Assessing the Hull Floods of 2007: establishing future flood management and protection strategies for the UK and the region
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Hull
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience
Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences: Other Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Exceptional rainfall in June 2007 lead to widespread flood damage in the
UK; Hull was particularly
badly affected with 8600 houses and 1300 businesses flooded, the closure
of schools and
cancellation of many events. At the instigation of the City Council, Hull
produced two influential reports that explained how and why the flooding
happened and what might
be done to improve flood readiness for the future.
The reports had impact at a national scale. They fed into the findings of
the House of Commons
Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (published 7 May
2008) and the Pitt
Report (a Government Independent Review, published 25 June 2008), which
were both tasked
with addressing the summer 2007 floods. Significant elements of `The Flood
Management Act' (2010), which was enacted subsequently, were informed by
The reports also impacted at the regional scale. Their findings were
adopted by Hull City Council,
the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water. Therefore, our research also
practical strategies to improve flood prevention policies and minimise
danger, damage, distress
and expense in future floods.
The underpinning research addressed how the floods developed so quickly
and why the structures
designed to prevent flooding in the region failed. It combined the
insights of physical and human
geographers to establish what went wrong and to propose how water
management can be
improved for future flooding events. From the start the research was
designed to be academically
rigorous and relevant in policy terms: it had clear impact as a result.
In July 2007 Hull City Council approached the University because of its
established reputation in
fluvial systems and environmental management and because they sought an
opinion on the flooding. An Independent Review Body (IRB) into the cause
and effects of the June
floods was the result. The Hull staff involved were:
- Tom Coulthard (Professor of Physical Geography, from 2005) who chaired
- Lynne Frostick (Professor of Physical Geography, 1996-2010; Research
- Greg Bankoff (Professor of Modern History, from 2007).
The IRB also included representatives from the city council, community
organisations and local
industrial and commercial sectors. The research involved 30+ interviews,
panel meetings, reviews
of literature and reports, and field and site visits. The interim findings
(24 August 2007) and the
final report (21 November 2007) were edited and 80% written by Coulthard
(Coulthard et al.
2007a, 2007b). The first report impacted particularly as it was the first
research on the floods.
At the regional scale, the key finding was that flooding was mainly
caused by problems conveying
drained water in sewers, plus the poor performance of three key pumping
stations. In particular, an
£200 million extensive re-design of the drainage system in 2001 had
increased flood storage, but
reduced pumping capacity. Further, a 2004 re-modelling of the 2001
system under-predicted flood
volumes by 100%. The IRB research showed that the drainage system
functioned sub-optimally in
2007 - causing much of the flood damage (Coulthard and Frostick 2010;
Coulthard et al. 2007b).
This research was also highly influential because it revealed a series of
weaknesses in the
systems for managing urban drainage nationally. The IRB reports
1) the UK had no robust warning system for localised pluvial flooding
following heavy rain. The
Environment Agency set up a warning system for fluvial flooding (due to
increasing river flow) in
2000, but pluvial flooding was not addressed before 2007. The IRB
exposed this oversight and
proposed a suitable warning system for pluvial-flooding based on modelling
2) the `1 in 30 year events' average, usually used in UK urban flood
planning, is not appropriate in
all regions — and especially not in low lying regions with little natural
drainage like Hull, where
additional measures are required.
3) the structure of the UK water industry (with local authorities, the
Environment Agency and
privatised water utility companies controlling separate parts of the
system), left no single agency
with overall responsibility for managing urban flooding. This dispersed
hinders the development of better flood responses (Coulthard et al. 2007b).
All three findings contributed to the 2008 Pitt Review that, in turn,
shaped `The Flood and Water
Management Act' (2010) and a series of government initiatives to improve
flood prevention and
mitigation across the country.
In addition, this research evolved into four RCUK-funded projects, which
explore the policy and
practical problems that the floods exposed. Developed along with former
Haughton (Professor of Human Geography, 2000-2010), these projects address
the social, political
and technical issues exposed by the IRB reports. They propose solutions to
living with flood risk
and the engineering limitations of flood management (Bankoff 2012;
Haughton et al. 2010; Helsloot
et al. 2012). They also demonstrate the quality of the underpinning IRB
research and they promise
to deliver future impact for this continuing work.
References to the research
Key research outputs:
- Bankoff, G. (2012) The "English Lowlands" and the North Sea Basin
System: A History of Shared
Risk, Environment and History, 19, 3-37.
- Coulthard, T. and Frostick L. (2010) The Hull floods of 2007:
implications for the governance and
management of urban drainage systems, Journal of Flood Risk Management,
- Coulthard, T., Frostick, L., Hardcastle, H., Jones, K., Rogers, D.,
Scott, M. and Bankoff, G.
(2007a) The 2007 floods in Hull. Final report by the Independent
Review Body, 21 November
2007. Hull City Council, 68pp. http://www2.hull.ac.uk/science/PDF/geogfloodsinhull3.pdf.
- Coulthard, T., Frostick, L., Hardcastle, H., Jones, K., Rogers, D. and
Scott, M. (2007b) The 2007
floods in Hull. Interim report by the Independent Review Body, 24th
August 2007. Hull City Council,
- Haughton, G., Bankoff, G. and Coulthard, T. (2010) Flood risk
management, regions and the
environment, in Regions and Environment conference proceedings,
Bibby-Larsen, L. (ed.)
Regional Studies Association, Sussex.
- Helsloot, I., Bankoff, G. and Groenendaal, J. (2012) Dealing with
Citizen Response and
Evacuation during Large Scale Flooding in Industrial Societies, in
Bierens, J. (ed.) Handbook on
Drowning, Dordrecht: Springer.
- Coulthard, T., Flood Prevention via Sustainable Solutions for
Roadside Gully Cleansing; £58,000,
EPSRC CASE, Partner: Univar Ltd., (2009-2012).
- Haughton, G., Coulthard, T. and Bankoff, G., Sub-Contracting Risk:
Neoliberal Policy Agendas
and the Changing Nature of Flood Risk Management; £90,000, ESRC
research grant (2008-2011).
- Haughton, G., Coulthard, T. and Bankoff, G., Rethinking the spaces
and institutions for the
governance of flood management, £58,000, ESRC CASE, Partner: Hull
City Council (2008-2011).
- Haughton, G., Eden, S. and Gibbs, D., Flood Risk and Economic
Development, £58,000, ESRC
CASE, Partner: Environment Agency (2008-2011).
Details of the impact
The Independent Review Body (IRB) research  impacted upon legislation
and policies, and upon
strategies for flood prevention and response, at both the national and
In national legislative contexts, the research impacted with significance
Coulthard briefed Pitt and his team formally, at length and in person on
their Hull visit in 2007. The
IRB reports fed directly into the subsequent Pitt Review (2008) .
Coulthard also influenced
legislation via evidence to a House of Commons select committee on
flooding (on 14 November
2007) . As a result of this input, IRB recommendations can be traced
through `The Flood and
Water Management Act' (2010) and into subsequent government initiatives.
- the formation of the £7.7 million National Flood Forecasting Centre
(FFC) in April 2009 provided
a mechanism for warning of surface water (pluvial) flooding. The IRB's
highlighted the lack of a robust national system for pluvial flood
warning [1, p.3]. This
recommendation was repeated in the Pitt Report and then addressed by the
creation of the
FFC. In December 2008 the Government also provided £8.5 million to
improve the Environment
Agency's flood warning and mapping, and £7 million for other flood
- the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) also gives the Environment
responsibility for all flooding (including surface water flooding) in
the UK. Local authorities are
now responsible for the control of regional surface water drainage
(under the Environment
Agency's auspices). This change responded to the IRB's third
recommendation that there
should be one lead agency for flood events [1, p.3]. This shift in
responsibilities is implemented
through the production of `Surface Water Management Plans' (SWMPs):
plans to address flood risk and management in areas of high flood-risk
. The Government's
December 2008 funding package also provided £15 million to improve
local authorities in flood response .
The beneficiaries of these changes are potentially all communities and
infrastructure at risk of any
kind of flooding. Indeed, public interest in this topic is considerable
and the IRB attracted significant
national media attention including coverage by the BBC 1 6 o'clock
and 10 o'clock News (24
August 2007; 21 November 2007); three documentaries, including Channel 4's
December 2007); and BBC 1 Look North (25 September 2009; 25 June
2010; 13 June 2011). This
coverage also demonstrates the reach of this research's impact.
In term of flood prevention and response strategies, the IRB research
also impacted with both
significance and reach at the regional scale.
- Hull City Council adopted all recommendations of the final IRB report,
with implementation from
1 January 2008 . New measures include regular meetings by
stakeholders in regional flood
risk (including Hull City Council, adjacent local authorities, the
Environment Agency and
Yorkshire Water). Hull City Council consulted the IRB authors
extensively about this process
and Coulthard participated in early rounds of this local flood
governance and management.
- The IRB also shaped a report into the floods by OFWAT — the national
water regulator. The
OFWAT report drew heavily on the IRB research and noted that it was
"committed to review the
issues that the Hull Independent Review Body report raised" . OFWAT
responses from Yorkshire Water about their failure to prevent the
flooding. This public scrutiny,
and the explanation, accountability and actions that OFWAT demanded from
were driven by the IRB research .
- In turn, Yorkshire Water had advance sight of the final IRB report
and, on 23 November 2007,
two days after it was published, they made a public promise of a £16
million investment to
improve Hull's pumping stations (investment began in February 2008) .
We believe our
scrutiny of Yorkshire Water in the high profile IRB report prompted this
- The Surface Water Management Plans (SWMPs) required by `The Flood and
Management Act' (2010) also generated local impacts. Hull was one of
five SWMP trial areas
(and Coulthard sat on the steering committee) . SWMPs responded to
the call for connected
governance and planning that the IRB advocated (and which informed Pitt
and the 2010 Act).
As a result, the Hull SWMP is a robust plan for regional flood risk and
management . The
document includes information directed at investors and developers so
that they may
incorporate flood risk into their planning. The SWMP also notes the
projected savings in future
floods, if the SWMP recommendations are adopted. For the Derringham Ward
in Hull alone
these savings range from £1 million to £15 million [9: Hull SWMP 2009,
- The IRB also recommended creating `Aqua Green' sites of open space
that would temporarily
retain surplus water in flood scenarios. Hull City Council adopted this
commenced a £330,000 pilot project to produce these sites in December
The UK floods of 2007 damaged over 55,000 homes and cost an estimated £3
billion in insurance
claims and costs . In Hull, one person died and the community, public
and business sector all
suffered financially. Damage to council houses and schools totalled £200
million, 1,300 businesses
were affected and school closures cost an estimated £2.4 million for
114,400 lost school days [1,
p.5, p.16]. The changes to regional flood defences and pumping stations
recommended by the IRB
resulted in more than £16 million being invested into Hull's
These measures reassured the insurance sector and, by extension,
development can continue in
this flood-risk area. This will all benefit local communities and
businesses — but this very significant
impact is outweighed still more by the savings promised by preventing
future floods and their costs.
Although the IRB research might at first appear limited to the region, it
nevertheless impacted on
national policy and legislation. This happened due to the IRB identifying
deficiencies in the
structures of UK-wide flood management, and due to its recommendations
being included in the
Pitt Report and leading to major changes in national flood risk management
and governance. The
IRB research was designed to be policy relevant. Our impact therefore
stretched across the
national and regional scales and had both reach and significance at each.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Independent Review Body (2007) The June 2007 floods in Hull, Final
 Pitt, M. (2007) Learning lessons from the 2007 floods, Interim
Report [shows how the IRB fed
into the Pitt Review: p46 (lack of coordinated flood management); p51
(plans for `1-in-30 year'
floods as insufficient for areas like Hull); p51 (lack of integrated flood
plans and management
systems); p92 (conceptual frames from the IRB about `hard' and `soft'
infrastructure, and `essential
services' that were adopted by the Pitt Review); p103 and 105 (the IRB's
critique of Yorkshire
Water's lack of a backup plan for pumping stations under strain from
severe flooding). Pitt, M.
(2008) The Pitt Review: Lessons learned from the 2007 floods:
Review Final report [shows
how IRB findings fed into the Pitt Review: p97 (on the lack of adequate
planning and the IRB's role
in exposing Yorkshire Water's role); p408 (on the IRB's role in exposing
the inadequate design,
maintenance and operation of Hull's flood-water pumping system); and
role of Hull University and Coulthard in contributing to Pitt's
understanding of the 2007 floods).
 House of Commons EFRA select committee (2008) Flooding:
[proving that the
IRB report was taken into account in proceedings (p36), and that Coulthard
was a witness (p50)].
 National Flood Forecasting Centre: www.ffc-environment-agency.metoffice.gov.uk/about/
[showing the FFC was set up due to the Pitt Review]; on new government
funds, December 2008:
 DEFRA archive SWMP pilot studies — Hull:
SWMP) shows how the IRB's recommendation on `aqua greens' were
nationally (pp 5 and 7) and the role of the University in establishing and
advising on the SWMP)].
 Chief Planning Officer, Hull City Council, will confirm the Council
adopted all the IRB's
recommendations. Establishing political impact is difficult. To this end
Alan Johnson MP (Hull West
and Hessle) and Diana Johnson MP (Hull North) have indicated that they
will be pleased to
corroborate our impact in the region and nationally through Parliament.
 OFWAT's page on the Hull floods: www.ofwat.gov.uk/sustainability/prs_web_hullfloodstate,
including the WRc plc (2008) Hull Flooding June 2007: Expert Opinion
[corroborating the pivotal role of the IRB in informing
the debate on responsibility for the floods (see especially p53)].
 DEFRA archive SWMP pilot studies — Hull:
`Final Report' (Hull
SWMP) shows how the IRB's recommendation on aqua greens were adopted
and the role of the IRB in establishing and advising on the SWMP].
 Hull City Council page on flood responses [including the SWMP in
section: `The surface water
management plan and appendices'.
 Hull City Council (2008) Finding a solution to flooding:
that the City Council adopted Recommendation 3.11.4 on `aqua greens'].