Planning to engage flood risk communities

Community Resilience Manager Paul Laidlaw from the Scottish Flood Forum tells us about challenges we face in managing flood risk in Scotland.


Scottish Flood Forum engages flood risk communities

When I attended the BEF event on barriers to community engagement in planning I was struck by the similarity in issues having worked in the community development field for 15 years. I immediately thought of the Housing Scotland Act 2001 as the first piece of legislation introduced by the Scottish Parliament bringing in new rights for tenants and responsibilities for registered social landlords. In this sector, they embarked on a participation and engagement journey back in 2001 and there is much that can be learned as planning in Scotland prepares for reform and change.

The SFF is a charity that is committed to supporting flood risk communities. We do this by working promote a better understanding of the risks and consequences of flooding and provide dedicated flood recovery and resilience services to at risk communities and our partners.

There is clear evidence that flooding is increasing in Scotland and across the world with flooding now rated as a high risk in the UK Governments climate change risk assessment. These risks pose significant challenges but with the introduction of Scotland’s flood risk management plans in 2016 we are in a better position to understand and manage flood risk.

The scale of the challenges we face in managing flood risk can be summarised with some statistics from Scotland’s flood risk management plans. These show that there are:

  • 108,000 properties at risk of flooding
  • Expected annual damages are estimated at £252 million
  • 14 new flood warning schemes are planned
  • 42 formal flood protection schemes or works are planned
  • 79% of our flood risk comes from river and surface water
  • 2000km of our road network is at risk from flooding
  • 500km of rail passes through high risk areas
  • 200,000 hectares of agricultural land at risk of flooding.

There are many questions for governments, landowners, property owners, planners and local authorities in how we manage flood risk, communicate effectively and engage flood risk communities.  Access to affordable insurance continues to be an issue for flood risk communities but the introduction of floodre recently is helping to bring down the cost of insurance for at risk properties. Flooding can have many impacts on the built environment both historic and contemporary, and SFF experience shows that the psychological and social impacts on communities are often underestimated. One area being developed in Scotland is property level flood protection products that homeowners can buy and install that can help to reduce the impact of flooding and a code of practice for resilience measures is being investigated to improve how the built environment can withstand and recover from flooding.

The SFF works to support a network of approximately 50 community flood resilience groups who volunteer to represent their communities and take actions to reduce flood risk by working in partnership with key agencies. Local groups regularly engage with planning issues when new housing developments come up for consideration as a development of more than five houses automatically triggers a flood risk assessment and should not increase flood risk.

Stonehaven Flood Action Group is one such group who work to represent their flood risk community and are engaging with the Stonehaven Flood Protection Scheme. This scheme is reaching the end of a lengthy consultation process and the group gave direct input to the public hearing to hear objections to the scheme. The group weighed up many issues and eventually supported the scheme after careful consideration of the benefits to the flood risk community and their memories of the 2012 Stonehaven floods, where people watched as their children’s Christmas presents were ruined by flood water.

The SFF recently launched a pilot good practice framework (GPF) to support engagement with flood risk communities in partnership with the National Centre For Resilience (NCR). The GPF is made up of lots of useful information to support organisations think about the different ways they can engage flood risk communities such as case studies, information notes, check lists, templates and more. The four case studies outline a range of successful methods to engage flood risk communities to take positive action and work in partnership. The four case studies include examples of the SFF supporting partnership working with flood risk communities and concrete examples of communities working to increase their resilience to flooding in Stonehaven, Edzell, Aberfeldy and Menstrie.

The SFF are committed to supporting engagement with flood risk communities and the GPF offers a range of soft guidance to support local authority staff and others with an interest in high quality engagement. The GPF offers information on starting community flood resilience groups, setting up a flood warden scheme, partnership working, developing community flood plans and a set of draft principles that can help to provide a strong foundation to develop engagement with flood risk communities.

James Cascio, author and futurist said: – “Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive”.

There are many challenges in engaging flood risk communities, but with the right commitment, leadership and dedicated support for at risk neighborhoods, they can thrive as cooperative and resilient areas that contribute important social value to Scotland by being better prepared for future flood risk”.

For more information on the GPF or engaging flood risk communities’ contact: