Lost knowledge and outsourced expertise in flood risk

Flooding in Hull

A team of researchers from the University of Hull have published a paper looking at how knowledge and expertise of dealing with flooding and flood risk has changed over the last 20 years.

Before the water industry was privatised, the management of flooding was largely carried out by local councils and the National Rivers Authority (NRA) and later the Environment Agency. However, in the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, following the privatisation of the water industry, this work became increasingly outsourced to environmental consultants. As one senior EA figure stated “We used to be engineers and scientists, but now we’re project managers”.

Central to this change was what happened to flooding knowledge? The move from local agencies and councils, to national and international consultancies provided an opportunity for details about how rivers and drainage systems responded to flooding to be lost.

Following the 2007 floods in Hull, we carried out over 30 interviews of past and present specialists in this field, ranging from engineers on the ground to managers of consultancies to local MP’s.

These interviews showed that indeed, some knowledge that could be important was lost in this transition from local engineers to national consultants. However, it also showed that this enabled international experience and expertise afforded by outsourced consultants to be applied to flood risk management in the UK. In other words, whilst some important knowledge was indeed lost – a wider experience was also gained.

This research was funded by an ESRC grant awarded to Professor Graham Haughton (Manchester, formerly University of Hull), Professor Greg Bankoff (History, Hull) and Professor Tom Coulthard (Geography, Environment and Earth Science, Hull).

The paper is available to view online here.

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