look to the EA or their local authority for protection and assistance. As a result. with DEFRA determining national policy. Edinburgh (2000) and Glasgow (2002). Hitherto. The threat posed by climate change. reclaimed saltmarshes are secured behind armoured seawalls (Purseglove 1988). local authorities and IDBs (Brown and Damery 2002. Annual average damage from flooding is currently £1. by and large. education and social services is inconceivable. and whom they blame when the flood defences fail. Scrase and Sheate 2005). By skilful design and construction. Scotland has also experienced major floods in Elgin (1997. efficient and cost effective alternatives will have to be developed. with decreased levels of protection and greatly increased losses. is raising questions concerning the style of river engineering used to drain lowlands and protect them from flooding. 2002). it is striking that the recent DEFRA (2004) consultation on a new strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management was entitled Making Space for Water . rivers typically flow in enlarged trapezoidal channels set within flood banks. engineering structures have also dominated option appraisals. initially because of the threat posed by climate change. despite a less centralized system and a lower level of expenditure. In particular. where appropriate. The Foresight study also noted that both the ‘world markets’ scenario (linked to high emission of greenhouse gases) and the ‘national enterprise’ scenario (linked to medium high emission of greenhouse gases) generate substantially higher damages (as proportions of projected GDP) than is the case today. Collectively these have resulted in a dramatic increase in flood losses (Association of British Insurers 2004) and the UK insurance industry is now questioning its universal provision of flood cover currently bundled with household policies (Priest et al. triggered the UK government’s Foresight programme on Flooding and Coastal Defence (Evans et al. with its heavy reliance on structural defences. Until recently. In Scotland. hard engineering structures have. with property valued at more than £200 billion. focus on reconnecting the river with its floodplain and restoring lost ecosystem services (Richter and Postel 2005). protected urban dwellers from inundation and enabled farmers to cultivate or graze stock right up to the edge of the river or seashore. Since increased spending on structural flood defences at the expense of health. In England this programme has been driven by a highly centralized and technocratic system. Given this agenda. notably in the Midlands (1998). Emerging solutions. . But this paradigm is now being questioned. central government has provided little strategic guidance on flood defence but has offered grant aid (up to 50%) for approved schemes brought forward by local authorities. which requires all European water bodies to achieve ‘good ecological status’ by 2015. but only for non-agricultural land. depending on which emission and socio-economic scenario is adopted. Along with other parts of Europe. the EC’s Water Framework Directive. Along the coast. In fertile lowlands at risk of being flooded. most of these schemes have involved structural defences. This has resulted in a simpler system for flood risk management in which local authorities have a flood alleviation duty. 2005). which is implemented regionally by EA engineers in consultation with Regional and Local Flood Defence Committees and. Three years earlier.18 Werritty risk. southeast and northern England (2000 and 2002) and Carlisle (2005).4 billion and set to rise by a further £1–27 billion per annum by the end of the century. where centuries-old systems of river training are now being questioned. often collectively termed ‘river restoration’. 2004). sustainable. reflecting best practice south of the border. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) provides flood warnings (generally disseminated by the police) and advises local authorities on planning applications on floodplains (Werritty with Chatterton 2004).

All this represents a serious ‘greening’ of flood risk management strategies. whilst broadly supportive. and act in the way best calculated to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The European Commission has also recently entered the arena with its proposal for a Floods Directive as part of an EU Flood Action Programme (European Commission 2005). the Scottish Parliament incorporated a requirement for sustainable flood management when it transposed the EC Water Framework Directive into Scot’s law. it seems likely that the new Directive will be integrated with the River Basin Management Plans required by the Water Framework Directive. to promote sustainable flood management. landscapes and built heritage • Economic – deliver resilience at affordable cost (construction. with respect for all species. with fair outcomes for everyone • Environmental – protect and work with the environment. recommended improvements using the language and methods of Strategic Environmental Assessment and Sustainability Appraisal (Scottish Executive 2005b). maintenance. but it does not fully engage with the need for long-term sustainability. 6). SEPA and other ‘responsible authorities’ have a duty In practice this means that local authorities (one of the ‘responsible authorities’) will need to take sustainable flood management (SFM) into account when carrying out their flood prevention functions under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961. the Scottish Executive’s National Technical Advisory Group on Flooding (NTAG) reported back in September 2004 (Scottish Executive 2005a). Section 2 of the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 states that Scottish Ministers.Sustainable flood management 19 Table 1 Definition of Sustainable Flood Management and its objectives (Scottish Executive 2005a) Sustainable flood management – definition ‘Sustainable flood management provides the maximum possible social and economic resilience* against flooding. in a way which is fair and affordable both now and in the future. Table 2 reports proposed measure indicators for assessing progress in achieving the overall objective of meeting the needs of resilience against flooding. An independent review of the NTAG recommendations. But no definition of SFM was provided when the Act was passed. Table 1 provides a summary of the NTAG’s recommendations. Indicators are required both for assessing progress against the defined objectives (what results SFM is actually achieving) and adherence to the principles (how it is expected the results will be achieved). Tasked with defining SFM and making the term operational. the following needs must be balanced: • Social – enhance community benefit. The draft definition has been widely commented upon by key stakeholders and end users following its adoption in September 2004. habitats. which requires economic and social needs to be balanced alongside environmental gain. If implemented. with fair economic outcomes and the protection of local jobs and wealth Learning to Live with Rivers had adopted a similar approach and concluded that a new balance needed to be struck ‘such that environmental gain is achieved wherever possible and schemes that damage the environment are avoided unless there is no other viable option’ (Institution of Civil Engineers 2001. running and renewal). These issues are addressed in the next section. Sustainable flood management – a Scottish ‘experiment’ Uniquely across the devolved administrations of the UK. The Scottish Executive uses it to deliver the ‘four As’: Awareness + Avoidance + Alleviation + Assistance) Sustainable Flood Management – objectives • Overall – meet needs for resilience against flooding To meet this overall objective. with a definition of SFM accompanied by its objectives. The NTAG report also provided a set of indicators for measuring the performance of sustainable flood management schemes. . by protecting and working with the environment. which outlines how the Scottish Executive has tried to give substance to the term ‘sustainable flood management’. By way of illustration.’ (*‘resilience’ means: ‘ability to recover quickly and easily’.

If ‘resilience’ can be viewed as the inverse of vulnerability.20 Werritty Table 2 Measure indicators for meeting the overall objective of sustainable flood management (Scottish Executive 2005a) Objective 1 Detailed meaning Overall: Meet needs for resilience against flooding Reduce the total sum of flooding impacts over time. how does one begin to quantify the loss of unique family photographs and heirlooms – irreplaceable personal goods? How does one include intangible costs. not least because it addresses social. Measuring enhancement in community benefit is straightforward in terms of physical improvements in the environment. existing benefitcost methods will need to be broadened. Part of this challenge can be seen in examining the proposed measure indicators for achieving the overall objective of meeting the need for resilience against flooding (Table 2). DEFRA 2005). Findlay in press). and lost production and sales are readily quantified. by the New Economics Foundation) and is under consideration by the SE for inclusion in Cost:Benefit ratio calculations • Impact costs for death and injury are used in Highway Agency roads assessments • Measurement of the latter three aspects is standard practice and they are embedded in DEFRA’s current project appraisal techniques • Aggregate measure requires analysis of the distribution of reduced impacts (benefits) accrued across all future flood probabilities Draft measurement indicator(s) Comments A critique of the Scottish ‘experiment’ By explicitly seeking to balance social. commercial or public property (iii) Personal (travel) interruptions and (iv) Lost production and sales Net sum of: (i) People at risk x personal social impact/person + (ii) (Personal. economic and environmental needs within a framework that incorporates intergenerational equity. land cover management).g. making these tasks operational is a major challenge. is also significant in that all four provide realistic alternatives to hard engineering structures.) can . emergency action). a strategy which is to be delivered by heightened Awareness (improved warning systems. wetlands. views. For example. community groups). Avoidance (land use planning. The link with the Scottish Executive’s Flooding Framework. the definition clearly adheres to strong sustainability norms. But measuring personal social impacts (including death and injury. Tapsell et al. The use of ‘resilience’ (the ability to recover easily and quickly) as a criterion against which to judge success is challenging but has significant potential. In determining an affordable cost in an economic climate where prioritization will inevitably determine the level of grant from the Scottish Executive (raised to 80% in 2004). evacuation. 2002. Alleviation (defences that now include upstream storage in wetlands. alongside a heightened sense of individual responsibility. However. Losses arising from damage to personal. as noted in the comments section of the table. quantifying the irreplaceable remains elusive. Commercial and/or Public) Property at risk x damage potential/property + (iii) People at risk x lost travel time/person + (iv) Jobs at risk x lost time/job + lost sales • Personal social impact is the subject of research (e. By focusing on resilience and the ability of individuals and communities to recover. this definition also has the potential to be unpacked and explored within an emerging discourse in human geography (Brown and Damery 2002. shock. such as those related to health and feeling safe in one’s home? Whilst some progress has been made in determining health costs (e. this definition of SFM places the individuals at risk centre stage and tasks the ‘responsible authorities’ with enhancing social equity and promoting community cohesiveness. flood proofing) and Assistance (insurance. landscape etc. personal travel interruptions. economic and environmental needs within a common framework. Specifically: (i) Personal social impact (death and injury. to an agreed level. and distress) (ii) Potential damage to personal. evacuation shock and distress) is far more difficult and requires a more nuanced approach. Shadow price valuation of benefits from the improved amenity and appearance (open spaces. commercial or public property.g.

ecological habitats and landscapes (geomorphology) Consider: (i) Either Percentage of targets achieved (e. a holistic catchment-wide approach to flood control is. These measures are relatively robust and have the potential of being locally combined into an ‘environmental footprint’. Implementation will initially be undertaken by local authorities under circumscribed powers defined under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961 and within boundaries that often do not correspond to river catchments. SSSIs. for example the percentages of (flood relevant) Biodiversity Action Plan species and habitats that are identified as stable or increasing. A number of measure indicators have been proposed to quantify the environmental objective of SFM (Table 3). especially given recent reductions in agricultural subsidies. Conclusion Flood risk management under the contrasting jurisdictions which operate in England.wetlands. Since the Act only relates to flooding on non-agricultural land and has no provision for controlling upstream runoff (often the source for urban flooding). etc. landscapes and built heritage This includes: (i) Delivering Biodiversity Plan targets (ii) Protecting and/or improving the water environment. Others involve examining how specific valued habitats (for example. Some involve checking the percentage of targets achieved. by wetlands being reclaimed or by flow being temporarily stored in impoundments. underpinned DEFRA . Managing the land in rural areas. landscape features. until recently. will need to be addressed in any new legislation designed to deliver holistic catchment management. SE 10 Biodiversity ‘%s of (flood relevant) Biodiversity Action Plan species and habitats which are identified as stable or increasing’) (ii) Or statement of specific areas (SSSIs.Sustainable flood management 21 Table 3 Measure indicators for meeting part of the environmental objective of sustainable flood management (Scottish Executive 2005a) Objective 3(b) Environment – protect and work with the environment with respect for all species. The challenge here is to find an indicator that can capture the diversity of social capital unlocked by communal and individual engagement in SFM. Only when this shift in responsibility has been fully owned by individuals and communities will people truly be at the heart of this new paradigm.g. landscape features) have been affected (in hectares) by floodplains being converted to agricultural or urban use. habitats. corridors. at present. difficult to achieve. But identifying how far Awareness and Assistance have increased community cohesiveness and generated a culture of self help is more problematic. Fundamental to SFM is a change in attitude in which a willingness to take on greater personal responsibility for mitigating flood losses steadily replaces undue reliance on state provision and a culture of blaming the state when losses occur. ‘corridors’. Wales and Scotland following devolution has followed distinctive paths. A centralized technocratic paradigm with structural solutions providing the most favoured option has.) affected in terms of hectares (as per DEFRA’s existing appraisal guidance) by percentage of: • total catchment floodplain converted to urban/agricultural use • catchment wetlands reclaimed by human activities • flow (or catchment rainfall) stored in impoundments with flow regulation functions An indicator of landscape features (geomorphology) may depend upon: • Natural river planform (5–10 year) natural river cross-section • High flow regime • Natural river substrate (Options that score highly on these aspects will impact sensitive ecosystems less and require less long-term maintenance) It may be possible to combine the individual measures (at local level) into an ‘Environmental footprint’ Detailed meaning Draft measurement indicator(s) Comments be obtained.

But these are still blue prints and not yet schemes delivered on the ground. the Executive has been remarkably radical. as yet. In the meantime. potentially even agenda-setting for policy-makers south of the border.22 Werritty policy and locally delivered flood defence schemes. the Scottish Executive’s on-going experiment to define and operationalize sustainable flood management as part of its implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive has been remarkably prescient. Saul A. London Institute of Hydrology 1999 The flood estimation handbook Institute of Hydrology.pdf) Accessed 30 November 2005 Brown J D and Damery S L 2002 Managing flood risk in the UK: towards an integration of social and technical perspectives Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 27 412–26 Cadell H M 1929 Land reclamation in the Forth Valley Scottish Geographical Magazine 45 7–22 DEFRA 2004 Making space for water: developing a new government strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England and Wales Consultation exercise Department for Food and Rural Affairs. Andrew Black. but grafted onto an existing paradigm in which structural solutions are still privileged. 2004) Future Flooding and implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive. In particular I thank Charles Ainger (MWH). DEFRA’s most recent consultation Making Space for Water (2004) points to a ‘greening’ of engineering practice. A seismic shift is potentially in the making. not least because of a legislative vacuum in terms of whole catchment planning. Thorne C and Watkinson A 2004 Foresight future flooding. Wallingford Institution of Civil Engineers 1996 Land drainage and flood defence responsibilities 3rd edn Thomas Telford.abi. Penning-Rowsell E. Since London DEFRA 2005 The appraisal of human-related intangible aspects of flooding Final Project Report (FD2005) Risk and Policy Analysts Ltd Department for Food and Rural Affairs. 2003 gave the Scottish Executive a clean slate upon which to work. there is no overall conceptual framework within which to balance social. By incorporating a strong form of sustainability into its definition of SFM. It may not yet be a new paradigm. The result has been challenging and exciting. The previous lack of strategic policy in this area and the highly fragmented approach to flood risk management prior to the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act. followed by the Foresight Report (Evans et al. the Scottish ‘experiment’ does provide an original. this would certainly incorporate elements of SFM. Brussels Evans E. Hall J. but it can escape the charge of being an oxymoron. delivering ‘fair outcomes for everyone’ and balancing environmental gain with economic costs (possibly including foregone employment opportunities) have also yet to be delivered. A rigorous audit of how far sustainability is truly embedded in existing EA schemes is under way (Tavendale in preparation) and will report soon. Ashley R. greater commitment to holistic catchment-wide solutions and closer alignment with government sustainability targets. Nevertheless. This is hardly surprising given the success of this paradigm until the losses caused by the 1998. If implemented. London Findlay A F in press Vulnerable spatialities Population. Space and Place 11 Hoskins W G 1955 The making of the English landscape Hodder and Stoughton. Sayers P. especially if the proposed daughter Flooding Directive is adopted by the EU. Quantifying social Child/552/EFRA_Select_Committee. Acknowledgements The views expressed in this paper are my own. Agreeing a set of principles which underpin SFM and seeking to develop a set of measurement indicators to evaluate performance is also innovative. References Association of British Insurers 2004 Association of British Insurers submission to DEFRA Select Committee Enquiry on Climate Change (http://www. have triggered a re-assessment. London European Commission 2005 Proposal for a floods directive in the context of an EU Flood Action Programme European Commission. the Institute of Civil Engineers (2001) report Learning to Live with Rivers. Amy Tavendale and Tom Ball (all colleagues in Dundee) generously reviewed a draft version and significantly improved the final version. Converting the rhetoric into reality will be a major challenge. Mike Donaghy (WWF Scotland) and David Howell (SNH). London . 2000 and 2002 floods initiated a lively public debate. intellectually exciting and robust framework for delivering sustainable flood management in the twenty-first century. I conclude that a weak form of SFM is emerging in England and Wales. By contrast. but they have been influenced by many who have wrestled with defining sustainable flood management in Scotland and unpacking the objectives and principles that underpin it. but. economic and environmental needs and no explicit reference to intergenerational equity. Directorate-General Environment. scientific summary vol 1 Office of Science and Technology.

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