Marc Pinnell, Managing Director, shares his reflections on the Flood and Coast Conference

Thanks and congratulations to the Environment Agency for convening another informative and engaging Flood and Coast Conference, held at the Telford International Centre earlier this week. The conference was well attended. Speakers and presentations enlightening and plenary sessions thought provoking. As ever, between sessions there were great opportunities to network, and make new connections or catch up with existing ones.

The conference this year was in my mind strengthened by the clarity of its themes. These themes having been informed by the publication of the Environment Agency’s Draft National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy and the three ambitions stated within the strategy: climate resilient places; today’s growth and infrastructure – resilient to tomorrow’s climate; and a nation of climate champions, able to adapt to flooding and coastal change through innovation.

The coincidental flooding occurring across Lincolnshire and elsewhere in England served only to underline the importance of the emerging strategy and critically action to deliver on it. In this regard it is frustrating that the accompanying action plan was not included with the Draft Strategy. We will have to wait for the final strategy for an action plan to be published, on how the Environment Agency and our sector collectively can take forward the strategy objectives and measures with partners.

Highlights from the three days

For me stand out presentations and plenary sessions included – on Day 1, the session “Can flood investment be a driver for planning growth and regeneration?” where Philip Bennett-Lloyd from JBA presented on planning for regeneration and future flood risk and coastal change. A later session “Exploring adaptive pathways to resilience” had a thought provoking presentation on planning for coastal change by Tim Collins of Natural England.

Both sessions highlighted to me the action required to better integrate land use planning policy and flood risk management.

Day 2’s exploration of “How we could pay for flood risk management in the future” underlined the challenge of meeting the FCERM strategy’s ambition for infrastructure and communities to be resilient to tomorrow’s climate. In my view clearer action is required to better align investment policies, strategies and plans across both the public and private sectors if this challenge is to be met. Whilst current approaches to distributing flood defence grant in aid might continue to serve those at highest risk or the most vulnerable we cannot continue to expect it to match the changing needs of wider society. We have the opportunity to do more for more by joining investment together.

On Day 3 conference looked at “Creating Nations of Climate Champions”. Embracing innovation and emergency plan exercising were considered throughout the day. Two areas that JBA is renowned for, and managed to combine during Phil Emonson’s session ‘How exercising can help improve the health of your emergency plan’. The session included live polling, and with Training4Resilience we ran a breakout table-top discussion piece focussed on planning and decision making. Using interactive polling allowed delegates first-hand experience of incident response as they walked through a scenario from an initial forecast through to making decisions about a potential evacuation.

The Next Generation

Early, on the first day of the conference programme, there was a “Next Generation Workshop” facilitated by James Bevan and John Curtin, Environment Agency Chief Executive and Executive Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management respectively. The opportunity for early career flood managers to interact with senior leaders in the sector is extremely motivating and stimulating for the industry. And so throughout, conference showed how the understanding and ambition of both our future professionals and wider society can be acted upon.

Ambition and leadership

It was a shame that such ambition and leadership was less evident when considering the breadth of exhibitors. My passing observation being that once again there appeared to be an absence of new, innovative companies and smaller and medium enterprises or indeed specialist technically skilled sole traders. In fact the trend in our industry continues to appear to facilitate and be accepting of the contraction of “UK talent”. JBA stands out and bucks this trend. But if, collectively we are to provide opportunity for future professionals in our sector and create a “nation of climate champions” we really do need client organisations to show leadership, through their procurement, engagement and support of UK based delivery.

My feedback to the Draft FCERM Strategy consultation will therefore focus on actions required to integrate land use planning, and investment planning with flood risk management; and the action and leadership needed to ensure a sustainable FCERM sector in the UK for our future climate champions to be part of. We have much to be proud of after all. The conference showed us that.”

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more please email Marc Pinnell. If you missed the conference, here is a video giving you an insight of the conference in action. 

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