Flooding – an architect's viewpoint

As you’re seeing in the news flooding has hit Ireland (and the UK) hard this year; with vast areas submerged in water, homes destroyed and the cost running into billions. Everything is now pointing to climate change (here’s 5 Things to know about Flooding & Climate change) with the conclusion being:

“…it’s pretty difficult to assess the effect climate change has on flooding. While in theory warmer temperatures may lead to more rain, the climate system is pretty complicated in practice. It looks likely that the UK will experience more surface, river and coastal flooding in the future, but it’s hard to be more specific than that.”

So I thought I’d give my viewpoint on the issue from an architect’s standpoint:

1. I’m going to have to ask clients more directly whether their site has been flooded when completing planning applications. It’s one of those questions on the planning form much like “have you packed your own bags” at the airport – the right answer regarding flooding used to be no. As a responsible professional with the current flooding problems I’m going to have to take this question more seriously; it is negligent to answer this question incorrectly when I know the facts are different and have completed the planning form with the declaration below:

“I hereby declare, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the information given in this form is correct and accurate and fully compliant with the Planning & Development Act 2000, as amended, and the Regulations made thereunder:”

Here’s the question:

flooding

It is also doing a disservice to the client answering this question dishonestly when any potential risk of flooding has not been thoroughly addressed in the design and construction. It wouldn’t surprise me if an architect/engineer hasn’t already been sued for completing this form incorrectly! The client won’t want to be living and dealing with a flooded house – the planning permission isn’t worth this.

2. The planners are going to have to change the rules a bit.

One of the tips I wrote on planning a while back was “To use something existing & extend it” but this is no use if the original building is in an area liable to flooding. The Taoiseach has already intimated that families may have to be resettled on higher ground.

This leads neatly on for the planners love of not building on high ground as it “…[imposes] the house on the landscape.”. As you can see in the diagram below from the Mayo Rural Design Guide; planners do not want your house high on the hill. The problem is that it’s high ground that won’t flood! The diagram is slightly in accurate in that we have a project at the moment that is no where near the high point of the hill and the Council is still looking for us to lower the level of the house.

rural_house

3. We may have to look at alternative construction methods to have floating houses. Not as ridiculous as it sounds as shown in the ‘amphibious’ house on Grand Designs (Dezeen.com link HERE) or the ‘Floating’ houses in Amsterdam shown HERE.

In Ireland the construction of the house won’t be a problem; the real difficulty is the lack of sewage infrastructure and the reliance of septic tanks and waste treatment systems across the country. These flooded systems are now fully submerged and non-functioning – this will need to get addressed. Anyone know how this can be done?

4. We then have to look at all the ways of combatting the flooding by:

• Flood defence systems
• Clearing rivers, streams and drains to ensure the water has a way to get to the sea

In the UK I forget the figures but the cut-backs on flood defence of £95 million resulted in billions of damage.

Any comments & suggestions most welcome…

4 thoughts on “Flooding – an architect's viewpoint

  1. Mark,

    Good post as always.

    The CFRAM maps are very good and they do make quite sobbering reading. On one site here in Cork we have had to raise the proposed floor level by approx +1.5m above the existing level – it would be have been greater if not for the flood defenses that are to be put in place by Cork City Council over the next 2-3 years.  The 1 in 1000yr scenario projected a raised GF level of +2.0m above existing site level.

    One thing to consider in relation to building on high ground is emergency access; if the access road floods it could also affect the planning outcome – we have seen a case of a refusal by AnBP on emergency access grounds – check that there is another route to/from the site.

    Regards,

    Paul Butler

  2. Mark, thanks for this excellent article.

    I will respond to it below, giving my own thoughts – and I will publish these in Linkedin with a link to your article. I will also submit them to the Building Regs blog boys, but they get skittish when I start calling for the prosecution of corrupt persons so we will see how well that is received 🙂

    1. Flood defense works are an essential part of any programme for government in these times. They are capital intensive and intended for the preservation of asserts which in general support the public good. Whether these are streets, services, buildings or parkland it does not matter. If you zoom out a little even the preservation of privately held farmland can be classed as an asset to the state in that it supports gainful employment and our GDP figures and export market See my comments in item 4 below also.

    2. Planning laws need to be strengthened, not changed as such. We need a closely defined set of areas near existing settlements where development can take place, not the current waffle about hubs and gateways which I think is still masquerading as the national spatial plan. Decentralization twaddle should go the same way. And people need in general to be discouraged from building in at-risk areas. This includes an audit of all current extant permissions and an immediate quashing of those at risk and prosecution of those councillors who voted them through the planning process and planning officials and country managers who approved them. Past time these white collar criminals were nailed to a post for the damage caused to people’s lives and the state coffers caused by their back-pocket enterprises.

    3. New construction methods are to be welcomed, but we should not focus on floating houses – after all, where will they float to, what can we do about their services? We should be thinking in terms of ways to avoid changes to underground watercourses and natural swales caused by the building of new estates and roads. The rainfall in Ireland is only likely to increase in duration and severity over the next decade and even if there are a few drier years than 2015 we should plan for this eventuality. The test of foreseeability is the most damning and undermining test when applied to an Architect and it is clear that it should be applied to County and Civil engineers whose pronouncements should not then be overridden by corrupt councillors and county managers.

    4. The declaration on planning forms is utterly inadequate to address the threat we are facing from potential flooding of formerly not at-risk areas. More importantly, it should not rest at all on the shoulders of someone designing a house. The local authority should know, without any shadow of doubt, what the likely risk is, They should know because there should be a national hydro-geological survey carried out immediately to identify those areas at risk and potentially at risk and this should be incorporated directly into all development plans to identify possible areas at-risk and those suitable for future development. This should include all areas used for farmland and manufacturing processes as well. No exceptions for vested interests like the IFA and their well-paid lobbyists. The results of this survey will best inform the government where – and what kind of – flood defense works are required.

    Summary: We need informed heads around the table 0n this one, not the usually corrupt stupid ones that have served us so badly in so many things this far.

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