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Water planning

Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell specialises in natural hazard assessment and policy, with special reference to water planning.

He is pro vice-chancellor of research for Middlesex University and is also head of the Flood Hazard Research Centre. He has published several books and many papers on his research, and acted as consultant to numerous national and international environmental agencies.

It rains a lot more in western Scotalnd than in southern England. Why don't we hear about devastating floods there?

Because very few people live there, and a 'devastating flood' is not devastating if no-one is harmed. On the other hand a quite small event in Chichester is a major disaster. So a flood hazard is a combination of the flood source mechanisms (the heavy rainfall) and a vulnerable population. So it is a human and a physical issue, together.

Is the current government pressure to build more houses likely to encourage continued building on flood plains?

This could well be the case. There is not much land that is not sacrosanct in the UK (Green Belt; AONBs, National Parks, SSSIs, etc) and one of the areas that is 'available' is the floodplain, and it often appears suitable for development, being flat and with good communications. It may be correct to develop these areas rather than the Green Belt, but what needs to be done is to put the flood protection measures in at the same time, not after the flood has occurred.

Considering the very dry weather recently, are we going to have a water shortage during the summer?

Probably not (although shortages may occur locally). There were good heaving rainfall events around Christmas, and the groundwater levels are moderately high. Also, it tends to take at least a year of low rainfall to create a drought in the UK, not just a dry month or two.

To what extent and how do you think global warming will affect the supply of water in the UK?

This is very unclear. Some of the predictions are for Mediterranean weather in the southern part of the country, in which case there could be problems if we continue to use as much water as we do. Other predictions are for less extreme situations, and most of the forecasts have more winter rainfall. So I think that we will be all right, but it is very uncertain and you never know.

Edmund was interviewed in July 2003

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