Britain has been hit by damaging flash floods repeatedly over the past 14 years, causing damage to schools, hospitals, and care homes, according to a new study mapping the extent of disruption to services floods cause across the country.
Researchers from a centre-right think tank, Bright Blue, in collaboration with NGO ClimateNode, used artificial intelligence data processing to track thousands of archives of local and national newspapers to create a picture of the impact of flooding in the UK.
The result is an interactive map of the damage. It shows that the UK has experienced flash floods no fewer than 51 times in 14 years.
The study tracks from 2007 because that's the year that “landmark floods prompted the largest peacetime national emergency effort since the Second World War,” the report says. The authors described many of the storm events since, and the resulting floods, as “truly historically exceptional.”
In that time period, at least 15 hospitals have experienced enough flooding to disrupt patient services, 68 schools have had to stop lessons due to floods, and nine care homes and four retirement complexes have been flooded, the study found.
It also highlighted major problems to social care services generally caused by flooding — such as carers not being able to reach patients in rural areas, and loss of power and heating in homes and care homes.
Another issue is “urban drainage” — flooding in the UK has put major pressure on sewage infrastructure and drain systems. The report said that drainage infrastructure is “not keeping up with the pace of change in heavy rainfall events.”
The report's authors described flooding as one of the most serious climate-related risks that Britain faces. The accompanying policy report argued that without better planning for floods, as well as climate adaptation and mitigation, the government’s policy agenda will be difficult to carry out.
Impending flood events will undermine the UK’s house-building agenda and the post COVID-19 “levelling-up” agenda, for example — which is where the government is seeking to invest in and regenerate poorer parts of the country.
The authors recommended that the UK’s response to flooding be more preventative than reactive, local councils should have more funding to deal with flooding, and the register for National Security Risks should include climate-related risks, among other policy recommendations.
In response to the findings, Ryan Shorthouse, the chief executive of Bright Blue, told the Guardian: “The impact of flooding is already being felt deeply in communities across the UK.
“The UK government can and must do much more to better improve the resilience of local communities, businesses, public services, and critical infrastructure to flooding,” he continued.