LIDAR data will be Open Data from September 2015

Environment Agency will publish two LIDAR datasets under the Open Government Licence

June 26th 2015

The Environment Agency has announced it is making all of its LIDAR data accessible to all users from September 2015. Two LIDAR datasets will be made available free of charge and free of restrictions, even for commercial use. In a recent blog post, Dr Alison Matthew, Geomatics Manager at the Environment Agency, says the Agency has an extensive archive of aerial LIDAR data covering 72% of England, including floodplains, coastal zones and urban areas:

“For the past 17 years we have been capturing LIDAR (Light Detection & Ranging) data in England. LIDAR uses a laser to scan and map the landscape from above and is widely considered to be the best method for collecting very dense and accurate elevation data across the landscape. We use LIDAR to help the work of the Environment Agency in many ways, including creating flood models, assessing coastal change and analysing how land is used.”

Two LIDAR datasets will be released under the Open Government Licence and made accessible through Datashare:

  • Tiled LIDAR data: This dataset consists of historic LIDAR data which has been gathered since 1998. For some areas, data is available in a range of resolutions.
  • Composite LIDAR data: The composite dataset is derived from a combination of the full tiled dataset which has been merged and re-sampled to give the best possible spatial coverage.

The Environment Agency made a commitment to publishing as much of its data as possible as Open Data following the winter floods of 2014. Dr Alison Matthew says: “By making the LIDAR data open to all, users will be able to access it free of charge, even for commercial use. We hope that by removing any cost barriers, our data will improve the quality of flood risk modelling used by businesses and local communities and allow for the development of innovative tools and techniques to further benefit the environment.”

For more information on the Open Data initiative, see our news item “Environment Agency’s Open Data Initiative will make more data freely available for public use”.

For more information on the release of LIDAR data, see the Environment Agency blog.

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Welsh Planning Bill will set up a National Development Framework for Wales

The Planning (Wales) Bill is now in its final stage

June 19th 2015

The National Assembly for Wales is currently considering a number of bills concerning planning and the environment. The Planning (Wales) Bill is now in its final stage before seeking Royal Assent. The Bill will establish a National Development Framework for Wales and includes reforms to the current planning system. The reforms are designed to speed up the planning process and streamline procedures in a similar fashion to England’s National Planning Policy Framework.

Among its measures, the Bill makes provision for the production of Strategic Development Plans, aimed at tackling issues that cross local authority boundaries, such as housing supply and areas designated for economic growth and regeneration. The Bill also includes measures to allow planning applications for projects of national significance to be made directly to Welsh Ministers. Developers will also be able to apply directly to Welsh Ministers for planning permission where a local planning authority is deemed to be poorly performing.

Two other bills concerning planning and the environment are also being considered by the Welsh National Assembly. The Environment (Wales) Bill makes provisions for planning and managing the country’s natural resources, including extra powers for Natural Resources Wales. The Bill proposes a statutory framework for action on climate change, including targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Further measures include setting up a Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee and changes to the law on land drainage. The Bill is still in its early stages and is due for consideration by the Assembly on June 24th, following a public consultation which closed on June 12th.

The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill sets out measures to improve the current system for protecting the Welsh historic environment, including better protection for listed buildings and scheduled monuments. Introducing the Bill last month, the Welsh Government said: “Our historic environment, which includes ancient monuments and historic buildings as well as the landscapes that surround them, shapes our national identity and brings significant economic benefits, accounting for one-fifth of the tourism expenditure in Wales.” The news item reports that there were 119 cases of damage to scheduled monuments recorded between 2006 and 2012, with only one successful prosecution. Deliberate damage included “the bulldozing of parts of 1,200-year-old Offa’s Dyke and damage to hill forts that have been in existence for over 2,000 years.”

One of the aims of the Bill is to make it more difficult for individuals to escape prosecution for causing damage to the historic environment by claiming ignorance of a monument’s status or location. It will also give Welsh Ministers powers to take immediate and effective action if a scheduled monument is threatened and oblige owners who have damaged monuments to undertake repairs. The Bill also makes it easier for owners to manage their listed buildings and scheduled monuments by introducing long-term management plans known as Heritage Partnership Agreements. Public consultation on the Bill closed today (June 19th).

For further information on the progress of the bills, see the website of the National Assembly for Wales.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Offa’s Dyke on Llanfair Hill © Copyright Peter Evans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Urban Drainage Event at Sheffield

One-day workshop features overviews of research into sewer networks, urban flooding, and green infrastructure

June 15th 2015

The Sheffield Water Centre has organised a one-day workshop on urban drainage, working in collaboration with British Water, the lead representative organisation for the supply chain of the UK water industry. The workshop will be held at the University of Sheffield on Thursday, 16th July.

The sessions will include:

  • Sewers of the future – an overview of research into sewer networks, including opportunities for EU research funding
  • Urban flooding – an overview of research into flooding, including sewer to surface interactions and contaminant transport
  • Green infrastructure – an overview of research into green roofs, ponds, and related green infrastructure
  • Laboratory tours – including a pipe rig, a transient rig, and a sewer flooding rig

The sessions will be facilitated by research scientists from the University of Sheffield, including:

  • Dr Vanessa Speight, Research Fellow in Integrated Water Systems
  • Dr Henriette Jensen, Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Dr Virginia Stovin, Reader in the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering focused on Urban Stormwater Management and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
  • Matteo Rubinato, Research Associate with a background in urban flooding

The workshop will also include an interactive exercise in developing research ideas. For further information, see the British Water website.

Welsh National Assembly considers planning and the environment

Planning Bill will establish a National Development Framework for Wales

June 9th 2015

Three bills concerned with planning and the environment are currently being considered by the National Assembly for Wales. The Planning (Wales) Bill was introduced last October and is now in its final stage before seeking Royal Assent. The Environment (Wales) Bill is still in its early stages. A public consultation on its provisions closes at the end of this week (June 12th) and the Bill is due for consideration by the Assembly on June 24th. Meanwhile, public consultation on the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill closes on June 19th and the Bill will be considered in due course.

The Planning (Wales) Bill

The Planning (Wales) Bill introduces a new legal framework, known as the National Development Framework for Wales, which will set out national land use priorities and infrastructure requirements for Wales. The Bill includes reforms to the planning system designed to streamline procedures and speed up the planning process. Among its measures, the Bill makes provision for the production of Strategic Development Plans, aimed at tackling cross-boundary issues such as housing supply and areas designated for economic growth and regeneration. The Bill also includes measures to allow planning applications for nationally significant projects to be made directly to the Welsh Ministers. Where a local planning authority is deemed to be poorly performing, developers will also be able to apply directly to the Welsh Ministers for planning permission.

The Environment (Wales) Bill

The Environment (Wales) Bill makes provision for planning and managing the country’s natural resources at a national and local level. Natural Resources Wales will be given a general purpose linked to statutory principles, defined in the Bill, for the sustainable management of natural resources. Natural Resources Wales will also be given extra powers to undertake land management agreements and experimental schemes, whilst public authorities will be required to maintain and enhance biodiversity. The Bill proposes a statutory framework for action on climate change and includes targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Further measures include setting up a Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee and changes to the law on land drainage.

The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill

The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill provides measures that will improve the current system for protecting the Welsh historic environment, including better protection for listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments and historic sites. The Bill allows the Welsh Ministers to put an immediate halt to unauthorised works to scheduled monuments and makes it easier to take action against those who have damaged or destroyed them. The Bill also makes it easier for owners or developers to create sustainable new uses for unlisted historic buildings by relaxing the conditions for applying for certificates of immunity from listing.

One of the aims of the Bill is to make it more difficult for individuals to escape prosecution for causing damage to the historic environment by claiming ignorance of a monument’s status or location. It will also give Welsh Ministers powers to take immediate and effective action if a scheduled monument is threatened and oblige owners who have damaged monuments to undertake repairs. Local authorities will be able to act quickly if a listed building is under threat from unauthorised works and they will be given greater flexibility in dealing with historic buildings that require urgent works to protect them from further decay. The Bill also makes it easier for owners of listed buildings and scheduled monuments to manage them by introducing long-term management plans known as Heritage Partnership Agreements, which will eliminate the need for repeated consent applications for similar works.

For further information on the progress of the bills, see the website of the National Assembly for Wales.

New technology trials at historic landfills

ACUMEN project aims to boost the amount of energy generated from gas at old landfill sites

June 8th 2015

Six closed landfill sites have been taking part in an EU-funded project which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by capturing the gas produced by the landfills for possible use, instead of being burned off using a gas flare. The £2.2 million project is known as the ACUMEN project and the acronym stands for ‘Assessing, Capturing and Utilising Methane from Expired and Non-operational landfill.’ The ACUMEN project is sponsored by DECC and Defra and led by the Environment Agency, who selected the sites for the project. Five of the closed landfills are in England and the sixth is in Poland. Each of the sites selected for the project is being equipped with different technologies to capture the gas produced by the landfills and reduce emissions of methane, which is considered to be one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

The problem with landfills that have been closed for a long time is that the methane levels are lower when compared to active landfills – consequently, it has generally been considered too complex and too costly a task to extract and utilise the gas. The new systems will be monitored continuously for two years and the data will be used to identify viable approaches to managing gas economically from old landfill sites and to demonstrate a business case for their wider take up.

In the UK, the closed landfills and local authorities taking part in the project are:

  • Docking and Strumpshaw (Norfolk County Council)
  • Sugden End, Keighley (City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council)
  • Maesbury Road, Oswestry (Shropshire Council)
  • Otterspool (Liverpool City Council)

Docking and Strumpshaw, Norfolk

In Norfolk, the County Council has installed two micro-generation energy systems to recover methane gas at its disused landfill sites at Docking, which was closed in 2000, and Strumpshaw (closed in 1998). Geoff Baxter of the ACUMEN project said that two Stirling engines have been installed at the Docking site, which operate by cyclically compressing and expanding the gas emitted and will capture some of the gas that is currently being flared at the site. “This will be the first time that this type of engine has been installed and used operationally to manage gas at a closed landfill site in the UK,” he said, “and the second time in Europe, and we feel confident that the lessons learnt will be applicable to other closed landfills around the UK.”

Meanwhile, at Strumpshaw, the gas is being piped through a specially developed compost mixture containing bacteria which will help to break down the methane. “Monitoring this closely will allow us to assess the efficiency of bio-oxidation as a way of reducing methane emissions,” Geoff Baxter said.

Norfolk County Council currently generates electricity from landfill gas at five larger closed landfill sites in the county: Beetley, Blackborough End, Costessey, Mayton Wood and Snetterton. Charles Wright, the head of Norfolk County Council’s landfill management team, explained:

“Landfills generate methane for as long as they are breaking down waste. Speeding up the waste degradation process helps the restoration of landfills but this can also lead to an increase in the quantity of harmful methane emitted. A major part of our job is to manage this process to minimise these emissions and their impact on the environment. One of the best ways of doing this is to convert the gas into energy and we are currently generating about 3.5 mW of electricity from landfill gas at five of our larger sites in Norfolk. That’s the equivalent of running more than a thousand homes and it brings in an income of about £200,000 a year for the council which we use to offset the cost of managing old landfill sites. Docking and Strumpshaw are good examples of smaller, older landfills that have been closed for a very long time, where methane levels are lower and it’s more difficult to extract and utilise the gas. We have a long record of managing gas at these sites and this project will enable us to compare and evaluate the effect of different systems on the landfill sites and the effectiveness of the different methods of using the gas.”

Other UK sites taking part in ACUMEN

Three other closed landfills were selected for the trials of new methane recovery equipment. At the Otterspool closed landfill, owned by Liverpool City Council, the site is being fitted with a prototype low-calorific flare.

At Sugden End, near Keighley, the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council installed a small-scale landfill gas engine in February which will take some of the gas that is currently being flared at the site. The power generation equipment will be there until September, when Bradford Council will decide whether to take the scheme forward. This is the first time that the gas at Sugden End has been used to generate electricity. Richard Longcake, Principal Officer for Waste Management at Bradford Council, said the Council is now generating about 120 kW of electricity from landfill gas into the local power grid network, “which is enough to power around 150 homes.”

At Maesbury Road closed landfill, near Oswestry, Shropshire Council has installed a new bio-oxidation unit which will help to break down the methane. In a similar fashion to the unit that was installed at Strumpshaw last year, the gas will be piped through a specially developed compost mixture containing bacteria. Geoff Baxter of the ACUMEN project said this is the first time that the unit “has been put through it has paces at a landfill in the UK.”

Note

The ACUMEN project is being funded by the EU’s environmental LIFE programme – the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and nature conservation projects throughout the EU. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed some 3,954 projects, contributing approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Ripple Tip, near Ripple, Worcestershire © Copyright Bob Embleton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Ripple Tip on the left is a historic landfill, now used as horse pasture. “The Malvern Hills can be seen in the far distance.”

Some homes in Somerset still not habitable, more than a year after flooding

Delays and lack of coordination blamed for causing further damage to properties

Calls for firefighters to be given statutory responsibility for coordinating flood response

June 4th 2015

Residents on the Somerset Levels are still feeling the impact of last year’s floods which devastated large areas of Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. The Western Daily Press reports that the homes of some residents on the Levels are so badly damaged that they are still unable to return, more than a year on from when the rain stopped.

Much of the clean-up work in the areas affected was done by Richford’s Fire & Flood, a damage management company. The company’s Managing Director, Steven Richford, has now said that the cost of the damage has ended up £100 million more than it should have been because of the fractured response of the authorities and insurance firms to the aftermath of the flooding. In collaboration with Mary Dhonau, the Chair of the Flood Protection Group of the Property Care Association, he has written an open letter to the Government, pointing to the lack of coordination between the various agencies involved, and calling on the Government to draft new legislation that would enforce a joined-up response when dealing with a major flooding event.

Steven Richford said that the lack of a coordinated approach from the organisations involved – such as the Environment Agency, local councils, emergency services, the insurance industry, and damage management firms hired to clear up the damage – resulted in millions of pounds of further damage to homes across the region after the rain stopped and the flood waters receded. Damage management companies were left waiting too long before they could start the work clearing out flooded homes, he said, because of the “broken” response of all the organisations concerned with the aftermath. In some cases it took months to get the last remaining standing water out of flooded homes, and the delays led to damage that could have been avoided.

“Following a major flooding event, if a property is waterlogged for an extended period of time, problems such as mould growth and bacterial contamination can develop,” he explained. “In many cases there can be a time lag of a number of days before the right calls and connections are made to bring in specialists to prevent any secondary damage occurring. Insurers and the damage management sector are already working together to reduce this gap but there is more that can be done by joining up the dots and bringing the Environment Agency and the Fire and Rescue Service into the fold.”

Mary Dhonau said a quicker response could also save the insurance industry money by avoiding the costs incurred when buildings are subjected to prolonged exposure to trapped water.

In their letter to the Government, Mary Dhonau and Steven Richford are calling for a working group to be set up, consisting of the Fire and Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, the Association of British Insurers and the damage management industry. Its remit would be to examine best practice in responding to wide-area flooding and to develop a new collaborative approach to the stabilisation and recovery process. The letter also backs calls from the Fire Brigades Union to be given statutory responsibility for coordinating flood response.

Speaking to the Western Daily Press, a spokesperson for the Fire Brigades Union said: “At present, there is no formal expectation for fire and rescue services to attend floods in England and Wales. The FBU argues that a statutory duty for firefighters to attend floods would help fire and rescue services, other emergency services and the Government as a whole to plan effectively and reduce risk to life and property. Such a duty has already been adopted in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Steven Richford warned that the UK has a finite capacity to respond to wide-area flooding, such as that seen in Somerset last year. A larger scale incident, such as the 2007 floods in Gloucestershire, would stretch that capacity to breaking point, he said.

Somerset Chamber of Commerce carried out a survey of 170 businesses in the immediate aftermath of last year’s floods. It revealed that the cost to businesses in Somerset alone was more than £1.2 million in just six weeks. It also warned that the figures were bound to increase as many businesses said it was too early to gauge the impact of the flooding, with only 71 companies in the county able to estimate the damage at that point. The figures were reported in the Daily Mail in February 2014.

For the full story of the letter written by Mary Dhonau and Steven Richford, see the Western Daily Press.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Map of Somerset Levels by Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright.

The Costs of Flooding – New Research

New study shows global vulnerability to river flooding is declining, but fatalities and economic costs are rising

June 3rd 2015

A team of scientists has carried out new research into the economic and human costs of flooding. The research was carried out by scientists from Columbia University, VU University Amsterdam, Deltares (a research institute in the Netherlands), the insurance firm Munich Re and the Red Cross. The authors say the new study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to show “that trends and fluctuations in vulnerability to river floods around the world can be estimated by dynamic high-resolution modelling of flood hazard and exposure.”

The authors have reproduced historical river flood occurrence using daily climate data for the period 1980 to 2010. According to these figures, reported losses from river flooding on a global scale exceeded $23 billion a year on average, whilst the cost to human life was an average of 5,900 lives lost per annum. The largest single economic loss was a major flooding event in China in 1998, which was recorded as a loss of $40 billion.

Vulnerability

The researchers have also produced data on changes in national and global vulnerability to river flooding over the period. Vulnerability depends on two major factors: population density and flood protection measures. For instance, more people will be impacted by flooding in a densely populated area than in a sparsely populated area, whilst flood protection measures can reduce the extent and severity of flood damage. The study measures vulnerability in two ways: by the number of lives lost relative to the size of the population exposed, and by the costs incurred as a proportion of exposed GDP.

The study finds that the world has reduced its vulnerability to river flooding by 50% between 1980 and 2010, which means that a smaller percentage of the exposed population lose their lives now compared to thirty years ago, and the clean-up costs are lower as a proportion of GDP. The scientists explain the reduction by worldwide improvements to infrastructure, flood defences, health care and channels of communication. However, they also find that the reduction in vulnerability is greater in high-income countries than in low-income countries, though the gap is gradually narrowing, with resilience increasing faster in lower income countries in the twenty-year period from 1980 to 2000.

Despite this reduction, the study finds that the total of reported economic losses and fatalities associated with river floods worldwide are still higher than they were in the 1980s. The pattern of higher losses since the 1980s is apparent in both high-income and low-income countries, as well as globally. In its fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), citing a number of recent studies, has attributed the increase mainly to population growth and economic development in flood-prone areas, and has also warned of the likelihood that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall in some parts of the world, potentially increasing flood risk. The IPCC’s fifth assessment report is available for download as a PDF document.

Adaptation and Forecasts

This new research looks at how the potential increase in flood risk could be reduced by different levels of adaptation. The study presents projections of flood losses and fatalities under 100 individual scenario and model combinations, and three possible global vulnerability scenarios. The first global vulnerability scenario – a low level of adaptation – assumes that the current vulnerability in each income region remains unchanged. With that scenario, annual economic losses from river flooding globally would see an increase in the range of 433% to 2,360% by 2080, compared to 2000 levels. A medium level of adaptation assumes that all countries currently classed as vulnerable (meaning economic and human costs are higher than the global average) raise their resilience to the current global average by 2080. Under that scenario, economic losses would be 48% lower compared to a low level of adaptation. A high level of adaptation assumes that all vulnerable countries increase their resilience to match the average across high-income countries. Under that scenario, economic losses would be 96% lower compared to a low level of adaptation.

The researchers argue that adaptation will be the key to reducing vulnerability to river flooding as the frequency and intensity of flooding rises in the future. However, they also point out that adaptation must go hand in hand with mitigation. Speaking to Carbon Brief, lead researcher Dr Brenden Jongman from VU University Amsterdam said that, in the absence of any mitigation measures, the impact of climate change will continue to increase, which means that investment in resilience will also have to increase, and increase to such an extent that it becomes economically unfeasible to sustain. He also said that the researchers had not carried out a cost-benefit analysis of adaptation in the new study, adding that the costs of such measures are likely to be enormous. The burden will be greatest in poor countries who cannot afford such measures, he said.

The UK

Last year’s Natural Hazards Risk Atlas, produced by the research organisation Verisk Maplecroft, found that the UK is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to economic damage from flooding, ranking seventh in a league table behind the USA, China, India, Bangladesh, Germany and Japan. Population density, building density, and infrastructure built on floodplains were all said to increase the risk of flood damage from heavy rainfall.

The Atlas, which is produced annually, also found that the UK is one of the most vulnerable countries to extra-tropical cyclones, a type of storm that battered the country in the winter of 2013-2014. It said that this type of storm, which features a tight circle of low pressure at its centre, is the most disruptive and costly kind of storm to affect northern Europe, and it also warned that they could become more frequent in the future. The findings were based on an assessment of 197 countries for physical and economic exposure to twelve types of natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, wildfires and volcanoes, as well as cyclones and flooding.

Dr Richard Hewston, Maplecroft’s Principal Environment Analyst, said: “The future scale of the problem will depend heavily on the government continuing to build resilience and apply resources through flood mitigation and risk management schemes.” However, MPs have recently warned that England’s ability to sustain current levels of flood protection faces major risks, following a report by the Public Accounts Committee. The report argued that the Treasury should agree longer budgets for maintenance spending to enable the Environment Agency to develop a long-term plan. Committee member Richard Bacon, concerned about the impact on long-term value for money, said that reducing maintenance could mean new investment in defences is needed sooner than expected.

According to the report, approximately five million properties across the country, or around one in six, are at risk of flooding from coastal, river and surface water – see the Guardian for the full story.

Reference

Jongman et al. (2015) ‘Declining vulnerability to river floods and the global benefits of adaptation.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1414439112.

To read the full article, click here.

Acknowledgement

Photo: Flood damage in the Karlin district of Prague. In August 2002, floods devastated large swathes of Europe. The floods caused considerable damage to the cities of Prague and Dresden. Via Wikimedia, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.