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WSP using latest technology and community partnerships to address future climate change impact

Engineering and planning consultancy WSP is working with Yorkshire communities and businesses to embrace “future ready” programmes to help combat predicted flooding and drought caused by extreme weather anomalies.

As demonstrated by this weekend’s flood alerts across the region, whilst warning systems, defences and outcomes are improving, there is still more work to be done.

WSP is currently leading a review for the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change into how climate change is affecting the natural and built environment, including infrastructure. On such a complex, multi-sector issue, the review is allowing for the widest engagement possible.

Its Leeds flooding and drainage team is currently involved in more than a dozen flood management schemes across Yorkshire and is already working with several communities to achieve common goals on future water management. One of these communities is Otley, where WSP are working with Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency to help solve the flooding that occurred in the winter of 2015/16, which across the UK, cost an estimated £1.3-1.6bn in economic damage.

WSP Flooding & Drainage Lead Paul Swift said: “It’s clear from the outset, the responsibility for addressing flooding and change must be shared. As extreme weather events proliferate and intensify, those responsible for flooding and water management will be unable to build ever-higher barriers to prevent flooding or protect us completely from drought. We must adapt and we need to do it together.

He continued: “The north of England is criss-crossed by rivers and streams with lots of opportunities for water retention, along with a coastline threatened by climate-related sea level rises. The power of having a more resilient community has already been amply demonstrated in York and Leeds, and in rural areas such as the Aire and Calder river valleys.

“As we know York is no stranger to flooding. Some of its historic inns, situated on the River Ouse waterfront, have interior layouts designed for swift recovery from flood – the result of many years’ experience of high waters.

“Yorkshire Water has also been building on this spirit of resilience, working with stakeholders including householders, business owners, councils and environmental groups.”
Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) have also been set up by the Government to help co-ordinate flood risk management and widen the scope of flood schemes to link them with health, housing, employment, education and leisure provision.

Another example is the Wortley Beck Catchment Project in Leeds which brings together the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, local flood groups, Leeds University and Leeds City Council; all working towards a single long-term plan, from which everyone can benefit.

“This is totally in accord with our WSP ‘Future Ready’ approach – which is about making sure our societies are ready for today’s and tomorrow’s future challenges,” said Paul. “Catchment planning embodies the type of wider engagement that leads to a far better understanding of the steps that communities need to take to become Future Ready – the people who know what’s best for their locality are those who live and work there.

“In Leeds, hit so hard by flooding in 2015, we have been advising on another catchment, the Wyke Beck Corridor Catchment Schemes, that are reconnecting communities with the river, while at the same time assuring economic growth through the development of a commercial corridor.”

The projects include creating wetlands and de-culverting watercourses to promote bio-diversity, improving existing drainage systems, and developing natural flood defences such as rivers, streams and ponds. Environmental modelling, ecological assessments, local planning, land ownership and topography, are all part of the equation.

But we must tackle these floods from every angle and one of those is the better use of digital technologies.

Drone technology and digital design to conduct land and during and after flood surveys and compare the merits of alternative water management schemes are becoming common place, allowing hard to access areas to be properly captured and data calculations to be speeded up.

By creating 3D visualisations, including ‘fly-through’ sequences, it shows what new infrastructure, such as a flood barrier, might look like; allowing engineers the public and indeed politicians the chance to see how it could work, and what it could achieve. By using these tools, we are allowing the public to become more engaged with flooding, which will enable them to better understand the impacts and allow themselves to take their own necessary steps to make themselves resilient.

Social media is playing its part by bringing communities and stakeholders together – sharing and discussing ideas and options – an approach that is proving helpful for LLFAs in determining future strategy in the Wyke Beck Valley.

Paul concluded:

“A lot more work has been undertaken in Yorkshire since the 2015 floods but this weekend’s floods demonstrated how some of our communities and regional infrastructure still remain at risk.
However, he added: “This weekend should also act a timely reminder that there is still more work to be done so more homes and livelihoods across Yorkshire can be protected from the ever-changing weather patterns we will be facing in the future.”

• As a result of winter storms in 2015/16, 16,000 properties in England were flooded. A further 20,000 properties were protected by existing flood defences.

• The government has invested nearly £200 million in recovery following on Storms Eva and Desmond in 2016, with more than £40 million to repair and improve flood defences.

• Following the aftermath of the storms a further £3.3m was announced to rebuild the collapsed bridge in Tadcaster and provide a temporary footbridge to link up the divided town’s community.

• In January 2016, the Government announced an additional £5.5 million of funding to enable Calderdale Council to rebuild Elland Bridge in Calderdale, West Yorkshire and build a temporary footbridge.

• Highway England backed by £40 million of emergency government funding has helped communities recover from floods by assisting with repairs to damaged transport links.

• Leeds’ Flood Alleviation Scheme 1 and 2 is safeguarding 22,000 jobs and a further 300,000 homes will be protected by 2021.