The city of Hull sits in a floodplain, and while it is protected by flood defences, there is a risk that these could be breached putting many local people at risk of flooding. To build physical resilience to flooding, Hull City Council is designing a series of sustainable drainage systems to be put in place across the city and surrounding villages. The council is also working to build community resilience by co-designing measures and engaging with people whose homes are at risk of flooding.
Sustainable drainage systems collect surface water and channel it away from drains and sewage networks, mimicking natural drainage processes. They might feature pavements that allow water to soak through them, or water butts, or ponds and wetlands. As well as managing flooding, these measures can create more attractive environments, reduce pollution and boost biodiversity.
The council’s flood risk team is co-designing multiple aspects of the sustainable drainage systems with residents. This involves completing surveys with council staff, selecting their preferred sustainable drainage systems from multiple options and by attending community workshops.
As a member of Living With Water (a partnership that includes East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency), the council is also engaging more widely with communities on this issue.
Living With Water is carrying out a large public engagement campaign, focused in a deprived area of the city with many vulnerable residents. This is finding out people’s views on what sort of systems should be used, and where they should be placed.
A schools engagement programme is helping young people learn about flood risk, and equipping them to raise the issue with their families. The council is also listening to what students think about potential flood measures and recording the reaction of children to them. The council has also launched a social media campaign and is carrying out resident surveys on the issue.
The council wants to involve communities in decision-making so that the additional benefits created by sustainable drainage systems can be delivered through measures that are accepted, and used by, local people. Potential positive impacts include local food growing, traffic calming, and a safer environment for young children playing outside.
The local authority is using resident feedback to modify existing designs, and intends to update the outcomes of this process in spring 2022.
By empowering local people to input into its decisions, the council can tackle resident concerns at the beginning of the process, reducing public complaints further down the line and making it more likely that measures will remain in place long term.
Feedback from the public engagement so far includes requests to make local areas more attractive, with a desire for more green features and food growing. Other feedback highlights the importance of access to a personal parking space, showing the need for the council’s ongoing communications with communities about reducing car use.
Living with Water explains that if people in communities at risk of flooding have a low level of personal resilience the damage, both physically to buildings and possessions and mentally, will be worse. So, there also needs to be investment in supporting people to develop adaptable resilient behaviours to manage and “live with water” Individual measures can range from simple steps such as signing up for warnings and having plans to minimise damage, to retrofitting sustainable drainage in your garden and installing property flood resilience. An example of this is fitting air brick covers
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Yorkshire Water have been a key partner in ramping up engagement and adapted proven engagement processes from their billing department to be used in this project. The company also helped with communications support and in training up the council’s existing community networks on local water issues.
The authority is also using community groups that have existing networks and are trusted by local people to carry out engagement. These include Timebank, Groundwork and The Hull We Want. This approach is particularly useful when engaging with diverse communities, or local groups who may be unsure of engaging with council officers directly. The local authority also support local action to raise the awareness of climate change more generally, including Hull’s Shoreline Project, an art and activism project that creates striking murals across the region bringing to life the risks of flooding that the future may bring.
The local authority took onboard key lessons from Hull University and the University of Sheffield. Both institutions have delivered community engagement projects across Hull to raise awareness of water and flood resilience. Key points such as making residents feel empowered and listened to, were fed directly into this engagement processes.
Notifying and listening to communities
The council is having conversations with members of the community who do not usually engage with it. To encourage local confidence, over 7,000 letters were sent out to specific estates telling residents that council staff and partners would be coming into the community to discuss flood resilience.
The authority found many residents had concerns about wider issues beyond the survey brief. It is important to listen to all these points when engaging with people. In the case of Hull City Council, they relate to social issues, such as crime or anti-social behaviour. Listening to these concerns and flagging them with relevant parties is important for building trust with residents, who may then be more willing to contribute to co-creation projects and aid decision making.
One of the major challenges with a project of this kind is that the funding required is more for revenue than the actual capital. This is because no physical infrastructure can eliminate the risk of flooding, and so to build resilience steps must be taken to reduce flood risk through facilitating behavoural change within communities. To generate the level of required community involvement authorities will need long delivery timescales and the involvement of a large number of people.
The project is fundamentally about behaviour change, and shifting mindsets from a view that water is ‘out of site and out of mind’ to seeing it as a positive resource, one that can be used to create multiple benefits.
The project has capital funding through the Water Companies investment programme. The partnership has also a bid for central government grant which has not yet been secured, as the process does not align well with a project of this nature, which requires extensive community co-creation.
A team of six dedicated Yorkshire Water officers works on this project. They are supported by Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council Flood Officers.
Liaising on contracts, involve communities and be realistic
A significant challenge when bringing communities into council decision making is navigating funding requirements and key performance indicators. On this project, funded by water companies and potentially funded in the future by central government, the results needed to include ensuring retrofitted sustainable drainage systems can store a pre-determined volume of water.
Such requirements make it harder to engage communities and make it difficult to gain funding for a series of smaller community measures – where they are a barrier to resident’s priorities or suggestions, people may feel their specific needs are not being catered for or taken into account. When overcoming this, it is important to be honest with community members, manage expectations and not to oversell local changes that are offered up in public decision-making processes.
Learn from other departments and mirror their success
Hull City Council’s flood risk team took on lessons from the council waste team’s recycling engagement, which was mainly carried out through schools and used children to drive behaviour change. The flood risk team adopted this approach, putting water and flooding onto the curriculum and offering a lesson and assemblies for students aged 8 to 10.
Find more resources for councils on our Learning Out Loud pages.
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