Summer 2004

Foresight: Future Flooding report

Article by Graham Lymbery, Project Leader, Coastal Defence, Sefton Council

You may recall a number of news articles in April of 2004 referring to the risk of flooding and how this was going to increase in the future. These articles were based on a report commissioned by Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Office of Science and Technology. He asked the Foresight Flood and Coastal Defence project to consider:

  • How might the risks of flooding and coastal erosion change in the UK over the next 100 years?
  • What are the best options for Government and the private sector for responding to future challenges?

    In order to consider these questions the project considered four scenarios that reflected different approaches to governance and different societal values; each of these scenarios was then linked to different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The future effects of these scenarios are then considered in relation to economic cost, risks to people and property, risks from increased coastal erosion and risks to the environment.

    Under all the scenarios the flood risk increases, however the level of increases varies greatly depending on the scenario and the level of emissions, this risk is expressed in terms of annual losses (currently 1,400 million) and ranges from an increase of less than 1 billion to just under 27 billion. The project then considered possible responses to mitigate this increase in risk such as increased expenditure on coastal defences, changes in land-use planning and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. These responses were then considered within each scenario and assessed against economic, social and environmental sustainability criteria. This highlighted a number of responses that were more suitable than others, such as land-use planning, changes to building regulations and catchment wide storage; it also highlighted the importance of careful implementation of these responses as this could alter their effectiveness.

    Flooding of Marine Drive 1989 The report then poses a number of questions for policy makers relating to our approach to flood management and what standards are acceptable, as ever money is limited and the costs associated with these decisions have to be balanced against other spending needs such as health and education. The implications of this report now need to be considered not only in terms of implications on policy but also on research, extension of the work to specific areas and informing the climate change agenda.

    This represents a brief summary of a very comprehensive and readable report; if this has stimulated your interest the executive summary is available on the web at

    What does this mean for Sefton?

    The future is uncertain and cannot be predicted, this is why we need to consider scenarios that indicate general trends rather than precise outcomes. What we can do is to increase our confidence in what is going to happen by increasing our knowledge and understanding of coastal processes. This improved understanding of coastal processes can be linked to Government sponsored research, such as the report discussed above, to develop scenarios specific to the Sefton coast. Sefton Council has for many years striven to improve its understanding of coastal processes and continues to do so.

    This improved understanding can then be used to inform the development of policies at a local level and also to inform the Councils response to consultations on Government policy. The timescale of 100 years may not seem relevant when discussing policy but when considering the responses to this increased risk many have a long lead-in time; at a national and global level reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will only be effective in the long term, even if we started now we are unlikely to see any benefits until 2050; at a local and national level decisions relating to land-use and to the funding and building of coastal defences can take decades with the results of these decisions lasting many more decades. By developing sustainable policies that can cope with a range of scenarios and are based on our best understanding of the environment we can reduce the effect of this increasing risk for future generations of Sefton residents.