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Coastal Settlements at Risk

Coastal Settlements at Risk

In association with Halifax General Insurance Services Limited (HGISL), a three-year research programme entitled 'Coastal Settlements at Risk' is being conducted by the Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment (CURBE) in the departments of Architecture and Geography. The programme assesses the risks to the built environment from windstorm and storm surge hazards between the Humber and Thames estuaries, both for the East Coast as a whole and for 3 case study areas within this region.

In recent years a number of large scale losses have been sustained in the UK through the impact of extreme weather events on human settlements. The Midlands flooding event of 1998, the subsidence losses of 1995 to 1997, and the windstorm losses of 1987 and 1990 are the most recent such events, each associated with losses to insurers alone of hundreds of millions of pounds. Looking further back it is clear that more extreme events have occurred in the past; and in a regime of global climate change, it is likely that larger and more frequent extreme events will occur in the future. Perhaps the most serious risk is a return of east coast flooding resulting from combined windstorm and sea-surge on the scale of, or larger than, the event of 1953.

Clean-up operation in a house in Sussex during the floods in October 2000 (Source: BBC News website of 10 October 2000)
Clean-up operation in a house in Sussex during the floods in October 2000

The project aims to make a substantial contribution to the understanding of risks to the built environment from natural hazards by focusing on a key area of high risk in the UK the low-lying densely-settled part of the east coast from the Humber Estuary to the Thames Estuary. There are two main components to the project:

  • A study of the interaction of shoreline management policy and human settlements, and the implications for current and future risks,
  • A study of the building stock to identify the key features of its vulnerability to natural hazards (windstorm, flooding, subsidence), how these vary with age of property or other socio-economic factors, and how they are changing with time.

The largest risk to which East Coast settlements are exposed is flooding associated with overtopping of sea defences resulting from high tide and storm surge: this risk is peculiar to coastal settlements and most severe on the East Coast. But this risk combines with other risks windstorm damage, coastal erosion, ground settlement, river flooding and cold weather damage many of which are shared to some degree with settlements in other parts of the UK.