A photograph of Natural Flood Management in Johnson Creek East Lents Floodplain Restoration Site, Portland, Oregon.

September 17, 2015, by Blue-Green team

Planning for Sustainable Flood Risk Management: A Northern Ireland Workshop

On 2nd September a workshop hosted by the Northern Ireland Rivers Agency, a division of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), and supported by the Blue-Green Cities Research Project and River Restoration Centre (RRC), discussed how Northern Ireland could change their flood risk management planning and practices and increase the role of natural flood risk management techniques.

The workshop formed part of the planning for sustainable flood risk management in Northern Ireland, which will be developed and incorporated within the implementation of the 1st cycle Flood Risk Management Plans (under consultation until June 2015) and the development of the 2nd cycle plans. The aim of the workshop was to jointly agree (with key statutory organisations and stakeholders including the Rivers Agency, NI Environment Agency, Forestry, Ulster farmers Union, NI Water, Council and Government planners and emergency planning officers, and roads services) a way forward to identify the potential for natural flood management and blue-green infrastructure approaches to be developed at an appropriate scale, which will result in a range of benefits. The objectives were:

  • To highlight the role and position of natural flood risk management within large scale catchment planning
  • To provide examples of the range of tools for the delivery of natural flood risk management
  • To highlight the roles of both sustainable and traditional flood risk management within an overall package
  • To increase the understanding of how a natural flood management approach, blue-green infrastructure implementation and sensitive land management approaches can result in cost effective, multiple benefits for economic, societal and environmental gain
  • To provide an opportunity for representatives from key organisations to input into discussion about how natural flood management and blue-green infrastructure can be most effectively delivered and to agree the potential benefits, opportunities and constraints

The workshop began with a presentation from Jonathan McKee (Director of Development at the Rivers Agency) introducing the need for natural flood management in Northern Ireland to deliver multiple benefits, improve public perception of flood management works and to meet legislative directions such as the EU Floods Directive and EU Water Framework Directive. Jonathan introduced the Belfast Connswater Community Greenway Project, a Northern Ireland exemplar of ‘making space for water’ through river realignment and floodplain restoration. He also posed some questions to the participants around catchment scale natural flood management (a step change from the more local-scale measures that have been implemented to date) and how this could feasibly be carried out using a partnership approach, and who would champion it. The creation of the new Department of Infrastructure was deemed a great opportunity to do catchment scale work and consider the many investment drivers from all parties involved. The Local Flood Forums may be the best groups to take this forward efficiently and ensure participation from many of the key stakeholder organisations.

Jenny Mant (River Restoration Centre and Blue-Green Cities Research Project) then presented some examples of catchment-based approaches in England and stressed the importance of working with natural processes and building resilience to climate change, while creating social and environmental benefits. A catchment scale approach is likely to include a range of natural (blue-green) and ‘traditional’ (grey) measures to cope for a range of rainfall events. Jenny then discussed the multiple benefits from a range of examples, including woodland creation and management, floodplain and riparian woodlands, in stream structures (e.g. Belford estate, Cumbria), vegetation and sediment management of rivers (see Channel Management Handbook), and floodplain reconnection. Engaging landowners and communities at the start of the projects was advised to increase the success of the project, and payment for changes in land management, e.g. storage on farmland, could be a viable option to get stakeholders on board, i.e. asking them what they would like to benefit from the scheme (e.g. non-monetary compensation like access routes).

Nigel Wright (De Montfort University and Blue-Green Cities Research Project) then moved away from the rural environment and presented some of the tools and techniques of implementing blue-green infrastructure in cities. Nigel introduced the concept of a ‘Blue-Green City’, which aims to recreate a naturally-oriented water cycle while contributing to the amenity of the city by bringing water management and green infrastructure together. This may be achieved by combining and protecting the hydrological and ecological values of the urban landscape while providing resilient and adaptive measures to deal with flood events. He then presented some of the outputs from the Blue-Green Cities research project, including; the development of a fully coupled surface-subsurface hydrodynamic flood inundation model, the City Catchment Analysis Tool (CityCAT); a GIS tool to evaluate a range of multiple benefits; a novel tracing methodology to investigate the movement of sediment through SuDS treatment trains; and the Learning and Action Alliance (LAA) set up in Newcastle to develop a Blue-Green vision for the City and create a platform for information sharing and co-production of knowledge between key city stakeholders. The participants then discussed the potential for local implementation of blue-green approaches and sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) in Northern Ireland, possibly to be championed by the Stormwater Management Group. However, it was highlighted that the lack of legislation around SuDS may present a barrier, although this will be reduced by the updated CIRIA SuDS Manual (to be published in 2015).

The final presentation was from Paul Chapman, Lewisham Council, on his work on developing Lewisham’s Rivers. Paul discussed what can be done at the local level to support integrated flood management, community, planning, green infrastructure and SuDS, and presented case studies from Lewisham as examples. For instance, Paul and colleagues used EU LIFE funding to design out crime in an area of open space (Ladywell Fields) by rerouting the river and adding a secondary channel, and made the river a feature in the park. This river restoration strategy engendered high public awareness, which improved flood awareness, and increased the usage of the park as well as reducing the flood risk and improving the local water quality. Peoples’ perceptions of the safety of the area changed and local residents were reportedly very pleased with the scheme, and found that it contributed to their sense of place, demonstrating the social benefit. This exemplar scheme has opened doors with other parties wanting to learn about the scheme, has increased the chance of further funding, and improved relationships between the local authority and Environment Agency.

The participants then discussed the main points from the presentations and how these relate to flood risk management in Northern Ireland, with the goal to agree the next steps towards achieving incorporation of natural flood management and blue-green infrastructure approaches into the flood risk planning process. Key themes and comments were:

Multiple benefits: flood risk management and environmental improvement works can be aligned to achieve multiple benefits and help lobby for finance by stressing the multiple benefits to a range of beneficiaries.

Partnership working and funding: there is great opportunity to harness the potential to work together and create a list of joint priorities (rather than a priority list for each agency) and funding to go with this. Collaborative examples are inspirational and need to be promoted to sell the multiple benefits. An overarching group may be needed to bring this together and they should listen to peoples’ issues and work with them rather than making ultimatums. Participants need to look into how local councils can generate revenue for these schemes and try and understand pressures and constraints of partner organisations.

Demonstrators and evidence base: there is a need to invest in monitoring and have demonstration projects to a) raise awareness and b) create a strong evidence base. One strategy could be to take people on site visits (pride in work).

Policy and working groups: create links between Flood Directive and Water Framework Directive cycles, PC15 business plan, Local Development Plans, Stormwater Management Group etc. and look for opportunities to implement blue-green infrastructure. Make provisions for joint plans between councils (challenge = political pressures, spending money outside of boundaries, planning policy for SuDS for established areas not new developments).

Communications and awareness raising are key, e.g. sharing of community development plans, scoping to see what is going on in Northern Ireland and who is doing what (and where the gaps are, next steps), advising senior decision makers about catchment approaches and joint working, encouraging local involvement at their point of interest.

Key points

  1. Northern Ireland needs champions at all levels to move natural flood management forward
  2. Waiting for legislation may miss opportunities
  3. The Local Floods Forums will take leadership and has a great opportunity to push for natural flood management
  4. The small size of Northern Ireland may make it easier to establish catchment scale approaches


Blog post by Emily Lawson (University of Nottingham, Blue-Green Cities Research Project)

Posted in Blue-Green Cities researchWorkshop