Setting standards for the flood sector

The Flood Advisory Service offers free and independent advice on flood mitigation solutions at the heart of high-risk communities.

The Flood Advisory Service is raising awareness around best practice and the need for standards in the flood risk management sector, writes Sarah Marriott.

Flood defence and environmental matters are two sides of the same coin. No longer should “flood risk” be talked of in isolation, as it then becomes an apocalyptic scenario which many members of the public either feel won’t happen to them (again) or simply won’t happen in their neighbourhood.  

With over 5.2 million households at risk of flooding in England alone, we should all open our eyes to “risk”. The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) has picked up the baton and produced its own recommendations to government and its Turning the Tide: Proposals to reform flood policy, published earlier in 2016, neatly sums up the complex challenges that we face as a society.  

With infrastructure investment a central tenet of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement, we must focus on driving growth in construction with a close eye on environmental matters and consider the implications flooding has in this arena. It is only by working more collaboratively with the construction sector that we can incorporate innovation and best practice to ensure tomorrow’s generation aren’t burdened with increased flood risk from decisions and actions taken today.  

An obvious solution would be a change in building regulations (or at least adherence to best practice) to ensure that all new build properties are fitted with flood resistant measures that address water ingress via doorways, windows, airbricks and drainage. With the advent of some highly technical products such as new generation flood doors and anti- flood airbricks, this innovation is available to all. However, awareness remains pitifully low.  

Speaking at last year’s EIC conference, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard-Boyd, highlighted the need for a collaborative joint venture approach. “The EA needs to innovate and collaborate in order to secure more investment and join up with external partners,” she said. Following the storms of December 2015 it is clear that there is a long way to go before we can reassure the public that we as a sector have a handle on flood risk management. Some of the EA’s plans implemented post 2015 can be likened to a sticking plaster - it makes you feel better but is of little effect. 

Joint working with the military for deployment of temporary defences, Stobart employed to logistically shift barriers around the most at-need communities and natural flood management plans, are all sound initiatives, in theory, but the sad reality is that more and more communities up and down the country will face the devastating effects of flooding this coming winter and beyond. Until the challenge of how we communicate with the public is resolved, the picture is set to become worse.  

The Flood Advisory Service focuses attention on raising awareness around best practice and standards in the flood risk management sector. As an unregulated industry this is more important than ever, as there is nothing to stop untrained and uncertified operators from entering the market.  

In the aftermath of storms Desmond, Eva and Frank, the Flood Resilience Grant gave affected householders and businesses the financial means to improve their property’s resistance and resilience to future flooding. Whilst well-intentioned, this has been subject to misuse as inexperienced, uncertified operators enter the market and install non-certified products, or certified products without having undertaken appropriate support training or gained any recognised installation qualification. 

This leads to false peace of mind being afforded residents and business owners. Without having completed certified installation training, it is akin to having a gas boiler fitted by a non-certified installer. For the flood sector to be regarded as ‘fit for purpose’ it needs to adopt some fundamental basics as mandatory. As well as being appropriately certified, products need to be suitable for application to each property and provide a holistic solution, with all points of water ingress addressed. 

In the case of installation, all contractors must be appropriately certified and all installations should be subject to a water or wet test to ensure efficacy of installation and ensure no further leak paths.  Currently the only certification is via BSI and their PAS 1188 for both products and installation.  Adherence to this standard is, however, not mandatory. So, part of our work within the Flood Advisory Service this year has been to blow the whistle on defective or dangerous property level protection installations, particularly grant funded work in the north west. 

I will finish with a sobering thought. With a potential spending pot of up to £85,000,000, and scant guidance afforded to local authorities, will the Flood Resilience Grant issued by the government become the next PPI miss-selling scandal?  With the onus apparently on the householder to ensure that the products and services they are receiving are fit for purpose and appropriate, does this let government departments and local authorities off the hook when the measures fail due to lack of efficacy?

Sarah Marriott is managing director of the Flood Advisory Service.

For more information on the Flood Advisory Service click here.