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Flood Protection – Strategic Necessity Or Constrained Victim?

Flood protection – strategic necessity or constrained victim?

Guest blog by Steve Hodgson of the Property Care Association

Is Property Level Flood Protection a strategic necessity promoted by the Government or a victim of a constrained system that hasn’t got a clue on how to get what it wants?

A couple of weeks ago I attended the regular meeting of the committee that was drawn up to deliver on the 2106 Peter Bonfield report into flood resilience. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-property-level-flood-resilience-bonfield-2016-action-plan )

Flood resilience report vision

This much exalted document set out a vision for the creation of a sustainable market for flood resistant and resilient measures that will protect homes and business from flooding.

In this vision, consumers benefit from well designed, accredited products that are installed by trained experienced professionals with protection systems designed by independent consultants based on flood risk assessments undertaken by credited experts.

A little long winded perhaps but it sounds like a plan- so where’s the catch?!

…and the Catch? Who buys flood protection?

The meeting, hosted by DEFRA and held at the offices of Historic England in London, provided the individual working groups an opportunity to report on progress, however the major element of the meeting was a workshop that allowed delegates to bring together ideas on how to get the property owners to buy into flood resilient measures.

It is great that this work continues but somewhat depressing that these very senior figures and industry leaders are still grappling with the most fundamental of questions. To be blunt- there is still no answer to the question of how to get people to buy flood protection using their own money!

The Flood Protection Code of Practice is on its way!

In the meantime, the development of a weighty Code of Practice, seemingly written with publicly funded procurement in mind, is soon to be released for consultation.

The document in production will set out the process of flood risk assessment, followed by an independent survey of the property and the creation of a system design. Installation will be by an accredited installer leading to verification by a further independent agent and ultimately, the job will be included on a list of “protected buildings”. In addition, the products used should be tested and accredited to an emerging new British Standard.  A watertight process it could be argued, so who’s paying?

Time for money to talk when it comes to flooding

Consultants, specialists and verifiers cost money and produce paper? Its my own view that ordinary householders won’t see the point or be able to justify these professional costs.

So how do we make the step to see the adoption of flood protection measures, especially in buildings that we know will be severely affected by flooding in the future?

More unresolved questions – training flood professionals

Another unresolved question is where are all the trained independent professionals needed to deliver surveys and verify are going to come from? Unless a market for their services is created, where is the financial motivations for taking on expensive retraining going to come from?

Is it time for Building regulation regarding flooding?

Instead of promoting changes to building regulations or issuing guidance or regulation that would see mandatory flood protection for people building, extending or refurbishing properties at a very high risk of flooding, the hope is that insurance companies provide the financial incentive for those adopting flood protection through reduced premiums.

As so long as Flood Re is offering a way for insurance companies to sidestep high risk properties, premium reductions for flood protected homes seems a way off.

The evidence to support the value of flood protection measures does exist but with so much poor flood protection work done by builders spending repair and recovery grant money without a clue what they were doing, that picture for insurance actuaries is probably far from clear.

Another element of the Bonfield plan is the conversion of PAS1188 to a full British Standard. BS851188 is now nearing the end of the initial drafting process. This will set the standard for the testing of flood protection products and will see some pretty major revisions from the PAS. It is certain that products that pass the rigorous tests set out in the revised standard will be fit for purpose. Questions have already surfaced about the cost of testing and how these not unsubstantial costs can be recouped from the sale of products where a very limited market exists.

Are we about to go OTT on flood protection costs?

Some are speculating that testing and accreditation to BS851188 may add so much to the retail cost of flood protection products that they will be unable to compete with those who just don’t bother or make the commercial decision not to test!

The revised document (I believe will be world leading), is still in development, but its good. The people who have developed on the revision have worked incredibly hard and have done a fantastic, professional job of work in my view (having played a very small part in the development group…I would say that though, wouldn’t I?!). The PCA will encourage engagement with the drafting process by informing members when it becomes available for public consultation.

To summarise…

Well designed and properly installed flood resistance and resilience does work. I have seen it. Measures delivered with skill and care prevent loss, preserve property and can make lives better. Property level flood protection can fill a massive gap where property at severe risk of flooding can not be protected by civil projects and structural flood defences. Flood RE will not last for ever so protecting property to make them insurable in the open market or protect them from the worst excesses of flooding is going to be essential.

In short, property level flood protection – whether through resisting floods or making them simple and cheap to recover post inundation, is good for everyone and should be embraced. This is the intention of Government and is supported by senior people in the worlds of academia, building standards, surveying and insurance.

Despite warnings from the PCA that the professional flood protection industry is in a very precarious state with little work available and few prospects of work to sustain the dwindling skills base, (that will be needed if promotion from government comes) the project rolls on. The PCA continue to work for the benefit of both members and consumers.

We can only hope all the work to deliver on Bonfield, that has been undertaken by a large number of unremunerated volunteers, will count for something. Unless Government at both local and National level show determination and set legislation that mandates flood protection, we fear that professionally delivered and reliable property level flood protection will face a continuing struggle for recognition, investment and perhaps, survival.

For more information about Property Care Association (PCA) please visit – www.property-care.org/homeowners/flood-protection

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