Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Dutch approach - some more information

Yesterday, I made various comments on the merits, or otherwise, of using Dutch engineers to address flooding issues in England. In that comment I made the point that the level of Dutch investment in flood defences was beyond my knowledge. I subsequently spent a bit of time looking for this information. Doubtless I would find it easily if I spoke Dutch, but I don't! I did, however, find a very interesting presentation by the President of the Dutch Association of Water Authorities.

It is 3.5 years old, but it does provide an indication of the sorts of expenditure made by the Dutch, which as far as I can see are about the 80% of the total expenditure for England. That is by a population of 16.7 million as opposed to 51.5 million in England - roughly £24.00 per head of population as opposed to about £13.00 per head of population.My figures are very 'back of a fag packet so don't take them as absolute! When you bear in mind the extent of the English coastline and river systems as opposed to those of Holland, the differential is clearly much greater.

Perhaps the more important aspect of the presentation is the emphasis on adaptation to flooding rather than just building food defences and deepening rivers. What do we see: the use of flood storage areas, adapting buildings and relocating critical infrastructure! I note that flood storage is linked to a 1 in 25 year return period, which is considerably lower than the current floods in England.

What strikes me most about this presentation is that it is being made by a Dutch Water Engineer; not an English Conservationist. The ideas are, curiously, remarkably similar to some aspects of the approach that the Environment Agency has built into its Catchment Management Plans. The emphasis on relocation of key assets and flood-proofing buildings is where I think the differences lie, as we really have yet to start to talk in detail about re-locating key assets and designing new ones that are properly flood-proofed if they lie in a floodplain.


In a radio 4  interview a few minutes after I made this post, there was a piece on a Dutch delegation having come to the UK to determine what they might do to help. In that piece, Dutch expenditure was quoted as double that of the UK. The problem I think in this respect is that there are probably several different sets of figures to go on: EA expenditure on capital defences, EA expenditure on maintenance, expenditure by IDBs on local infrastructure maintenance make up several different components of spending in England. Similarly, the Dutch have national and local expenditure, so the big question is the nature of the figures quoted - it may be comparing apples with pears.

What I thought was more interesting was that the Dutch interviewee talked about the fact that Holland and England were very different and should not be compared. Even more interestingly, he focused on the Dutch learning from us in relation to cost-benefit analysis!

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