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What can we learn from the past about flood resilience?
Flooding has become one of the biggest dangers to heritage assets in the UK and as more rain is predicted to fall in intense downpours the impacts to the historic environment will be significant. This will undoubtedly have implications for the sustainability of significant heritage assets along with their contribution to local communities and tourism. With the effects of climate change being felt across the country the Government consulted this year on proposals to change England’s planning policies to better respond to flood risks. It was announced planning guidance will be amended to make it clear that all planning applications opposed by the Environment Agency on flood grounds should be referred to the Secretary of State to make the decision. This means that developers who want to build on flood-prone areas will have to demonstrate that their proposals are climate resilient. Owners of listed buildings, who want to make alterations to their properties, should also manage flood risk and establish protective measures while retaining and respecting the existing structure and materials. In 2018, the Environment Agency identified that flooding posed a significant harmful consequence to cultural heritage. Working with local communities and carrying out a thorough flood risk assessment are therefore important exercises that help developers to understand the potential complexity of delivering their proposals within flood prone areas. Increased protection for heritage assets was spurred by the introduction of The Climate Change Act 2008 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 requiring Local Planning Authorities to address flood risk by delegating to them responsibility for flooding from local water courses, with the Environment Agency retaining responsibility for main rivers. This threat isn’t new however. Historically, our ancestors had a good eye on the landscape locating a number of settlements and structures on topographic highs or by using materials that can tolerate a degree of saturation. Building design from the past includes features such as pitched roofs, which ensure water is shed quickly, preventing it from sitting long enough to penetrate the roof material, whilst wide eaves and cornices keep falling water away from the walls. A study of historic properties at Hebden Bridge in 2017 showed that there were virtually no post-flood problems on buildings that retained most of the historic features and fabric, and the ones that made remedial works such a removing plaster with modern materials experience problems with months of repairs followed by damp issues. The important lesson from the flooding was that the traditionally constructed buildings, maintained and repaired with traditional materials, were far more resilient. Alterations to listed buildings with these components therefore should respect the original function not only for outwardly aesthetic purposes but for their continued use and flood protection elements they offer. Climate change is not an entirely new issue and our ancestors have been altering the landscape to deal with the effects of flooding since at least the medieval period. Between c. 950–c. 1250 there was the Medieval Warm Period, a time associated with an unusual temperature rise that created unusually wet conditions. The flood defence at Botolph's Bridge, for example, was probably constructed to protect the fertile agricultural land behind it from flood water. Other responses to flooding can also be seen in urbanised environments such as London. Tottenham Court Road for example is a medieval rerouting of the Roman Ermine Street due to its flood prone location. The modern construction of permanent infrastructure and other tools such as habitat creation, however, can also have negative effects on the historic places. For example, in 2015, the construction of a bund (an embankment to contain flood water) affected the setting of the Grade I listed St Michael’s Church in Mytholmroyd. Unfortunately, despite this defence, the church was inundated during the December floods of 2015. During that flooding event, which was a consequence of the river bursting its banks and increasing groundwater levels, the bund was overtopped, and water rose through the floor of the church. Unfortunately, the bund was very efficient at retaining the flood water in the building, so the church took longer to recover than would have been the case in the absence of that flood defence. Later in 2020, the village experienced further flooding caused by Storm Ciara affecting the church yet again. The church was flooded to a depth of four feet and has been undergoing extensive restoration ever since. All the pews were removed to safe storage and the wooden floor was replaced before the pews were re-installed. The church installed glass panels next to and opposite the church and the river channel has been widened (up to 8m). Rewilding is another example of natural flood management response, such as expanding woodland, reintroducing species that have been absent for a millennia, they usually have an adverse effect on the setting and character of heritage assets. As demonstrated historic buildings, structures and spaces are vulnerable not only to climate change, but the infrastructure created to protect them. Therefore, consideration should be given to whether its immediate area and whether the dwelling located in a floodplain or an area that is at high risk from flooding. The granting of consent to carry out works to protect a historic structure from flooding will be influenced by the impact of the proposals on the architectural, evidential or historic interest of the site. In some cases, such as Ironbridge, the building and insurance industries’ standard procedures for making buildings habitable again after a flood can be damaging to the special architectural, historic interest. The world heritage site has relied on temporary barriers to protect it during recent devastating floods. Permanent flood alleviation infrastructure has been denied due to its special historical and scientific significance meaning that temporary barriers are a better alternative in order to preserve its special historic and architectural quality. Proposals that affect character and setting are concepts deeply entwined in both planning and heritage protection frameworks. This is important for historic buildings and other features that are located near rivers or on the coast and have close links to the water environment, which will require novel approaches to heritage management. In the past water meadows, for example, have been a feature of many English river valleys and helpfully act as temporary water storage facilities in times of high tide. Flood defence infrastructure can also contribute to impacts on archaeology through altering ground conditions with potential implications for paleoenvironmental remains. Paleoenvironmental remains are key to understanding past environments and how climate change affected people in the past. Floodplain environments can also illustrate the varied nature of archaeological remains encountered in dynamic coastal and river environments threatened most by the effects of climate change. These remains such as organic deposits, wooden structures and relict channels, tell the story of climate change, flooding and coastal erosion and one that can span hundreds of thousands of years. The threat of flooding, especially in places which have been on built historic floodplains will continue to become more intense and destructive in the future, and with that many historic places are at risk of flooding as well as coastal change. Heritage professionals are working together to produce effective responses to the impacts of flooding to the historic environment by using lessons from the past to provide holistic approaches to land and building management. Heritage, by default is resilient by the fact it has survived, and we must support the local communities within these rich historic landscapes to adapt to our ever-changing environment.

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Planning for climate change: Is London STILL leading the way?
Last year Lichfields published a series of blogs examining various climate change issues. The first in this series explored London’s response to date on the climate change crisis and reviewed the recent findings of the CCC’s 2020 report to parliament. Almost one year on, climate change continues to be at the forefront of both public and government consciousness. This blog provides an update on London’s progress in achieving its Net Zero Target, in the context of a newly adopted London Plan and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the need to tackle the climate crisis was a policy priority both in London and across the UK[1]. However, the economic and social context for climate action has changed in importance in the past year and it is recognised that pursuit of low-carbon can support economic recovery. From this, policy proposals and funding packages are now being framed as a means to create jobs, promote a “green recovery” from Covid-19 and help the UK meet its revised 5-yearly carbon budgets and achieve its net-zero emissions target. Over the past few months a number of key events have taken place including the Leaders Summit on Climate (22nd and 23rd April) and the 2021 G7 Summit (11th – 13th June) paving the way for vital UN climate talks at the COP26 summit, hosted by the UK in November 2021. Hosting these talks is a major responsibility and gives the UK more influence on the climate commitments of other countries. The power of our example is crucial and the Prime Minister has announced radical new climate change commitments that will set the UK on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and will require more electric cars, low-carbon heating and renewable electricity. The need to make progress was given emphasis by the recent publication of the IPCC Report[2]. The government is under pressure to back up this ambitious new target with investment and robust policies and to put the foundations in place for reaching Net Zero. It is doing so in the face of some domestic political challenge over the costs this might incur on poorer households and for managing public spending[3], and criticisms over the geo-political management of the issue in the run up to COP26[4]. Latest policy response In the last year, several key policy documents have emerged at the National level, including the Planning for the Future White Paper (August 2020) and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (November 2020). The latter sets out the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ and covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, with the headline-grabbing announcement of a ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Whilst many welcomed the plan’s ambition and the Government’s recognition that tangible action is required to meet society’s Net Zero aspirations, the RTPI stressed that “only by investing in local authority planning teams would a localised framework be established to ensure investment is properly integrated into the built and natural environment”. This was recognised to some extent in the White Paper, which cited planning as having a central role in addressing climate change. However, its proposals did not require local plans to pursue carbon emission reductions in line with the Net Zero target under the Climate Change Act, nor did it address how national and local climate targets will inform the new local plans and planning decisions under the new system. In an effort to attempt to strengthen climate change considerations in local plans, the revised NPPF (2021) includes a change to the wording of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” for plan making, and now requires plans to “mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects” (para. 11a). Whilst this might beef up the NPPF’s climate change policies, key conclusions from our previous blog were that the Net Zero Target is only achievable if it is embedded and integrated across all levels of policy and investment. There is still some way to go in ensuring that national policy is supporting and enabling local authorities to align their local development plans with national objectives. Recent policy proposals have demonstrated a centralisation of planning policy consideration on topics that affect the climate, which disempowers the ability to consider those issues at the local level. What’s going on in London? The pandemic has impacted London significantly, with the widespread (if temporary) emptying of offices prompting new commuting behaviours and changes to lifestyle. Headlines last year showed a dramatic fall in carbon emissions during lockdown – demonstrating that it is possible to reduce emissions in a short period of time. However, these reductions are largely linked with the slowing of the economy. In response to the pandemic, The GLA has produced a London Recovery Programme[5] which intends to ‘tackle the climate and ecological emergencies and improve air quality by doubling the size of London’s green economy by 2030 - accelerating job creation for all.’ Sadiq Khan has also spoken about the possibility of a Green New Deal for the city that will ‘increase access to green spaces, support active travel and zero emission fleets to eradicate air pollution, help adapt to climate change and deliver better health.’ These strategies are supported by the London Plan which was published on 2 March 2021.[6] Key headlines from the plan, relating to climate change, include the redefinition of zero carbon, requiring new buildings to meet at least 35% reduction of carbon on site with at least 10% (housing) and 15% (non-housing) from energy efficiency (paras. 9.2.5-9.2.7). This demonstrates how reducing energy requirements could be achieved through good design. The plan also introduces the regulation of embodied carbon levels in proposed buildings, requiring all major developments to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Its welcome policies mean all new developments must “calculate whole lifecycle carbon emissions through a nationally recognised assessment and demonstrate actions taken to reduce them” (Policy SI 2, Part F). In the context of the now adopted London Plan, the response of Boroughs (in terms of climate emergency declarations and the target dates for reaching net zero emissions) has varied (as shown below). London headline figures 29/33 (88%) London Boroughs have declared a climate emergency. 24/29 (82% of those that have declared) have set targets to become carbon neutral earlier than the UK/London Plan target. Only 2 boroughs have allowed themselves until 2050 to reach carbon neutral. The boroughs that haven’t declared a climate emergency are all outer London boroughs. Whilst most London Boroughs have now made significant commitments to net-zero carbon, it is not yet clear how the reduction targets are to be implemented. We are beginning to see London Boroughs advancing beyond these first steps of recognising the climate crisis by developing strategies to reduce emissions and create on the ground change. LB Greenwich has consulted on its Greenwich Carbon Neutral Plan (2020) which includes the principle of reducing emissions from new buildings, by committing to “strengthen the Local Plan by 2021 to deliver zero carbon development – through adopting a tiered carbon off-set price via SPD; increasing planning officer capacity to negotiate higher sustainable standards in new development; and evaluating options for a Local Plan review”. Similarly, LB Merton’s Climate Strategy and Action Plan (2020) links to the existing Strategic Objectives and Core Strategy planning policies of the Local Plan which features climate and carbon policy requirements, but also identifies the need to draft Local Plan policies in line with the London Plan: including net-zero carbon development for new buildings and reducing embodied carbon. Whilst London Boroughs do appear to be progressing their Climate Strategies/policies, there is still a long way to go and it will need a continuing commitment and development of expertise at city and borough level. The presence of the Mayor of London as a regional planning authority as part of a compact-city approach to strategic planning means that London, unlike anywhere else in the UK, has its own regional plan and the opportunity to develop robust planning policies, setting strong standards to inform and guide the policy approaches of the 33 London Boroughs. But is it the case that London is leading the way, or are local authorities elsewhere in the UK making significant progress without the backing of an additional tier of governance? Our forthcoming research on the UK-wide response of local authorities to climate change will explore place-based responses to the Climate Emergency across the UK. [1] As evidenced by the introduction of the Committee on Climate Change (‘CCC’) (2008), the UK’s commitment to the UN Paris Agreement and the legislation of a Net Zero emissions target of 2050[2] The report and its background appendices is available here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-i/[3] The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the total cost to the UK of reaching net zero by 2050 could reach £1.4trillion. The National Infrastructure Commission says the poorest tenth of households will pay an extra £80 a year in bills by 2050, the richest tenth an extra £400. HM Treasury is reviewing the costs of the overall programme.[4] https://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-climate-problem-conservative-government-cop26/[5] https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/recovery_programme_overview.pdf[6] https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/the_london_plan_2021.pdfImage credit: @Aquobex via Twitter  

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