Flood risk assessment advice – 5 “secret” tips to know

It is value, rather than cost which is critical when obtaining flood risk assessment advice (FRA). You are essentially employing a civil engineering professional, to use their experience, to produce an independent report. The report should be independent to you, the various Authorities, Insurers or others involved in your existing site, potential purchase, or in relation to your proposed development.

It is often the case that flood risk assessments are requested by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in relation to securing planning consent. A FRA should not however be produced with the specific aim to secure agreement. The professional independent nature of the report could then be open to challenge. You may not agree with the flood risk assessment advice given, but a professional will try to work with you to see what mitigating measures may be possible.

So to conclude – the main beneficiary of flood risk assessment advice is you. The better you understand the flood risks, the greater potential there is to mitigate, or design the flood risks out. In the long term the cost of paying for a professional flood risk report or assessment, can pay for itself many times over.

So how do you know how to choose a civil engineering consultant who can provide good flood risk assessment advice?

1. Check what type of flood risk assessment advice or report is offered

Many companies offer “professional flood risk assessment” services. In reality all they are providing are computer generated printouts of freely available public flood data to the nearest post code. They are not actually checked, or written, by a professional engineer.

At best, they are no more than basic automated screening reports. At worst they are dangerously inaccurate and mislead clients as to the actual risk. It is estimated that thousands of members of the public are scammed, or mislead this way every year across the UK.

The tale-tale signs of a company you may be best to avoid, is when you see/get the following sales talk:

  • EA approved consultants – the EA don’t approve consultants.
  • advanced modelling and calculations – is that correct or even relevant, you only want your site, not the whole River?
  • insurance industry approved – no such thing.
  • in the blue book or other paid for trade publication – as if this reasures professional quality any more than being in the yellow pages.
  • refer to having a “close working relationship” with the EA – what exactly are they suggesting? Are they ethical?

Watch out also for pages of small print which attempts to exclude all responsibility for the content of the flood risk assessment reports at exceptionally low prices. The cost is low for a reason – you are not getting a bargain. 

2. Request a named professional Civil Engineering consulant who will be providing your flood risk assessment advice.

Many of the major multinationals also stick to lengthy corporate templates. There are many examples of FRA template on the internet. Clearly there are some general requirements for such reports, but a flood risk assessment should be a bespoke document, specific to your site, house or development.

Critical then is the experience of that civil engineer/ flood risk assessment consultant.

  • Have they got practical experience of drainage and flood mitigation design, not just churning out generic flood risk assessment reports from templates?
  • Can they give examples of sites that flooded and why?
  • Have they practical experience of groundwater, vadose or surface water flooding – not just reading the EA flood maps?
  • What hydraulic training do they have? Do they talk at conferences and sit on recognised industry technical forums?
  • Do they understand the consequences and impact of flooding, not just the risk of flooding?
  • Will the report be done personally by a Director with over a decade of experience, or a technician in the team who usually does concrete beam sizing?

The cost suggested for a flood risk assessment usually directly reflects the cost of the staff doing the report + the company overheads.

3. Confirm the scope of the flood risk assessment advice stage being obtained

It is standard practice for flood risk assessment work to be split into stages. It is important you understand the limitations of each stage. You won’t get a hydraulic model or an OS / EA calibrated map of your locality, if all you requested was a initial review!

You should always check a contract scope and discuss with the Engineer if there is any element you need clarification on, before signing. It is only fair to both parties.

You should confirm the extent of discussions with the Authorities which you wish included or excluded.

Typically an initial flood risk assessment advice review takes around 3 days of work for an experienced Civil Engineer.

Watch out for those offering “a fast turn around”. A professional flood risk report can take 4 to 5 days, often spread over several weeks. If they can turn it out fast, is it because their reports are largely generic flood risk assessment templates and not written specifically for you.

4. Look for quality, not quality in a flood risk assessment report

A small flood risk report which is specific and focused on your flood risks is far better than a FRA based on a generic flood risk assessment template. Details of how Birmingham is not at high risk of flooding from the sea don’t really add value. A high quality flood risk report covers flooding elements which are not obvious to people who who don’t have over a decade of practical experience in civil engineering.

  • Check the small print does not try to exclude professional designer’s liability.
  • Check what the Consultant’s professional indemnity cover is. Can you see a copy of their certificate?

5. Best value and low cost, for flood risk assessment advice are not the same

We all want best value. A fair price for a professional job. In the end, a poor or generic flood risk assessment report is likely to not be accepted by the LPA or EA. This could then cause programme delays of weeks and additional costs.

Even worse, genuine risks will not be identified, or mitigated increasing your risk of flood damage. Remember, the cost of the damage is likely to exceed the original flood risk assessment costs many time over. Just, if not more important as understanding the risk of flooding is the consequence and impact of flooding.

Flood risk assessment advice is typically split into stages. The first stage may include a review of available evidence and a site visit to discuss. Some basic spot levels (i.e. not to OS) may be taken to understand the site topography. If the conclusion of this initial stage is that the site is at risk (usually zone 2 or 3), then more detailed professional flood risk advice is usually required, suitable for proposal to a Local Authority. At this stage the EA should be further consulted. It is common that at this stage a detailed topographical survey will be required to Ordinance Survey / Environment Agency standards.