Hull floods 15 years on: How the city built up its defences after devastation of 2007

By Mark Westwood

‘It’s hard to believe what happened 15 years ago,” says Gerry Dippnall. “It affected so many people and really showed how underprepared we were as a city.’

On 25 June 2007, Gerry’s Kingswood home was one of more than 10,000 properties damaged when a “once in 150 years [MW1]” storm led to widespread flooding across Hull and the East Riding. The Geography Department at the University of Hull recorded rainfall of 110mm over 24 hours. To put that into context, on average, about 70mm usually falls on Hull in the entire month of June[MW2] .

The devastation suffered on that day, followed by the tidal surge of December 2013, highlighted the need for drastic improvements in the city’s approach to flood risk. This led to the creation of Living With Water, a partnership between Hull City Council, Yorkshire Water, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the Environment Agency and the University of Hull – all of which are involved in managing water in the region.

Over the past 15 years, the Living with Water partnership has done a huge amount of work to reduce the risk of such a devastating event happening again, but it is important to remember that we can never completely remove the risk of flooding. We must understand the threat and learn to adapt and build our resilience so we can continue to live with water.

Gerry telling her story in 2017…

Why is Hull so at risk?

With its proud maritime history and an emerging status as the UK’s ‘Energy Estuary’, Kingston upon Hull is a city whose past, present and future are built around water. Unfortunately, with this comes the inescapable truth that, after London, Hull is the UK city most vulnerable to the potentially catastrophic effects of flooding, with around 100,000 homes at risk across East Yorkshire.

Hull is acutely exposed to this threat because of its location, sitting on both the Humber estuary and the River Hull, as well as its proximity to the North Sea. To add to the problem, the city sits in a flat-bottomed basin of low-lying land below sea level.

What has been done since 2007?

Since its creation, Living with Water has been working to protect the area by developing innovative water management systems, as well as giving people the knowledge to improve their personal resilience.

Through the Living with Water partnership, Hull has become a leading authority on flood management, with more than £260m spent on flood infrastructure since 2015. These projects include:

Haltemprice surface water storage schemes: There are three major surface water storage schemes in the Hull and Haltemprice area. These versatile green spaces hold excess water after heavy rainfall and release it gradually to slow the flow into the drainage system. Between them, they are expected to reduce the likelihood of severe surface water flooding for around 20,000 properties. As one of the country’s largest surface water storage schemes, this innovative development sets an example of how to manage surface water sustainably.

The new Humber: Hull Frontages defences at Victoria Pier

Humber: Hull Frontages: This £42m Environment Agency-led scheme built new flood defences and upgraded existing tidal defences to reduce flood risk along the Humber estuary. It is one of the biggest flood defence schemes in the country, reducing tidal flood risk for 113,000 properties. The Humber Hull Frontages scheme was officially opened in March 2022.

Hull Tidal Surge Barrier refurbishment: The Hull Tidal Surge Barrier protects the city and the surrounding villages from flooding caused by storm surges flowing back up the River Hull. It protects around 17,000 homes and business. In 2009-10, in response to increased flooding, rising sea levels and more severe weather, the barrier underwent a £10m refurbishment, adding new control features and improved computer control.

River Hull Defences Improvement Scheme: In 2012, the Environment Agency began assessing the River Hull defences, from the Humber Tidal Barrier to Clough Road on the outskirts of the city centre. Between 2017 and 2021, defence works were carried out across 62 sites. The defences cover 3.5km of the banks of the river.

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS): When it rains heavily, water runs off hard surfaces, such as buildings, roads and pavements, and into drainage and sewer systems, which are not always large enough to cope. SuDs act in a similar way to natural water processes, slowing the water flow and channelling it away from drains and sewers. As well as managing flood risk, SuDS help reduce pollution and provide vital habitat for wildlife, inspects and plants.

Several small-scale SuDs schemes, called aquagreens, have already been implemented in the city, including on Barbara Robson Playing Fields, Willerby Carr and on the green space off Bellfield Avenue in the Ings Ward. More similar projects are being planned across the region to help manage flood risk.

How everyone can play a part

While defences reduce the probability of a flood, they can never remove the risk entirely. It is just as important for everyone to work on their own personal resilience, particularly in a city as vulnerable as Hull.

Rachel Glossop, flood risk manager at Hull City Council, says: “Hull has a high level of flood risk, and we all have a role to play in managing that risk. As Risk Management Authorities, [the LWW partners] have invested in flood infrastructure such as defences, walls and pumping stations, which reduce the probability of flooding.

“However, there is an increased risk of flooding from the changing climate in respect of localised flash flooding and intense storms, which are hard to predict and extremely difficult to manage. This is why it is important for everyone to be aware of this risk and to take steps to manage it.

“These are small steps, but if everyone takes them, it will make a big difference to the way the city faces the challenges of climate change.”

As part of its Be Flood Aware campaign, Living with Water recommends three simple steps that individuals can take to improve their personal resilience, which it calls “Flood CPR”:

People in Hull are being encouraged to sign up for flood warnings

Check: Find out what causes flooding, whether you’re at risk, and how it can get into your home.

Plan: Plan and prepare ways to protect your home and what to do during a flood.

Register: Sign up for flood alerts via phone, email or text message.

Environment Agency figures this week showed that Hull was lagging behind other Yorkshire towns and cities on signing up to flood alerts. Just 6.6 per cent of people in Hull had signed up to receive flood alerts – lagging behind Barnsley (53.6 per cent), Harrogate (47.3 per cent) and Doncaster (44.2 per cent).

Cllr Mike Ross, Leader of Hull City Council, says: “Despite the huge efforts made over the past 15 years to improve flood defences, as a city in a low-lying area on an estuary, Hull will always have a higher risk of flooding that other places.

“Signing up is quick and easy, and I encourage everyone to do so. It will help put them in the best position to protect themselves, their families and their homes when flooding is a possibility.”

Local Flood Risk Management Strategy 2022-28

As the Lead Local Flood Authority, Hull City Council produces a Local Flood Risk Management Strategy (LFRMS) every six years. The strategy aims to increase flood awareness and resilience among people, communities and businesses living, working and visiting Hull.

The LFRMS for 2022-28 has just been published, setting out the local authority’s plans to identify and manage flood risk over the next six years, working with the Living with Water partnership. The strategy also suggests ways in which can improve their own flood awareness and resilience and encourages people to get involved in community and educational events through Living with Water.

“Anyone who lived through the flooding in Hull 15 years ago knows what a terrible impact it can have on people’s homes and lives,” says Cllr Mark Ieronimo, Hull City Council’s portfolio holder for Flood Management.

“Flood risk is a global issue, not just a local one, and the risk of flooding will continue to increase as the climate changes. That’s why we need to be doing everything we reasonably can to reduce the risk of flooding in the future.

“This refreshed strategy is one way to give Hull residents more information on how each and every one of us can play our part in protecting our city in the future.”

‘We feel much better protected’

Since 2007, Gerry Dippnall says she has kept a close eye on the flood management work undertaken by Hull City Council and its partners.

“I feel reassured that, over the past 15 years, a great deal of effort and investment has gone into protecting the city from flooding,” she says. “The upgrade of the Bransholme Pumping Station has given the residents of Kingswood peace of mind that we are much better protected and seeing the new flood defences along the Humber gives me confidence that the whole city is much safer.

“The council seems much more organised and prepared when there is heavy rain forecast and there are now alerts given out on local media, which is most helpful.

“The new Local Flood Risk Management Strategy shows there is a real commitment to carrying on this work to reduce the risk of the devastation of 2007 ever happening again.”

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