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Winter flooding: we need to refine our current approach, not tear it up and start all over

Academics at MDX’s respected Flood Hazard Research Centre have 8-point plan for improving flood risk management in England following comprehensive review of governance system

As the after-effects of Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis cause havoc in parts of England and Wales, academics at MDX's Flood Hazard Research Centre warn that no one solution, whether improving flood defences, preventing new development or improving emergency responses, is able to minimise the cost and disruption of future flooding.

"We should be looking at optimising our current approaches, with a well-rounded mix of different options", including strengthening enforcement over planning decisions, and guaranteeing sustained long-term investment in defences, says Associate Professor and Head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre Sally Priest.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee criticised current flood risk governance in England as “fragmented, inefficient and ineffective” following significant winter flooding in the period 2013-16. But Dr Priest and MDX colleague Professor Edmund C Penning-Rowsell point out that it has many strengths, including comprehensiveness, alignment on the goals of flood risk management, and effective co-ordination between different bodies through bridging mechanisms. They argue that it is important to build upon the current approach rather than pursuing major reforms that might have the unintended consequences of undermining co-ordination and accountability.

Dr Priest was among six Middlesex researchers working on STAR-FLOOD, a five year comparative project involving research across six EU countries looking at ways of strengthening and redesigning European flood risk governance arrangements in urban areas. Other partners in the study were university academics from Nijmegen, Utrecht, Antwerp, Leuven, Lulea, Poznan and Tours, the European Center for Flood Risk Prevention and consultancy Grontmij (now Sweco)

For England, the research involved an extensive analysis of flood risk governance in its entirety, and highlighted key strengths and weaknesses in the current arrangement. The study made eight recommendations around incentive-setting, public engagement and messaging for flood risk management in England. These included:
- Directing incentives to promote Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems at property owners
- Strategies to incentivise insurance policyholders to invest in flood risk reduction measures
- More resources for community-centred public engagement activities to promote risk awareness
- Better management of expectations and better public understanding of flood risk, with consistent user-friendly information. Politicians to support England's established flood risk management approach, and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

MDX's Flood Hazard Research Centre  was established in the early 1970s, making it one of world's longest standing centres in the field of water, environmental management and natural hazards. An interdisciplinary research centre based in the Faculty of Science & Technology, its staff are engaged on a wide variety of research projects in the UK and internationally, and produced the latest Multi-Coloured Manual on the benefits of flood and coastal risk management in partnership with the Environment Agency and Defra.

For more information about MDX Flood Hazard Research Centre, click here

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