UK should recognise the value of passive flood defence

The future of flood defence is right on our doorstep says Frank Kelly, CEO of UK Flood Barriers following successful deployment of its barriers in Cockermouth

The self activating flood barrier protecting properties in Cockermouth

Back in 2013 the Environment Agency published an infographic featuring some of what it termed the ‘quirkiest’ flood defences in the UK.  Amongst them was the Self Activating Flood Barrier (SAFB), designed and installed in Cockermouth by UK Flood Barriers. Just 2 years on and following the highest ever recorded rainfall in Cumbria, that ‘quirky’ design has proved itself to be invaluable in the protection of properties close to the River Cocker last weekend.

As the river level rose so did the automatic barrier protecting properties from what could have been a deluge of over 15ft of water. “In 2009 we had 4.5 feet of water in our house. This time we didn’t have any – this is due to the barriers,” said Peter Gibson, resident of Rubby Banks Road. Other residents reported similar experiences. “We were spared. We were very lucky. The faster the river came up, the faster the barrier rose," said Mike and Muriel Conway.

Whilst the sheer scale of the flooding has devastated other areas of the town, the effective deployment of the SAFB has proved once again the value of passive flood defence measures and the crucial role they need to play in the UK’s fight against flood.

"In 2009 we had 4.5 feet of water in our house. This time we didn’t have any – this is due to the barriers,”

Peter Gibson,  resident, Rubby Banks Road, Cockermouth

As the threat and frequency of flood risk increases, the use of passive flood defence has to be the only realistic long term solution. The automatic, instant reaction to imminent flood, ease of installation, low maintenance and ongoing operational costs has to make the SAFB an obvious choice for developers, architects and construction companies across the globe. Coupled with the fact the SAFB can be installed to any length and is ‘invisible’ when closed allowing for normal flow of traffic and uninterrupted views mean it is the ideal solution for many locations.

As well as Cockermouth, to date the SAFB has been adopted in a range of locations worldwide including a Scottish nuclear power station; a Mexican shopping centre; residential developments in London and Cornwall and even a zoo in Malaysia. And although the order books at UKFB are healthy with major infrastructure projects in progress both at home and abroad, take up is still relatively low and slow.

As this week’s extreme weather conditions have demonstrated, the threat of flooding is not going to go away.  Climate change presents a real and present danger but as an advanced industrial nation should we be content to rely on old fashioned, reactive flood defence systems to protect our homes, communities and crucial infrastructure? The failure of some UK decision makers to recognise the value of new and innovative passive designs is made all the more frustrating when you learn that it is UK engineers who are leading the way on the international stage in the design, build and installation of innovative passive flood defence.

UKFB is currently working on a major project in the US to design and install flood defences to protect a New York university hospital. The US audience clearly recognises the benefits of passive flood defence and in particular the SAFB system in ensuring minimal impact in the event of flood.

Back in the UK, working closely with consultants, architects and main project contractors we’ve proved that by pushing flood defence up the agenda and giving it consideration as early in a project design phase as possible, not only can inconvenience during the build be minimised but costs can be lowered considerably.

The dreadful events that have taken place across the North West this week must act as a catalyst for a real change in attitude. The technology exists right on our doorstep. Let’s make sure we use it effectively.

If you would like to contact Bernadette Ballantyne about this, or any other story, please email bernadette.ballantyne@infrastructure-intelligence.com:2016-1.