The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) on the 24th of July 2018. We at Ambiental Environmental Assessment have produced a technical note on key aspects of this legislation, with a focus on section 14 ‘Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change.’
NPPF and Climate Change
The NPPF identifies that a proactive approach focused on mitigating and adapting to climate change is required, taking into account the long-term implications for flood risk, in-line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.
The changes to the National Guidance regarding Flood Risk Assessments in February 2016 focused on the way in which river flows are considered in relation to climate change. In summary, these new allowances in the NPPF 2018 will now influence the vulnerability of a development within various flood zones as well as the mitigation measures required to support the development, with different types of developments having varying flows applied to the affecting watercourse/river influencing the flood extents that could affect the development.
Our blog, Flood Risk Assessments: Environment Agency’s new climate change allowances, further details the implications of the change. Additional information can also be found on the Government webpages here.
Climate Risk Data
Ambiental Risk Analytics, our sister company, has recently mapped and modelled Great Britain with the new climate change allowances using our independent and Environment Agency validated model, Flow Route I. Our team of consultants can obtain this data to allow us to understand, within a shorter timeframe than the EA data (statutory 20 working day turnaround), the impact of climate change may have on a proposed development or acquisition.
This data allows us to assess whether the depths of flooding within Flood Zone 2 and 3 sites can be mitigated to support development at an early stage of the planning process. We have recently supported Wales and West Utilities in better understanding the implications of climate change on their assets and we are able to replicate this for multiple developments and assets because of this industry-leading data set.
To request a recording of our webinar outlining this work please click here.
“Right homes in the right places”
Ambiental is aware that having access to data provides knowledge which allows the making of informed decisions. It was noted by Ambiental that there was a white paper released by the government in February 2017 regarding the issues faced in the UK housing market, of which planning for “right homes in the right places” is a key focus. In Chapter 1 of the whitepaper, where this is discussed, the government place an emphasis on how data is crucial to informing good planning decisions, delivering on its aim to build right homes in the right places.
NPPF and Flood risk
Echoing this whitepaper, Paragraph 43 of the NPPF 2018 emphasises the importance of having the right information to inform good decision making, and advises that any information informing these decisions should be discussed with local planning authorities and expert bodies as soon as possible. We at Ambiental stress that implementation of good decision making and preparation is vital for all developments and not limited to building “right homes in the right places”.
The NPPF 2018 details the importance of preparation, and having access to the right information to support good decision making. Knowledge is power but the knowledge is only as good as the data provided particularly when assessing risk. This is identified in Paragraph 43 – it highlights that a Flood Risk Assessment is one of the many documents required to support the preparation for a project to inform decision making and assess whether a development is viable.
We encourage our clients to involve Ambiental at the early, conceptual stages of any development when in a flood zone or critical drainage area. The rationale is that, by being involved at those conceptual stages, we can potentially reduce the cost of the project early, through our knowledge and experience, by identifying the risk as soon as possible rather than when the project is nearing completion. Through our expertise, and through having access to a diversely informative database (flood zones, sources of flooding, historic events etc.), we can inform our clients from an early stage of the Flood Risk Assessment process on the viability of a scheme, thus supporting Paragraph 43 of the NPPF.
Planning and Flood Risk
Paragraph 155 of the NPPF 2018 identifies that inappropriate developments in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk (whether existing or future) through the implementation of the Sequential Test. One key area of emphasis, as stated in the now superseded NPPF 2012, was to ensure that the development should be made safe for its lifetime without increasing flood risk elsewhere. This sentiment still resonates in the July 2018 NPPF.
As part of our work we have witnessed policy becoming more stringent on developments in high risk flood areas. We regularly support, with success, multiple applications such as residential, commercial, power, and renewables, among others, and have done so for a number of projects over the past decade.
The superseded NPPF 2012 drew attention to cumulative impact development. Now though there is greater focus from Borough Councils and the like in mitigating, for example, the cumulative impact of extensions. Ambiental is finding a greater number of London Boroughs requesting that the cumulative impact is considered in addition to providing robust flood mitigation measures to prevent increasing the risk of flood elsewhere whilst, furthermore, ensuring the development is safe for its lifetime, with the London Boroughs of Harrow and Croydon being notable examples.
In aid of preventing development in high risk areas, the Sequential Test still exists (Paragraph 157-158) and promotes allocation of development in areas of lowest risk. The test follows the previous principles though it now does request that sites reviewed consider the impacts of climate change whereas the previous approach focused more so toward Flood Zone 2 and 3 to be considered. It is therefore now required to assess the impacts of climate change on sites to be discounted. The impact of this change is that those sites in Flood Zone 1 which are close in proximity to Flood Zone 2 or 3 could become more susceptible to flood risk with climate change. Worst case, they become Flood Zone 2 or even 3 as a result. These sites should therefore be discounted. To better understand the test it can be better understood when looking at the Welsh Planning System – Technical Advice Note 15 (TAN15) – development and flooding. TAN15 refers to the Sequential Test as a Justification Test as this phraseology better represents the process and better allows for the understanding as to why this test can be requested. It is important to note that there are exemptions to the industry feared sequential test, as identified in the footnotes of the NPPF 2018 (Paragraph 164 and Paragraph 162) when the test has already been conducted on sites allocated in the development plan.
The NPPF 2018 and the superseded NPPF 2012 have many similarities regarding the Sequential Test. One area of similarity is when it is not possible for development to be in located to zones of a lower risk of flooding (considering wider sustainable objectives). The Exception Test may therefore have to be applied, formerly Paragraphs 102 and 103 of the NPPF 2012. The practice is replicated again in the current NPPF and can be found in Paragraphs 160 and 161 respectively.
Paragraph 157 introduces a welcome shift in the way in which flood water could be managed. Point C introduces the promotion of new development “to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding (where appropriate using natural flood management techniques).” Ambiental is working closely with developments that are currently seeking to incorporate natural flood management techniques not only benefiting the development but the wider community.
Of contention though is any natural flood management works in Flood Zone 3b (functional flood plain) unless of water compatible use or essential infrastructure (subject to exception test). Grant and Aid initiatives can be adopted in some cases. Works in Flood Zone 3b do require large amounts of time, sensitive consideration to local communities, and being able to demonstrate positive outcomes, as would be expected for an area that floods regularly (functional floodplain). In light of this, positive conversations are being had and have been had with multiple regional offices of the Environment Agency and Local Councils across the country.
As part of the process, Ambiental welcomes future changes to the National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG) with focus to Point C of Paragraph 157 – natural flood management techniques. We will continue to monitor the NPPG considering the NPPF 2018 of which, we believe, will likely promote change in the NPPG.
Other identifiable changes since the last iteration of the NPPF is the consideration and awareness of sustainable drainage systems to mitigate Surface Water (Paragraph 163). It is important to stress that mitigation measures identified for surface water are usually not permitted to mitigate fluvial floodwater.
This focus to the surface water drainage/sustainable drainage systems is again mentioned at Paragraph 165. Paragraph 165 resembles the changes introduced as of April 2015 which focus on Surface Water Drainage and Major Applications –. The bullet points of Paragraph 165 appear to indicate that the basic strategies of before will not be sufficient (basic plan, volume of water and circle demonstrating a pond). The strategies need to now reflect the development and identify a means of mitigating surface water that is feasible not only conceptual but upon implementation. Our drainage strategies are reviewed and compiled by Chartered ICE Engineers, and our team are able to support informed decisions from conceptual stage through to design.
Further summaries of the NPPF and its key points can be found here.
Preparation is imperative to supporting any successful venture and availability of good data better informs decisions. Through using our experienced team we welcome supporting our clients’ future projects at any stage they may find themselves. At Ambiental we are unique in that we have access to multiple pieces of flood modelling software as well as our independent technologies. We can derive accurate models and better inform architects, planning consultants and developers which, in turn, results in a greater chance of a successful FRA and Surface Water Drainage Strategy when submitted to planning whilst, above all else, seeking to comply with the guidance set out in the NPPF, NPPG and EA guidance on development and flood risk.
For those developments/schemes which are more contentious we promote discussions with the Local Planning Authorities, Flood Authorities, Government Agencies and Drainage Boards to support our clients in having the greatest chance of success when submitting a planning application. This collaboration of multiple bodies for a more complex development is also advised by the NPPF 2018 in Paragraph 156.