• Emily Prescott

The New Civil Engineer: Response to floods highlights shortcomings since 2007 Pitt review

Post-apocalyptic scenes of northern towns under water are leading many to call into question how much the UK’s flood management systems have progressed since the deluge of 2007 prompted a major flood defence policy rethink.

In the summer of 2007, 48,461 homes were flooded and the government commissioned Sir Michael Pitt to write his comprehensive Lessons learned from the 2007 floods review.

Since then the Environment Agency has invested more than £2.6bn in flood defence schemes. East Riding of Yorkshire Council – one of the worst hit areas in 2007 – has invested £60M in flood prevention, including terraced lagoons and a vast glass wall flood defence structure near Hull. And so far, no one in Hull and the surrounding areas has been removed from their home in this round of floods.

But many areas remain unable to cope.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are among the worst hit areas, 12 years after they were also badly flooded when the River Don burst its banks. During the first two weeks of November more than 4,300 properties had been evacuated due to extreme rainfall as New Civil Engineer went to press. Between 7 and 8 November 82.2mm of rainfall was recorded in Sheffield – more than an entire month’s average.

ICE past president, MWH executive technical director and flood specialist David Balmforth says that more could be done to help communities like these become more flood resilient.

“An area which has lagged behind is making buildings more resilient to flooding but now that’s catching up with a new code of practice to be launched by [construction research body] Ciria next month. This will encourage the retrofitting of measures such as flood doors and cement-based wall and floor finishes to avoid buildings being so badly damaged by flood water.”

But much more must be done. A 2012 progress review of the Pitt review – the last update given – found that only 43 of Pitt’s 92 recommendations had been implemented. The main recommendations so far ignored concern alterations needed to houses to help them cope with floods.

Balmforth said major improvements since the Pitt review included major infrastructure investments and improving the speed at which the Met Office and the Environment Agency set up their joint office to provide more accurate flood warnings and mapping.

Another successfully implemented Pitt review recommendation is the use of military engineers to assist with emergency flood defence operations. Pitt’s report recommends that “the Ministry of Defence should identify a small number of trained Armed Forces personnel who can be deployed to advise Gold Commands on logistics during wide-area civil emergencies and, working with Cabinet Office, identify a suitable mechanism for deployment.”

This recommendation has been adopted, and the army was deployed across the country during November. Major Ben Foster, a commander from 170 Engineering Group, told New Civil Engineer that this collaborative effort helped prevent damage to 3,500 properties in flood hit Doncaster in November.

Called to action by the Environment Agency, Foster helped in an operation to lower water levels which involved plugging a breach in a wet well in Bentley with more than 30t of gravel, as well as liaising with the Environment Agency about how to best use pumps.

“From my perspective, as a military guy turning up and just watching this operation being run by the Environment Agency, I thought it was really slick,” Foster said.

“They were collaborating well. Everybody was cool, calm and collective and doing everything they could in the response,” said Foster.

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