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Should Local Authorities Be Doing More to Explore Permeable Surfacing
Sustainable Porous Paving Solutions

Cumbrian Floods – Have Local Authorities Taken Too Long to Explore Permeable Surfacing?

Storm Desmond Floo 3519258b


Dec 8th 2015

The floods that have once again struck North West England this week are just the latest in a series of such events that have seemingly become commonplace over the last decade or so. One homeowner whose property in Carlisle has been devastated by this weeks floods was told after the last incident 6 years ago that it was a once in 100 year occurrence. Whilst we can’t predict what mother nature will throw at us, residents within the many affected areas are rightly asking why they are once again having to wade through their properties knee high (and worse) in water. 

In Cumbria, there have been many images published on the flood defence systems that have been built since the last major floods in 2009. Yet despite pictures of reinforced glass barriers alongside rivers and concrete dykes, the waters were still able to get through. Flood defences are important, but as many reports have concluded, so is the issue of urban drainage and the fact that in flash flood scenarios, man-made drains are unable to cope with large volumes of water falling in short periods of time. Flooding is only an issue in urban areas because we have made it so. Addressing the issue of where excess water goes during periods of heavy rain is arguably as vital a point as defending against a rising river or a saturated water table.

As a commercial organisation supplying permeable surfacing, it can be difficult for a company like KBI to address the recent floods without appearing to be ruthlessly cashing in on the misfortune of others. However, the fact is that the company has been around since 2010, yet none of the local authorities significantly affected by floods in the last 10 years have contacted us to even find out more about the benefits of deploying our permeable surfaces KBI Flexi™-Pave or KBI Flexi™-Stone. Sour grapes this is not. The simple irony is that KBI has worked with a significant number of local authorities across the UK, yet those that have embraced our permeable solutions are the ones least affected by urban flooding.

Earlier this year the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) published a report highlighting the dangers of paving over gardens within urban areas using hard surfaces. The society went on record to say that paving over gardens without giving sufficient consideration to rainwater drainage could increase the risk of flood to the specific property as well as neighbouring homes.

storm-desmond-floo_3519258bIn an excellent piece for the Daily Mail – published just two weeks ago – journalist Victoria Bischoff highlighted the change in law that came in to effect following the 2007 floods, which states that if you are building a driveway bigger than five square metres it needs to be made of permeable material, such as loose gravel or stone chippings. If it isn’t, then you will need planning permission. The 2007 floods caused around £3 billion of damage, and much of that flooding was because ageing Victorian drains and sewers could not cope with the amount of rainwater flowing into them. Yet despite the change in law, Flood Re stated that in 2013 only 4% of paving material bought for driveways and patios in England was permeable.

Are local authorities not enforcing the law change? Is the public actually aware of the law change? Whatever the reasons, Flood Re’s statistic appears to show that the change in law hasn’t had the necessary impact on prompting homeowners to explore permeable surfacing solutions. Dealing with a backlog of potential planning infringements is clearly not the best use of an authority’s time – especially in a time of cutbacks – so perhaps the first course of action is to make sure homeowners are fully aware of the law before they entertain changes to their properties.

Putting private property to one side, there is still a huge amount of hard-paved urban landscape that  local authorities are responsible for that could be considered for replacement with a permeable surface. The (marginal) higher cost of installing a permeable surface is offset not only by the reduction in costs associated with flood damage, but also by the reduction in long-term maintenance of the area. As a rule, permeable surfaces tend to suffer less from issues like cracking and tearing, which affect materials like tarmac and concrete when water is allowed to pool on top.

The floods in parts of the UK caused by storm Desmond this week will no doubt cost millions – if not billions – in repairs, which will be covered by insurance companies and collected in turn through the increased premiums paid by those property owners living in areas of vulnerability.

With the government now set to allocate more public funding towards the cost of flood-defences, maybe its time for all of the UK’s local authorities to finally sit up and take notice of the solutions that have already been around for some time.