Understanding risk essential at time of climate change and rising tide of claims
Rita Gavin helping her sister Marian Gavin and her nephew Jack Gavin clear water from their basement apartment on Ballybough Road, Dublin, after flooding in July 2009 photograph:: alan betson
Background:We must become much more aware of coastal erosion and rising sea levels
It is more than six years since Hugh McElvaney, leader of the Fine Gael group on Monaghan County Council, was told that land proposed for rezoning outside Ballybay was located in a floodplain, and he responded by suggesting that houses could be “built on stilts”.
Now the policy is that development in areas with a high probability of flooding “should be avoided and/or only considered in exceptional circumstances, such as in city and town centres” or essential infrastructure that cannot be be located elsewhere.
“Understanding flood risk is an essential step in managing the associated impacts of flooding,” according to the Planning System and Flood Risk Management guidelines issued in November 2009 by then minister for the environment John Gormley.
“The effects of climate change, such as more severe rainfall events and rising sea levels, will increase these risks and may put other areas at risk that may not have flooded in the past ... Adapting to the reality of climate change, therefore, requires us to be even more vigilant.”
The guidelines warn that rising sea levels and more frequent and more severe coastal storms will “significantly increase” the risk of flooding. The consequential economic impacts “are expected to multiply over the next century” in Dublin and other coastal areas.
For example, the flooding that happened in Dublin in 2002, when a one-metre surge coincided with one of the highest spring tides of the year, “could change from a relatively rare to a more common occurrence”. Therefore, “a precautionary approach should be adopted”.
According to the guidelines, “development should be designed with careful consideration of possible future changes in flood risk,including the effects of climate change and/or coastal erosion so that future occupants are not subject to unacceptable risks”.
Furthermore, it is up to applicants for planning permission for development to “identify and assess all sources of flood risk”, including the impact of their plans on surface water drainage. They may also be required to submit an “appropriate flood-risk assessment”.
The guidelines note that transport and utilities can be particularly vulnerable to flooding – “a key lesson learned from recent floods in Ireland when national primary roads and railway lines were flooded”, and the summer 2007 floods in Britain which disrupted water supplies.
Indeed, the Association of British Insurers said large areas of the UK were likely to become uninsurable because of the higher risk of flooding due to climate change. In several areas affected by coastal erosion the policy was now one of “planned retreat”.
In Ireland €1.2 billion has been paid out on weather-related claims over the past four years, according to the Irish Insurance Federation (IIF).