Understanding risk essential at time of climate change and rising tide of claims
This includes the two largest insurance losses on record – for the flooding in November 2009 (€244 million) and the “ice period” in late 2009/early 2010 (€297million).
“Whatever side you’re on in the climate change debate, we’re seeing more frequent costly weather-related claims”, said the IIF’s Michael Horan.
Asked if parts of Ireland could become uninsurable due to repeated flooding, he replied: “Insurance is the business of covering risks, not inevitable events.”
Otherwise, “premiums would skyrocket”, he warned. “In some areas of the country where we have inevitable flooding, flood insurance is increasingly unviable. But we’re working with the Office of Public Works so that insurance companies can take flood defences into account in assessing risk.”
The report of the Flood Policy Review Group, approved by the government in 2004, highlighted “the need to pro-actively manage floodrisk”.
This led to the OPW becoming the lead agency for implementing flood-risk management policy and devise appropriate responses – including flood defences.
Under the EU floods directive the OPW is developing a series of river catchment-based flood-risk management plans in partnership with local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant departments to give “strategic direction” to the efforts (see cfram.ie).
The 2009 planning guidelines aim to avoid “inappropriate development” in areas at risk of flooding as well as new developments that could increase flood risks elsewhere and to “ensure effective management of residual risks for development permitted in floodplains”.
“By retaining open spaces for storage and conveyance of flood water, flood risk to both upstream and downstream areas can be more effectively managed without reliance on flood defences.
“This is an important element of the ... philosophy of ‘leaving space for water’.”
The new buzz term in flood management is sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), which are designed to reduce run-off so that surface water drains do not become overloaded, as well as improving water quality and contributing to local amenity.
Referring to the trend of paving front gardens to provide off-street car parking, the Department of the Environment pledged to to review exempted development regulations “to ensure that only those complying with sustainable drainage principles will be exempted”.
However, a spokesman said this review “has not been prioritised” by the department. Instead it concentrated on street design in residential and mixed-use areas to promote pedestrian and cycle use, and a new Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets is to be published next month.
Apart from providing ponds and swales to contain excess water, the guidelines cite a “small-scale yet practical example” of SuDS in using permeable pavements – rather than concrete or Tarmac – to reduce run-off rates and the volumes of water flowing from car parks and access roads.