Dr Justin Butler, Ambiental CEO, discusses the catastrophic flooding caused by Storm Frank in the north of England in 2015, on Sky News.
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News Presenter: I think now we should read this morning because obviously we know that storm Frank, or at least part of the sort of trail ends of storm Frank as it’s a lot further north the eye of the storm if you like, but it’s had a dramatic effect on Ireland, the whole island of Ireland through the night and there are now concerns for Cumbria and particularly looking really bad for parts of Western Scotland this morning. Well, let’s head down to Brighton towards a Dr Justin Butler, Managing Director of a flood risk consultancy firm and a good morning to you.
People are going to be looking at flood risk a lot more closely I think then they ever have before when it comes to buying or even renting out there.
Dr Justin Butler: Yes very much so. I mean, I think the frequency with which we’re seeing these major flood events happening in our towns and cities across the country will make people much more aware of the situation and I think influence their decisions more when it comes to buying or renting property in certain areas.
News Presenter: Because we are seeing at least at the moment that means that areas that are at risk of flooding are changing, they’re growing, or is it just the same areas that keep getting inundated time and time again?
Dr Justin Butler: Well I think the kind of events that we’ve been seeing over the last month or so are predictable within the models that we already have. Where there seems to be some real issues is understanding about the clustering of these events. So, what a number of scientific papers have shown is that there’s flood risk and flood poor periods. So perhaps 30 years between say 1940-1970 was flood rich and 1970 to 2000 is relatively flood poor, but I think now it appears that we’re in the middle of a flood rich period where we’re seeing lots of complicated effects, such as El Nino happening right now, to exacerbate the situation so warm water in the Pacific can influence our own climate and change the likelihood of events happening back to back and that really I think needs to be taken into consideration more when it comes to modelling and mapping these events. I think certainly the areas at risk are likely to grow in the future and we need to be focusing much more closely on better costing and appraisal of the potential damages that can happen from flooding.
News Presenter: Yeah it’s quite interesting that. So I know you advise insurance companies, you advise the government on all of this, if we are looking at 30 year cycles and potentially sort of we’re 10 years into a 30 year cycle, does that mean that governments and even insurance companies are going to be less likely to pay out for very resilient, much stronger flood defences, because it’s an awful lot of expense, a long time maybe 10 years or so to get some of them into place when actually you’re heading towards the end of a cycle?
Dr Justin Butler: Well, you know, you can’t defend everywhere. You need to…there’s not enough money around to be able to actually do that. So, selecting where those defences should go, and also recognising that building flood walls is not the only answer, not necessarily the solution, that can push the problem further downstream and cause more problems. So, I think information regarding flood rich, flood poor periods and how defences need to be specified in relation to that needs to be taken into consideration as part of the decision-making process. But, it’s a very complicated situation as I say.
Now, the average length of a river record in the UK is 24 years. So that’s a very short term record that we have and we are trying to analyse and predict extreme events using short data records. So, that’s why using new types of simulation we can actually start looking at what the possible extremes are and how these different cycles superimposed on top of the climate change longer-term cycle could be used to better specify those defences. Perhaps using more demountable flood barriers and property level protection as people realise that actually, I’m going to have to start taking care of some of this problem myself or even consider moving to a different area adapted to living with water rather than constantly trying to think about defending ourselves against it. But one thing I would say as well is that flood risk coming in next year could have happened at a better time so from April next year there’s going to be affordable flood cover guaranteed for residential properties through this new scheme and that should give some comfort to people in high risk areas going forward. But again, that scheme only lasts for 25 years. Commercial properties and small business owners won’t be able to benefit from that so really understanding what the level of risk is and building defences around that is going to be even more important.
News Presenter: Dr Butler thanks for your time this morning.
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