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How can we build flood resilience in the UK?

12 May 2016

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A one-day seminar organised in association with the Centre for Science and Policy

Reported by Dr Clare Moran, Centre for Science and Policy

Earlier this month, a group of experts from the University of Cambridge convened a one-day seminar to discuss river and coastal flooding in the UK.

The seminar brought together experts from Cambridge’s built environment research community with government and public agencies, and insurance and loss modelling companies, to discuss what’s needed and how they might collaborate in the future.

The main purpose of the seminar was to (a) define an agenda for research which will enable decision makers in government, insurers and other stakeholders to better understand and estimate river and coastal flood risk in the UK, and (b) define policies to manage risks and improve resilience in flood-prone communities.

"How can research on flooding influence decisions in government and industry, and where are the gaps?"

Flooding is a contentious issue that is widely researched in the UK, yet novel perspectives emerged from discussions, such as the potential for floodwater to be reframed as an asset and resource, rather than solely as a risk or threat. For example, Dr Richard Fenner (Cambridge University Engineering Department), talked about alternatives to the constant escalation of ‘grey’ flood management measures, such as those piloted by the EPSRC blue-green cities project.

One idea to come out of the discussions was on the importance of managing and adapting to water, rather than keeping it out, and the multi-functional opportunities available if we are able to accept ‘the new normal’ of flooding in the UK. Another theme explored the behavioural dimensions of flooding, particularly the behaviour of affected individuals and communities, and the important role played by risk communication.

Another, more radical, idea was whether we needed any further modelling of flood risk, or whether data quality might be more efficiently enhanced by better sharing of models being developed by the public, private, and research communities.

The meeting concluded with a public lecture from Jeremy Purseglove, who discussed natural flood management and his classic book "Taming the Flood: Rivers, Wetlands and the Centuries-Old Battle Against Flooding", following the publication of an updated second edition in 2015.

Dr Emily So

Centre for Risk in the Built Environment, University of Cambridge

Professor Robin Spence

Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge

Professor Tom Spencer

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge