30 Jan
  • By National Flood Forum
  • Cause in

The best conditions for flooding

Ahead of our conference addressing the challenge of planning, permitting and building new developments in areas that are at risk of flooding, we asked one of our speakers to pen her thoughts on the issues.  Phiala Mehring is Chair of the Loddon Valley Residents Association and she has direct experience of trying to work with developers and planners in her local area that is prone to flooding.

Being a residents group and working with a developer who is developing land in and around a floodplain or in an area of flooding is awkward (I suspect that some of you will think ‘working with a developer is awkward’, full stop).  For starters, a flood plain?  Really?  Is that the best place for a road?  What were the planners thinking?  Unfortunately, the planners were probably simply applying ‘policy’.  And ‘policy’ is where the trouble starts, compounded by the apparent lack of an integrative approach to challenging and checking regional planning proposals.

Here in the borough of Wokingham I have had mixed experiences of working with developers and planners.  From my perspective, the best outcomes are when a more collaborative approach has been taken during the planning process.  I find it deeply frustrating (I am being polite here) when the ‘knowledge’ that residents who have lived in an area for a long, long time hold, is treated as, at best, anecdotal and at worst, of no value.  And yet information about how an area floods is absolutely vital in the development of drainage strategies and flood mitigation schemes.  Surely, we know better than any model the idiosyncrasies of the area?  Where the flood water first starts to collect, how it flows, where it pools in uneven ground, where it infiltrates easily and where it doesn’t.  Is that not the basis of a drainage strategy?

All this ‘collaborative’ planning work has taught me a lot.  In particular, that planning policy has the development of a drainage strategy the wrong way around.  Rather than planning the houses in and then squeezing the SuDs and other drainage features around them, SuDs/drainage should come first.  The topography, soil conditions, hydrology and hydrogeology will all determine the best drainage strategy for the site i.e. the best location for individual features to maximise functionality.  This will help ensure that the development is as flood resilient as possible, that there is betterment for surrounding areas and that the water quality of run-off for the site is at least good.   I do have one question though, how can construction start before the drainage strategy is agreed upon?  Answer, by having the strategy in the conditions along with any thought of a maintenance plan.

Whist we are thinking about conditions, why do many of the flood risk management elements of an application end up in conditions?  There is a development going up locally with the road crossing the functional floodplain.   Because of the location of the site there needs to be quite substantial flood compensation installed.  Now, you or I might think that this is rather important and should at the very least be embedded into the outline application if not planned in the pre-application discussions with the local Planning Authority.  Nope, it went into conditions and we all know what that means…….. So along with no sign of a drainage strategy there was no sign of the flood compensation.

During the planning process of said development we fought hard for betterment to be included in the planning permission for the site.  We won, well partially, as it went into the conditions (here we go again).  So not really enforced and our fears about the conditions not holding water (pun intended) are beginning to be realised.  On top of our concerns about the flood compensation and the determined drainage strategy we are worried that the betterment has also ‘gone for a burton’.  But, chin up, you never know you luck.

If we are earnest in planning to reduce flooding, then I have a few suggestions about what planning policy SHOULD contain:

(1)    all flood related elements of all applications should be planned in pre-application discussions and signed off in the FULL body of the outline application.  No conditional conditions please.

(2)    expanded Flood Risk Assessments (FRA) which must include be based at the catchment level including a clear understanding of the cumulative effect of other developments in the catchment.

(3)    drainage strategies are planned according to the geography/soil conditions of the site and the water flows on and below the site.  This will ensure that drainage is placed optimally to reduce the risk of flooding.  Drainage first and houses/infrastructure next.

(4)    SuDs maintenance plan must be agreed at outline: who does it, who pays for it and for how long.  There is a real risk here of failing SuDs causing flooding (with all the abject misery that this brings) and cash strapped local authorities having to pick up the bill for rectifying the problem.

Oh, one final thought, why does planning allow development in and around floodplains?  Just asking.

To find out more about the National Flood Forum’s conference and to book a ticket visit our dedicated web pages: