Changing construction rules for a new climate – Building for the future weather

We are now close to the end of December. The weather has been cold, but very cold. I think that there have only been a few days when you have had to scrape frost off the windscreen of your car. In this cold weather most of us have forgotten about the floods that affect so many people in England in the summer, which happened after the wettest three months from May to July that the country has ever recorded.

Our infrastructure – the drains, sewers, roads and buildings, were not designed to cope with this level of water. Thirteen people died, 48,000 homes were damaged and 7,000 businesses were damaged. The emergencies services were stretched beyond their limits and how well they managed to alleviate suffering was remarkable because without their dedication death and destruction would have been much greater. 

The official interim report by Sir Michael Pitt for the Cabinet Office states that the floods cannot be directly attributed to climate change. I cannot see how this claim can be made. I suspect that this wet weather is directly attributable to climate change. The scale of the floods was well outside the normal range of weather events that we experience. 

That said, the Pitt Review does say that the floods are indicative of what we can expect as a result of climate change in the future and that we need to act now to prevent such events from affecting us so badly in future. We can expect not only more flooding but also rising sea levels, more coastal erosion, stronger storm surges, higher winds and greater weather variation at the extremes than we have been used to, as the planet gets warmer.  

Sir Michael Pitt makes around 87 recommendations but central to all of them is the need to improve infrastructure to make it fit for what will happen over the next hundred years. We need to build roads, railways, buildings, drains sewers and flood defences not for our traditional temperate climate but for what will be a harsher climate where extremes will feature much more than they do now. 

In Victorian times London built huge sewers to cope with the removal of waste from millions of Londoners. They were “over engineered” and as such still work well today.  They were copied in most British conurbations and not only did the building of them bring relief from disease and smells, but it brought relief that with little maintenance still lasts today. 

We need to over engineer our infrastructure and our buildings today. Cheap and nasty will not be able to withstand what our future weather will throw at it.