11 Jul 2012

Areas for improvement in available flood data for England and Wales (Adaptation Sub-Committee report)

This morning the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, an expert body that advises on the UK Government's programme for adaptation to climate change, published a report to Parliament on the state of preparedness in England and Wales for two of the largest climate risks, flooding and water scarcity (or drought).

This is probably the best report I've read on UK flood policy under the current Coalition Government. (You can read the media coverage for the highlights.) The report is robustly critical of weaknesses in Government policy and provides solid analysis of the consequences for increased flood risk in England and Wales. In fact it's rather the sort of policy analysis we used to get from the Environment Agency, before Defra put a muzzle on the EA in late 2010.

One section of the report was of particular interest to me. Chapter 4 includes an annex that lists the data sources available to the Sub-Committee, along with "areas for data improvement".

Below is a list of the flooding data that the Sub-Committee's experts considered should be available but found not to be. I think much of this list will resonate for anyone who has worked with flood data at national level for insurance or risk assessment purposes.

  • Type of development: can only distinguish between residential and commercial. It would be useful to understand number of upper floor flats within floodplain.
  • Number of nonresidential properties: substantial discrepancies between different datasets.
  • Data on surface water flood risk are less advanced than for river/ coastal flood risk.
  • Infrastructure in areas of flood risk: lack of time series.
  • Surfacing: no clear record of proportion of multiple land use (such as residential gardens) that is impermeable and how this is changing over time due to urban creep.
  • No nationally available data on uptake of resilience and safety measures in actual developments (both properties and infrastructure).
  • Benefits of flood defence investment: lack of spatially aggregated data on change in flood likelihood for properties following completion of flood defence projects.
  • No data available on condition of non-EA flood defence assets or time series on condition of EA assets.
  • No national data on uptake of SuDS in new development or retrofitting of existing properties.
  • Data on uptake of flood warnings is not categorised by flood risk area, only for whole of the floodplain.
  • Data on availability of insurance is not accessible.
  • No data on disruption to critical services from flooding.
Update (13 July 2012):

The Sub-committee has drawn my attention to the supporting data and research released with Wednesday's adaptation report.

This includes a results report and technical report from HR Wallingford on development of spatial indicators to monitor changes in exposure and vulnerability to flooding and the uptake of adaptation actions to manage flood risk in England.

Also of particular interest is a report from Royal Haskoning that assesses the economic case for property-level measures for flood risk in England.

Needless to say, this means the list of "areas for improvement" above really only scratches the surface on the subject of available flood data for England and Wales. I'm very impressed by the level of useful detail in the technical reports and by the amount of work and analysis that has gone into producing the adaptation report itself.