The UK is not prepared for the increased risk of flooding

Towns and cities in the UK have been hit by flash flooding 51 times since 2007, according to a new report published by the think tank Bright Blue. 

The authors of the report used artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to analyse newspaper articles and present data on the real impact of flooding and related hazards on local communities. 

They found that overall, the UK is not adequately prepared for the increased risk posed by flooding as the climate change. 

In particular, the UK has an urban drainage problem, affecting communities across the country during incidents of heavy rainfall, putting drainage and sewerage infrastructure under strain and even contributing to flooding in some cases. 

brown and white concrete building

The analysis also revealed that since 2007:

  • There have been at least 51 flash flood events in major urban areas since 2007. This includes at least ten in London and at least seven in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
  • At least 15 hospitals have experienced flooding causing disruption or imminent risk of disruption to patient services or hospital support services. 
  • At least 68 schools have suffered sufficient water entering buildings to disrupt lessons, or school transport stuck in floodwater, including 22 with at least significant damage and seven with severe damage.
  • At least nine care homes and four retirement complexes have been flooded, all of which were catering for the elderly.
  • There has been flooding damage to at least 31 UK supermarket branches.
  • At least 12 instances of flooded electricity substations, in at least one case leading to power cuts which were problematic for emergency response and community resilience, and at least five instances of damage to gas pipelines due to the bridges supporting them collapsing.
  • There has been at least one instance where emergency services were required to help evacuate a London Underground station, and at least one instance of an underground station flooding in Glasgow. There has been at least one fatal rail accident due to a landslip, and at least one major incident involving passengers stuck on a train for several hours.
  • There have been at least three life-threatening incidents involving cars trapped under railway bridges due to flooding, as well as closures of roads and the collapse of road bridges, making them unusable for drivers. At least one policeman has also been killed while diverting traffic from a collapsing bridge.

Helen Jackson, Associate Fellow at Bright Blue and report author, commented on these findings: ‘The disruption caused by Storm Arwen highlights the need to make our infrastructure resilient to extreme weather, and be more preventative and less reactive. Many towns and cities in the UK are seeing repeat episodes of flash flooding affecting households, businesses, and transport systems.

‘We need to recognise this trend and do much more to ensure our urban drainage and sewer systems can cope with heavy rainfall as the climate changes. This should include limiting the spread of impermeable surfaces in our cities and ensuring basic measures like drain cleaning are not overlooked.

‘The recent furore over sewage spills highlighted the importance of adequate drainage and sewerage systems for environmental quality – but this is not just an environmental issue, it is a public safety issue.’

Photo by Don Lodge


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