London Assembly urges Mayor to develop a new approach to climate change adaptation

“This is an urgent call ahead of the Paris Climate Change summit”

Nov 28th 2015

The London Assembly has passed a motion calling on London’s Mayor to take action on climate change in the city. The motion was intended to put pressure on the Mayor in the run up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The Assembly wants the Mayor to develop a new London risk-based strategic approach to climate change adaptation.

Speaking as an Assembly Member, Murad Qureshi said: “The rationale behind this motion and the timing of it is down essentially to a Met Office warning which was recently issued on the 9th of November, that we’re set to breach the one degree threshold for global warming. That’s above the pre-industrial levels and it would mean that the world is already halfway towards the two degree centigrade that it is felt by the experts is the gateway to dangerous global warming. With the UN climate change conference in a few weeks’ time, it is also a time for the Mayor to say a few things and leave a legacy. Global warming is a permanent threat to the health, wellbeing and safety of Londoners.”

Assembly Member Darren Johnson said: “This is an urgent call ahead of the Paris Climate Change summit. This Mayor of London and the next Mayor need to show real leadership. We need drastic reduction in the capital’s carbon emissions, as well as comprehensive programmes to make London resilient to the growing risks of floods and heatwaves.”

The motion notes that “London is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change. We are more vulnerable to heat than surrounding areas, due to the Urban Heat Island effect; a significant proportion of our critical infrastructure is already at risk of flooding and/or overheating; and we are already in an area of Serious Water Stress. Human-influenced climate change will exacerbate these problems, posing a threat to the health, wellbeing and safety of Londoners, and to the capital’s supply chains and key industries.”

The motion goes on to say that “despite these challenges, the Mayor’s two terms of office have been characterised by drift, as environmental concerns have been relegated to the deep recesses of the City Hall policy agenda.” Poor air quality, the failure to deliver affordable and low carbon decentralised energy schemes, and missing targets for cutting carbon emissions are all cited as causes for concern.

With regard to action, the motion lists five initiatives:

  • Cleaning up London’s toxic air
  • Tackling fuel poverty
  • Delivering a new settlement on climate change
  • Making London a centre for environmental innovation
  • Developing a new London risks-based strategic approach to climate change adaptation

It urges the next Mayor to prioritise these initiatives in order to “restore London’s reputation as a progressive, sustainable, forward thinking city that will take the difficult decisions necessary to improve the lives of all Londoners.” Assembly Member Stephen Knight said: “It is essential that a city like London gives leadership on this issue in the run up to the Paris summit. Europe as a whole has been better than many other parts of the world in coming forward with plans.”

To read the motion in full, see the London Assembly press release.

Environment Agency sets out plans for £92 million Boston Barrier flood defence scheme

Boston Barrier is designed to reduce the risk of tidal flooding

Nov 27th 2015

The Environment Agency is holding a series of events starting this month to explain its plans for the proposed £92 million Boston Barrier flood defence scheme. The Boston flood barrier is designed to reduce the risk of tidal flooding, such as the floods that occurred during a tidal surge in December 2013.

The Agency has been meeting prospective companies this month to discuss the design and construction of the flood barrier before the formal tendering process begins. It is planning to submit a Transport and Works Order application for the work in the spring of 2016 and hopes to have a contractor in place by the summer to work on the design in more detail. Subject to the necessary planning approvals, the anticipated start date for construction of the Boston Barrier is late 2017, with final completion expected by December 2019.

The Agency is holding a series of six events in the region to explain its plans in more detail. Adam Robinson, Boston Barrier Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “This is the last opportunity people living in Boston and the surrounding communities have to see the plans to reduce the risk of tidal flooding prior to our Transport and Works Act Order application being submitted to the Government in spring 2016. This barrier will give the area one of the best standards of tidal flood defence outside of London, so we’d like as many people as possible to take a look at the proposals.”

There will also be a public consultation on the proposed construction work and the Agency is hoping the local community will bring to its attention any relevant issues. As part of its plans to raise awareness of the scheme, the Agency has a Facebook page with information explaining the flood defence scheme in more detail, including an animated video showing the latest design changes. For more information, see the Boston Barrier Facebook page.


Photo: River Haven and waterfront, Boston, Lincolnshire © Copyright Rodney Burton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Committee on Climate Change publishes new research into impact of climate change on the UK

New studies prepare the UK for extreme weather, focusing on flood risk and drought

Nov 26th 2015

The Committee on Climate Change has published the findings of four research projects which were commissioned by its Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC). The research will feed into the UK Government’s climate change risk assessment in 2017. Two of the research projects were concerned with preparing the UK for two water extremes: flood and drought.

David Style from the Committee on Climate Change says that both sets of water-related projections address uncertainty by considering a range of possible scenarios, “based on differing levels of climate change, population growth, and adaptation effort.”

The research on flood risk was carried out by Sayers and Partners. The study predicts that by the 2050s nearly half a million more homes will be at a significant risk of flooding (at a 1 in 75 or greater chance of flooding in any given year). David Style says: “This takes into account current approaches to flood risk management and assumes these continue. In more extreme climate change scenarios, if global temperatures increase by 4°C rather than 2°C by the 2080s, and if population growth is high, then this figure increases to more than a million additional homes.”

To fully offset the increase in risk expected under a 2°C climate change projection, the study says that a much wider uptake of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and property-level protection measures would be needed, as well as additional investment in maintaining and enhancing flood defences. David Style says that under a 4°C climate change projection, not even this enhanced level of adaptation would be sufficient to completely offset the increase in risk.

The research also considers the consequences should existing coastal defences fail as sea levels rise. “A 0.5 to 1 metre rise in sea levels,” says David Style, “which is plausible by the end of the century, would make around 200km of coastal defences (20%) highly vulnerable to failure. This would lead to 200,000 hectares of land and 400,000 properties being at risk of a 1-in-200 year tidal surge, as experienced in January 1953 and December 2013. Localities with the highest number of properties at risk in this scenario include Cleethorpes, Fleetwood, Weston-Super-Mare, Eastbourne, Burnham-on-Sea, Bognor Regis, Worthing, Bridgewater and New Romney.”

The second research project, carried out by HR Wallingford, looks at the impact of climate change and population growth on water resources. The research predicts that, as global temperatures increase and the UK population grows, increases in demand for water will be accompanied by decreases in water availability due to climate change. Supply-demand deficits, with demand outstripping supply, are projected to be widespread by the 2050s.

“Overall,” says David Style, “further adaptation is needed to offset the projected increases in risk from both flooding and water scarcity even under a 2°C temperature rise scenario.” He points out that water-related risks (flood and drought) are considered in isolation, but there are clearly benefits in addressing them together in some parts of the country: “For example, approaches to natural flood management, such as peatland restoration, can help store rainwater in upland areas and help recharge aquifers. SuDS in urban areas slow down and capture rainwater, allowing it to filter into the ground, rather than add to river levels or sewer overspills and be flushed out to sea.”

On flood risk, he says the key message from the study is clear: “Avoiding significantly more flood damage means keeping global increases in temperature to no more than 2°C, while also investing in and delivering stronger flood risk management policies and plans across the country.”

For further details of the research, see the Climate Change Committee website.


The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change was established under the 2008 Climate Change Act to provide the UK Government with independent, evidence-based advice on preparing for climate change. The Committee consists of experts from the fields of science, engineering, economics, urban planning and public health.


Photograph: Dry field of wheat, Bilsington, Kent © Copyright Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Severn Trent plans for climate change

Severn Trent says plans will deliver more sustainable approaches to drainage

Nov 25th 2015

Severn Trent Water says it intends to double the number of sustainable urban drainage (SuDS) projects in the next few years as a result of climate change. The plans have been set out in a new report which sets out the company’s climate change adaptation plans to 2020.

The report identifies a number of threats from climate change, including increased heavy rainfall events which will increase surface water run-off from land, and increased concentrations of pollutants such as pesticides and nitrates entering watercourses which will decrease raw water quality. The report also says increased temperatures could have an impact on water treatment because of an increase in bacteriological growth.

The company plans to invest over £230 million in water treatment works to improve treatment processes and reduce risk. It is also investing £250 million in providing an alternative water supply to the West Midlands via the Birmingham Resilience Project. Other plans include measures to improve water quality, reduce leakages, and improve local river environments. But Severn Trent says its plans are not only concerned with traditional hard engineering projects. Its plans also include more innovative types of intervention to manage future climate change, such as a significant research and development programme and working in partnerships to deliver more sustainable approaches to drainage.

Severn Trent also says in its report that wide reforms are needed to the legislative and regulatory framework to improve the ways in which the whole water industry adapts to climate change. It says the framework still operates in favour of more connections to sewers, at a time when the burden on the sewerage system is rising with climate change. The company believes either the automatic right to connect to sewer systems should be completely removed, or charges for connecting new developments should reflect the full costs that they impose on the sewerage system. Both these options, it says, would lead to more sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS).

To read the full report, see the PDF document on the Severn Trent website.


River Severn in Shrewsbury, February 2014, after a sustained period of heavy rainfall caused flooding in the town and in many other parts of the UK. Coastal areas and transport infrastructure were also severely disrupted by strong winds and tidal flooding.

Housing Bill comes under scrutiny from Public Bill Committee

Planners say Government’s Housing Bill represents “the end of English discretionary planning”

Nov 24th 2015

Representatives of six bodies including town and rural planners gave evidence last week to the Public Bill Committee scrutinising the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. Representatives from the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Planning Officers Society, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Historic England were all questioned by a group of seventeen MPs on whether the measures in the Bill would be effective in delivering new homes whilst giving adequate protection to designated areas and the historic environment. Brandon Lewis, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, was also questioned.

Much of the debate focused on the Bill’s measures to promote the development of starter homes, whether starter homes could be counted as affordable housing, and whether starter homes would “crowd out” other forms of affordable housing, such as housing to rent. The question of how to define affordability was also debated, and the Planning Minister Brandon Lewis cited figures to demonstrate that starter homes in certain areas were indeed affordable. On the Bill’s emphasis on brownfield development, the proposed local authority register of brownfield land was broadly welcomed by all the witnesses, although some had reservations as to how the “permission in principle” idea would work in practice.

Trudi Elliott, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said many of the challenges of housing delivery were outside the issues in the Bill, “including access to finance and a skills shortage right through the supply chain.” This was reflected in the figures for development starts and completions when compared with planning permissions, she said: “As a result of previous changes, planning permissions per year are up to 242,000, whereas completions or starts have got up to only between 131,000 and 133,000”. She also highlighted the shortage of resources in planning departments across the country: “There has been a 37% cut in resources going into planning, particularly development management.” Planning officers have managed to keep the statutory targets (the granting of permissions) on target, she said, but the shortage of resources is having an impact on both pre-application work and post-planning permission work. Kevin Hollinrake MP said the question of resources was a matter for local authorities to prioritise: “Some local authorities have reduced resources within their planning departments back to 50%,” he said.

The RTPI is calling for an amendment to the Bill which would place more restrictions on the “permission in principle” applied to brownfield land. Trudi Elliott said not all brownfield land is the same: “Part of the reason why brownfield land has not been developed is the constraints of the site,” she said. “The Government have been looking at the criteria to address that. We think accessibility needs to be added to the proposed criteria – it is a massive issue for place making. If we do not link homes to jobs, we really are in a difficult situation. The other challenge we have on place making is linking up homes, jobs and the infrastructure required and when that infrastructure goes in.” However, Brownfield Briefing has pointed out that the RTPI has not called for the same restrictions to be placed on greenfield sites, “which are far more likely to have limited access to public transport or employment areas.”

Speaking for the Town and Country Planning Association, its Head of Policy Dr Hugh Ellis said the Bill signalled a radical change to planning processes and the end of English discretionary planning. “The powers in the Bill on permission in principle are extraordinary,” he said. “They apply to all land and all forms of development contained in the appropriate documents, which is all development plans. There has been a very strong narrative that this will only apply to housing, and only to a small number of houses, but the permission in principle idea, which is as close to zonal planning as we have got in this country, gives the Government the power at any time to introduce it to all forms of development. For example, fracking could easily be a part of it in a minerals plan.”

He continued: “Anyone who does planning will tell you that you cannot make a decision in principle about a site until you know the detail of its flood risk appraisal and the degree of affordable housing you want on the site. To try to split principle and detail as if they are not connected in reality is extremely dangerous. Understanding the principle of a site means you have to understand the detail of its implications.”

Speaking for the CPRE, its Chief Executive Shaun Spiers pointed to a statement in the impact assessment recently published by the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) – see our news item “DCLG says a million homes on brownfield land is ‘wildly over optimistic'” for more details. The statement says “we have wildly exaggerated the availability of brownfield sites,” he said. And he continued: “We did research with the University of the West of England to show that there was enough suitable brownfield land, most of it already in planning, to provide 975,000 homes, and that the stock is constantly replenished. We do not understand why the impact assessment queries that, because we have never seen any analysis from the Government to query it. That aside, the fact of the brownfield register is a positive thing. It will make smaller sites available for small builders, which is a big need – possibly for self-builders. I think that when the brownfield register is completed it will entirely verify our 1 million figure.”

Shaun Spiers said the CPRE is “extremely concerned about the fact that local authorities will be required to commit to implausibly high housing numbers – sometimes double the average housing output over the past 15 years – which will mean they will have to release sites, sometimes in the Green Belt and sometimes in Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, which will then be developed by developers and the brownfield sites will go to waste. You cannot crack this problem unless you also look at how the housing numbers are calculated.”

The CPRE has also expressed a concern that the Bill does not address the problem of affordable homes in rural areas. Shaun Spiers said that the measures to develop starter homes will limit other forms of development, as “the local authority will have a duty to provide starter homes.”

Speaking for the Planning Officers Association, Mike Kiely said there should be a proper debate about the inclusion of housing in nationally significant infrastructure projects, as the measures suggest that “up to 500 housing units completely unrelated to the nationally significant infrastructure project can be given consent just because it is nearby.” On the “permission in principle” idea, he said: “Permission in principle is a potentially good idea that is in danger of going off the rails. It would be wrong if we see it as a move to a sort of zoning principle… It is a fundamentally different way of going about things.” Mike Kiely also pointed out that the Bill was inaccurate on its statement of assessing housing land availability. “The people who drafted the Bill have misread the national planning policy framework,” he said. “On when a strategic housing land availability assessment needs to be produced, it talks of looking at sites larger than 0.25 hectares that are capable of taking at least five units. The threshold is a quarter of a hectare, not five units.” Producing a brownfield register for land capable of producing five units would be an impossible burden on local authorities, he said, as “frankly, every site in London is capable of taking five units… If the threshold is at 0.25 hectares, that is manageable.”

To read the debate in full, see the PDF on the Parliament website.


Photo: Big Ben by Carlesmari via Wikimedia Commons, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

SoBRA conference will discuss “Current Issues in Contaminated Land Risk Assessment”

SoBRA AGM and Conference will be held in London next month

Nov 21st 2015

SoBRA (the Society of Brownfield Risk Assessment) is holding its AGM next month. The event will take place on Wednesday, December 16th 2015, at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) premises in London.

In collaboration with the RSC Toxicology Group, SoBRA will also be holding a conference on the same day, titled “Current Issues in Contaminated Land Risk Assessment.” The conference will include a poster display covering a range of key research topics and case studies. The topics to be discussed include:

  • An update on Defra and the Environment Agency’s activities in contaminated land risk assessment
  • Human health risk assessment regarding contaminated land: the state of the art
  • The potential for airborne asbestos from soil contamination
  • Landfill risk assessment

SoBRA’s Vice Chair, Lucy Thomas, will also be giving a talk next month on ‘Asbestos: How to investigate a brownfield site safely.’ The event has been organised by the Geological Society and will take place in Warrington on December 3rd 2015.

For further information on these events, see the SoBRA website.

CIRIA publishes new guidance on sustainable drainage systems

CIRIA describes SuDS Manual as “the one-stop shop for the delivery of sustainable drainage systems”

Nov 19th 2015

CIRIA has published a revised edition of the SuDS Manual which it describes as the “one-stop shop for the delivery of SuDS” and “the most comprehensive industry SuDS guidance available in the UK.” First published by CIRIA in 2007, the revised guidance focuses on the cost-effective planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS).

CIRIA says “sustainable drainage systems recognise the value of rainwater, seeking to capture, use, delay or absorb it, rather than reject it as a nuisance or a problem. Sustainable drainage delivers multiple benefits. As well as delivering high quality drainage whilst supporting areas to cope better with severe rainfall, SuDS can also improve the quality of life in developments and urban spaces by making them more vibrant, visually attractive, sustainable and resilient to change by improving urban air quality, regulating building temperatures, reducing noise and delivering recreation and education opportunities.”

The updated manual incorporates the latest research, industry practice and guidance. CIRIA says: “In delivering SuDS there is a requirement to meet the framework set out by the Government’s ‘non statutory technical standards’ and the revised SuDS Manual complements these but goes further to support the cost-effective delivery of multiple benefits.”

CIRIA’s Paul Shaffer says: “The SuDS Manual reflects CIRIA’s stance that well designed SuDS deliver multiple benefits, as well as manage local flood risk. The Manual is the cornerstone of CIRIA’s work on SuDS that includes the BeST project (Benefits of SuDS Tool), susdrain, CIRIA’s SuDS training, and an extensive catalogue of SuDS-related guidance. CIRIA is also developing future work to improve SuDS construction, planning and assessment providing the industry with the competence and confidence to embrace SuDS fully.”

Water Briefing says the new manual has been welcomed by industry experts for “heralding a more pragmatic approach that could help to get more SuDS schemes delivered in future.” The publication was helped by a project steering group which provided valuable industry input, and the revised manual includes chapters devoted to proprietary treatment systems and flow control techniques.

The explanatory text and illustrations for those chapters were provided by Hydro International, and its Stormwater Regional Technical Manager, Mark Goodger, was a member of the project steering group. He commented: “CIRIA are to be commended on delivering an excellent document through widespread industry consultation. I would urge every consulting engineer and local authority to take note of the updated document, which will no doubt continue to be a seminal reference guide not only in the design of new developments, but also for local planning and lead local flood authorities as they interpret and implement schemes locally in the light of the regulations in place in England, Scotland and Wales.”

The updated SuDS Manual (C753) was released on 12 November. The publication was collaboratively funded and is free to download from the CIRIA website.


CIRIA is the Construction Industry Research and Information Association. It is an independent, not-for-profit association whose aim is to link organisations with common interests and to facilitate a range of collaborative activities that help to improve the construction industry.