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19 Apr 2024

CIRIA Annual Lecture: Increasing Infrastructure Resilience

Ciria Stand: G28
CIRIA Annual Lecture: Increasing Infrastructure Resilience
Professor Jim Hall, University of Oxford

Dr Andy Moores, Research Director at CIRIA, summarises the key outcomes from CIRIA’s recent Annual Lecture.

This week CIRIA held its 3rd Annual Lecture, kindly hosted by Arcadis in London. With a full house, delegates at this CIRIA Member exclusive event heard from guest speakers Prof Jim Hall, University of Oxford and Julie Foley OBE, Environment Agency as they shared their thoughts on the topic of Increasing Infrastructure Resilience.

Increasing Resilience is one of five key interrelated research ambitions for CIRIA and pervades many of the projects we undertake across our thematic areas.

  1. Embedding sustainability
  2. Achieving net zero carbon
  3. Increasing resilience
  4. Improving delivery
  5. Harnessing innovation

Prof Hall began his presentation by reminding the audience about the why – citing recent high profile infrastructure failures as a consequence of a range of hazards. The incidence of these in light of forecast climate change, ageing infrastructure, and societal expectation around standards of service all mean this is a key issue at a national policy, asset owner and public level. Plenty of reports have been produced either independently following events or via the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) for whom Jim fulfills a commissioner role. The question was later posed ‘has progress been made?’ to which Prof Hall highlighted that there has been significant progress in many areas – whereas in others more and faster progress was needed. The work of the NIC and the Climate Change Committee has highlighted how adaptation performance has varied across sectors – and testing resilience via modelling or exercising against a range of range of plausible worst-case scenarios remains vital in understanding where failures may be most likely to occur and where mitigation efforts should be focused. The concept of resilience as a reciprocal of risk was explored and whilst definitions of resilience can range = the NIC framework provides a useful standard for discussion. In the context of the Second National Infrastructure Assessment (2023), Prof Hall outlined a number of key, sobering findings and crucially the recommended actions cited by the report. The role of CIRIA in helping to fulfil Recommendation 31 concerned with the development of National Standards and guidance was highlighted in terms of embedding concepts of resilience to future climate change within the wider industry. The importance of accessibility, digestibility and usability of key, complex datasets were also flagged – so that interpretation of the impacts of climate change could be more readily understood and used. Prof Hall concluded with his (admittedly academic) view of what good infrastructure adaptation and consequent resilience should look like. This included systematic analysis of hazards and vulnerabilities – so that efforts and expenditure can be focused where the impact is greatest. The criticality of understanding adaptation interventions in space and time was also flagged – and the need for data driven decision making predicated from monitoring and a range of lead and lag indicators.

Julie Foley began her presentation with a reminder that the stress testing that Prof Hall had cited was alive and well within the Environment Agency – but was unfortunately less exercising and more responding to a succession of real events through the named storms that have hit the UK over the 2023/24 winter season. The facts around flood risk in England mean 1 in 6 people are at risk from rivers and sea, many more from surface water and coastal erosion is a threat to over 700 homes. Julie outlined that the Environment Agency had made significant progress – which has been acknowledged by the NIC. The 2020 publication of the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England, developed in collaboration with many key partners has been instrumental in securing funding over a six year settlement period and has enabled the Environment Agency to make strides into protecting homes and properties. In answering questions Julie also highlighted that building schemes (traditional or nature based) is only part of the portfolio and significant work goes into understanding risk through National flood risk assessment 2 (NaFRA 2), investment decision making through long-term investment scenarios (LTIS), and communicating risk through forecasting and warning to risk management authorities, professional partners and the public. The focus of Julie’s presentation was however the growing maturity of a Natural Flood Management (NFM) approach as an everyday choice for all, rather than a special case for some. The journey of the Environment Agency was outlined from the development of the Working with Natural Processes – Evidence Directory, through the original Defra funded NFM pilots through to the current £40m programme of mainstreaming NFM approaches. Key to all of these is using or emulating natural processes to store at source, slow flows and dissipate peaks to reduce the risk to people and property. Whilst flood risk reduction is at its heart – the benefits to the wider environment, carbon, amenity, and wellbeing were also cited as complementary. The key to what the Environment Agency is attempting is to make sure that NFM approach is a legitimate option when considering how to deal with flood risk in changing climate.

In concluding, Dr Andy Moores highlighted a few of the key inputs CIRIA have had made including the deliberately provocatively titled 2022 CIRIA Annual Debate Natural Flood Management: the silver bullet? and The Natural Flood Management Manual (C802F) which is a guide to how you can undertake NFM interventions in an appropriate way, evidenced with good practice case studies. Andy highlighted that the guide should be a key tool for the current NFM programme and that lessons from further work would be usefully incorporated into a future second edition.

Our thanks to the guest speakers and the audience for their insightful questions. CIRIA members can view the presentations from the Annual Lecture on our website (post-event information). If you want to explore CIRIA membership to gain access to these exclusive events please get in touch. The next CIRIA Member exclusive event is the 9th Annual Debate to be hosted on 9 October which has a working title of 'Standards and Guidance – a throttle to innovation?'. If you wish to participate as a speaker at the Annual Debate in October, please contact Susan Richards at CIRIA.

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