Are We Planning To Flood? – National Flood Forum Conference 2017


‘Are We Planning To Flood?’

Recently Slow The Flow: Calderdale attended The National Flood Forum Conference 2017.

The conference was a very useful day, with a variety of delegates, including The Environment Agency,  The Water Authorities, Community Flood Groups, Academics, Politicians, Councils, Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFA), Insurers, Construction Industry Professionals, and Reporters.

Throughout the sessions, there was a helpful dialogue around flooding in relation to the planning system from all of these different perspectives. As ever, it was reassuring to hear from other community flood groups dealing with some of the same issues that we face.

Key Themes and Learnings

I will stick largely to reporting on Slow The Flow: Calderdale’s key areas of interest (i.e. Inland NFM, and how community groups can work effectively with other organizations) so as to try and keep it to a blog post, rather than an essay! There were also several other points of interest, such as FloodRe insurance, Mental Health following flooding, tidal surges, climate change evidence, vulnerable communities, and household resilience measures.

Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) in urban areas

Bob Haddon from Shifnal Flood Partnership Group (SFPG) discussed the need for developers to be ‘more than just builders’. Shifnal has a great deal of planned new build development, and the community has been forced to consider the issue of what significant amounts of rainwater run-off from new hard surfaces would do to flooding. SFPG are strong advocates of urban Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) and are working hard to ensure that “when developers are granted permission for building, they are responsible for the provision of adequate attenuation systems, which also provide betterment to the existing flash flood potential”.

Phiala Mehring from the Loddon Valley Residents Association (LVRA) echoed this, with her description of the ‘Hatch Farm’ case study – an intended building site on a flood plain, in an area that already floods. LVRA are working hard to get consideration of SuDS written in to outline planning conditions (rather than as reserved matters, which is where they currently tend to sit, if anywhere).

Other pearls of wisdom for other community flood groups, from Shifnal, Loddon Valley, and others, included:

  • Studying historical maps is important.
  • Knowing your catchment area (particularly walking it in the rain!) is enormously helpful.
  • Think long term (longer than that… 30 yrs is not long term, try 150+)
  • What the local fishermen don’t know about their river is not worth knowing – talk to them.
  • Endeavour to become consultees on planning applications – it is much easier to have an influence before applications are approved.
  • 75% of Local Plans have no mention of managing carbon. Neighbourhood Plans can make a huge difference.
  • ‘1 in 100’ flood statistics are not helpful. Plan for the worst case scenario.

The importance of retrofitting SuDS           

Sue Illman (Landscape Architect, and CIC Champion for Flood Mitigation and Resilience) was also eloquent on the problems caused by development without a SuDS strategy. She emphasised the need to retrofit SuDS to existing developments where possible.

There will be, of course, ongoing development, partly driven by the need to build significant numbers of houses… so yes, we need to integrate SuDS into all new development, to stop things getting worse. However, the situation is already worsening due to climate change.

Recent revisions from the EA now estimate that peak flood levels are likely to be around 25% higher, and could be up to 105% higher, in 100 years’ time.

Therefore, we must retrofit solutions to existing developments, as well as implementing SuDS on all new developments, even in order to maintain existing flooding levels – and certainly if we wish to improve the situation.

As Phillip Harker from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) put it:

“We must recognise the consequence of getting this wrong, in order to understand the importance of getting it right”

You Can Slow The Flow!

This all resonates with our ‘You Can Slow The Flow’ project, which you can find out more about, and join in with, here.


Ideas for new policies to help  

Suggestions from the floor included the idea that development sites should not be allocated a ‘provisional number’ of dwellings until a realistic SuDS plan for the site has been created. Another delegate suggested that developers should be required to produce a site flood plan at outline planning stage, and that it should be binding. Too often the drainage strategy for outline permissions is allowed to be ‘watered down’ (forgive the unintentional pun) as the project moves on into detailed design phase. Too much deviation from the original plans can have taken place, by the time that projects are built, for the original sustainable drainage concepts to work effectively.

Collaboration between community groups and public bodies

Phiala opened her talk with “Like many people in the room, flooding is not my day job”.

It was humbling to think of how many in the full lecture theatre had come voluntarily, because they care for their community, and spend countless hours of their free time trying to help.

It was generally encouraging to hear a number of tales of the good work and collaboration that is going on across the country. Public bodies and community volunteers are both groups that are being stretched. Through working together, we can all alleviate the pressure for each other to some extent. We have knowledge, skills and resources that are different, and can support and complement one another.

Hannah Burgess, speaking from a Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) perspective was clear that in order to support each other best, it is not a negative thing to remember that it is a ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ situation from both sides. We all have a role in checking that each other are doing things correctly, and trust is two-way.

Slow The Flow: Calderdale are grateful to our partners in the Calder Valley. We are continuously learning how to work together most effectively, and on the whole can consider our collaborations a success. In this instance, without our friends at the Environment Agency, we would not have known about and attended the conference – thank you!

More information can be found at

Written by Amanda McDermott CMLI