Flood defences won't eliminate the risk of a big river flood so communities must plan ahead

You can never design for a flood of the magnitude that hit Cockermouth today. What happened overnight in Cumbria was a classic river flood and reminds us there’s always a bigger flood out there. You can rarely justify designing for a 1 in 1000 year flood so we can never eliminate the risk.

The industry has put a lot of effort recently into managing and planning for surface floods, such as those affecting Hull and Sheffield in 2007. Our focus has shifted to issues around surface water flooding and the Cumbria floods remind us that river flooding is still a big issue for the UK.

There are great flood defence schemes in the UK, but what doesn't get mentioned is that there is always a chance of a bigger event. The danger is that communities may think they are safe and so are not prepared. It's important to have a plan in place in case any defences don't hold.

With climate change, areas that never flooded before will flood and people have to be prepared.

What Cumbria has shown is that communities who know about flood risk are now prepared when flooding takes place. It is clear that action plans have swung quickly into place. That wouldn't have happened a few years ago.

The Civil Contingencies Act of 2004 means that emergency responders have to plan for and prepare for flood risk emergencies when drawing up local emergency plans. This has done a lot to move things forward.

With climate change we can expect floods of this size to happen with increasing frequency but building and upgrading flood defences can be very costly. There is a balance to be made between building new defences and adaption, and in many places in the UK adaption may prove to be the only viable option.