Flooding – prevention is better than cure

February has already seen two storms battering the British Isles, with homes and businesses counting the cost of high winds and months’ worth of rain. Now we have Storm Jorge on the way.

The current images of menacing floodwater engulfing villages, towns and cities and the wrecked homes and businesses when the waters subside are a constant reminder of the damage caused – the cost to the economy is estimated at £1 billion, and this is without the rising cost of insurance to cover the cost of reinstatement which is becoming unaffordable for many businesses.

There is no simple solution to flood protection but the £8 billion funding for flood defences in the UK is simply not sufficient and the current approach is ineffective. Indeed, the entire flood strategy in the UK needs to be completely reviewed.

We can learn important lessons from countries like the Netherlands and China which have invested in areas of controlled flooding. Launched in 2015, the Sponge City Initiative in China invests in projects that aim to soak up floodwater. The projects are being built in 30 cities, including Shanghai, Wuhan, and Xiamen. The aim is that urban areas will absorb and re-use the majority of rainwater. Here in the UK, there’s no ambition or funding to use natural space in this way, although the consideration of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) is mandatory for new developments.

In the absence of an effective nationwide flood defence strategy, our advice to clients – private businesses in the industrial and commercial sectors – is to assess their property assets for flood resilience, using the new Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience launched in February.

Developed by a cross-industry team of experts, PFR measures reduce the risks to people and property, enabling businesses to reduce flood damage to speed up recovery and reoccupation. PFR measures should prevent water entering buildings – known as resistance measures – or limit the damage caused if water does enter the building – known as recoverability measures. Where it doesn’t make financial sense to protect the asset against flood water entry, it may be best to let it flood and focus on recoverability.

Going forward, there needs to be a much greater focus on property flood resilience measures, not just reinstatement. Here, the property industry, businesses and insurers need to work much more closely together to protect business’ assets. This will involve significant investment, but this will pay off in the future.

James Walker flood defence project

We designed and provided project management services for major manufacturing site flood defences to materials technology firm James Walker.

The firm’s Cockermouth site in Cumbria is one of the region’s largest employers and was left underwater in 2009 and 2015 due to flooding. More than 400 staff are employed at the site and thanks to Allerdale and Cumbria councils, support from the Environment Agency, and a significant investment through the Local Growth Fund from Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (Cumbria LEP), new £2.6 million-pound defences now protect the site from flooding and the firm hopes to expand and create new jobs. The protection plan includes:

  • A flood wall around the firm’s production buildings made from sheet piling
  • Flood gates built-in for the main vehicle access points and pedestrian floodgates at key access points
  • Two high-volume pumping stations with a capacity to pump over 21,000 litres of water per minute.

Our team, which has extensive experience in flood risk consultancy, provided detailed ground water monitoring and flood risk assessment to ensure the risk to the site was accurately determined. They designed and project managed the installation of the flood defence scheme to ensure the buildings and facilities are protected now and in the future.


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Ian Paton

Partner, building surveying


T +44 (0) 1865 812 755
Ian Paton
Download Code of Practice

Ian Paton, is our flooding specialist and contributor to the new Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience.