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Embracing flood adaptive technology is a paradigm shift for sustainable development

By Simon Gilliland, Chief Executive of the Flood Technology Group

As a densely populated island nation, the United Kingdom faces complex challenges from competing land uses, including agriculture, energy and residential and commercial development. Meanwhile the threat of flooding looms large, posing a threat to 5.7 million properties in England alone, as highlighted recently by the UK National Audit Office (NAO). As 2024 dawned, hundreds of flooding warnings were in place across vast swathes of the UK.

With our changing climate increasing the level of flood risk that we face and the need for economic regeneration ever present, how can we effectively manage flood risk, protect communities and infrastructure and, at the same time, support new development?

The statistics from the NAO neatly illustrate the stark reality; millions of properties and crucial infrastructure are at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea, surface water or groundwater. The challenge becomes even more daunting when we consider the need for increased economic development in flood-prone areas. Conventional wisdom might suggest that we avoid development in floodplains altogether, but that is neither practical nor realistic.

The planning process is at the heart of managing flood risk and supporting sustainable development. Local decision-makers play a crucial role in determining the suitability of locations for development. However, this approach has its limitations. The rigid nature of the planning process may not always provide the flexibility needed to address evolving challenges. It also fails to take into account innovations within the built environment sector, not least the transformative potential of rapidly evolving flood adaptive technology. 

The solution involves effective risk management and a forward-thinking approach that makes flood adaptive technology part of the planning process. Integrating smart technologies into our infrastructure is a game-changer; sensor networks, data analytics and real-time monitoring can provide invaluable insights into changing weather patterns and water levels. This information empowers authorities to implement proactive measures, alert communities in advance and optimise the performance of flood defences. At the same time, reactive measures, such as elevating structures, using flood-resistant materials and the use of flood resilience measures, can eliminate the risk of flooding or reduce the damage caused when it does occur.

Recognising the need for a more dynamic and resilient approach, the Flood Technology Group was formed in November 2023. We firmly believe that flood adaptive technology should be central to our efforts to manage flood risk while still allowing much-needed economic development activity to take place. Flood adaptive technology encompasses a range of innovations designed to enhance the resilience of our infrastucture, and enable us to adapt and respond to the ever-changing flood risk that we face.

However, a paradigm shift of this magnitude demands innovative policies to incentivise the adoption of flood adaptive technology, which means that national and local planning frameworks must actively encourage the use of adaptive technologies in development projects. This could take the form of tax incentives, grants or streamlined approval processes for projects incorporating state-of-the-art flood adaptive solutions.

The transformative potential of flood adaptive technology extends beyond flood risk reduction; it offers a pathway to building thriving communities capable of co-existing harmoniously with the natural environment. As we navigate the complexities of land use and climate change, the Flood Technology Group invites stakeholders, policymakers and communities to come together to usher in a new era of development, one where resilience and adaptability are at the forefront of our collective vision for a sustainable and secure future.

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