Ongoing Project

Unlocking the floodgates to flood resilience

Our flooding experts are driving the national and international flood resilience agenda

Project summary

The Challenge

We need to respond and adapt to the increasing environmental and societal challenges of flood risk

The Approach

Our researchers reviewed evidence from the 2007 floods and proposed new strategies for flood protection and managing future flooding events

The Outcome

Our flood research has informed UK national flood policy and investment, improving flood protection for more than 300,000 homes nationwide

Lead academics

Project partners

The Challenge

The summer 2007 floods had significant environmental and societal impacts across the UK. In Hull alone over 8600 houses and 1300 businesses flooded, with 90% of the city’s schools closed and many events cancelled. 

The full research team

The Approach

Research at Hull - Living with Water

Our researchers led an Independent Review Body (IRB), set up by Hull City Council in 2007. The aim was to establish why the physical, institutional and regulatory structures designed to prevent flooding failed comprehensively during the 2007 floods. The research combined the insights of physical and human geographers (Tom Coulthard, Lynne Frostick, Graham Haughton) and was designed to be policy-relevant and impact-driven, with partnership working at its core. The partnership included the local authorities, water companies, industry and representatives from the community and voluntary sectors.

Hull flood

£1 billion

of damage a year caused by flooding in England, exacerbated by rising global sea level

This collaborative research involved 30+ interviews, panel meetings, reviews of literature and reports, and field and site visits. The interim findings (August 2007) and the final report (November 2007) were edited and led by Professor Coulthard. In addition to reviewing the physical impacts of the flooding and the response of flood infrastructure, the IRB reports also addressed the social and psychological impacts of flooding in Hull. The reports concluded that, at the regional scale, the flooding was mainly caused by problems conveying rapid surface water through the drainage networks, along with the poor performance of three key pumping stations.

Summary findings of the research:

  • the UK lacked a robust warning system for localised pluvial flooding following heavy rain. The research exposed this oversight and proposed a suitable warning system for pluvial flooding, based on modelling rainfall patterns.
  • the ‘1 in 30-year event’ 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. In such regions, like Hull and the Humber, additional measures are required.
  • the structure of UK water governance (with local authorities, the Environment Agency (EA) and privatised water utility companies controlling separate parts of the system) left no single agency with overall responsibility for managing flooding. This dispersed management was also found to hinder the development of better flood-event responses.

The Impact

The research was highly influential because it revealed a series of weaknesses in the governance and policy systems for managing drainage and flood response regionally but also at the national and international scale.

Flooded street
The University of Hull research has significantly impacted governance and inter-agency partnership working, as well as leading to the adoption of a more integrated approach to flood risk management.
Hull flood

The Environment Agency’s Director of Flood and Coastal Risk Management

Our research:

  • informed the findings of the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
  • is cited within the highly influential Pitt Review which has guided and directly informed UK flood policy for the past decade through the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, the Water Act (2014), the Surface Water Management Action Plan (2018), the 25-year Environment Plan (2018) and the development of the Environment Agency’s new Flood and Costal Erosion Risk Management Strategy (2020).
  • led to the formation of the £7.7 million National Flood Forecasting Centre in April 2009, covering surface water (pluvial) flooding.
  • led to the creation of regional Surface Water Management Plans (SWMPs).  Hull was one of five areas to trial SWMPs. The SWMPs mandate planners, investors and developers to incorporate flood risk into their planning.
  • guided ~£2.6bn investment in UK flood management funding between 2015 and 2020, significantly improving flood prevention and mitigation measures across the country (~300,000 homes better protected).
  • impacted international flood and resilience strategies through the development, and subsequent global deployment of, the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA). This is part of the Resilient Cities Programme pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, with support from Arup, Resilience Shift, and the OECD, is now the global standard for city-level water resilience.

Our researchers recommended that one lead agency should oversee flood events with multi-agency partnerships working together and collaborating on broader flood governance. This advice was incorporated into the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 which gave the Environment Agency (EA) overall responsibility for all flooding, including surface water flooding. Local authorities now retain responsibility for the control of regional surface water drainage, but do so under the auspices of the EA. This tranche of legislation prepares society for future flood events to a degree that was never required previously.

Our international involvement in the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA) led to the creation of the local Living with Water Partnership.  The partnership includes the Environment Agency, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Hull City Council, Yorkshire Water and the University of Hull (our Vice Chancellor, Professor Dave Petley is a member of the Executive Board).

Our next steps:

Our work continues to directly impact flood resilience in our communities. Our recommendations will lead to improving the local, physical flood resilience infrastructure. This includes creating Aqua Green sites in open public spaces, which retain surplus surface water temporarily during flood events. The use of natural flood management strategies like these are now also firmly embedded in national flood management policy. We also champion cooperation and communication between communities, industry, civic agencies and government in order to build flood resilience. 


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, 3, 223-231

Coulthard, T., Frostick, L., Hardcastle, H., Jones, K., Rogers, D., Scott, M. and Bankoff, G. (2007) The 2007 floods in Hull. Final report by the Independent Review Body, 21 November 2007. Hull City Council, 68pp.

Coulthard, T., Frostick, L., Hardcastle, H., Jones, K., Rogers, D. and Scott, M. (2007) The 2007 floods in Hull. Interim report by the Independent Review Body, 24th August 2007. Hull City Council, 36pp.

Haughton, G., Bankoff, G., and Coulthard, T. (2015). In search of ‘lost’ knowledge and outsourced expertise in flood risk management. Transactions Institute of British Geographers, 40(3), 375-386