Assessing property flood resilience for commercial buildings: some recommendations

Hong Xiao, David Higgins, Rotimi Joseph, Taiwo Adedeji, David Proverbs

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    Commercial property plays a significant role in the UK economy and presents a major investment asset for both the pensions and insurance industries. UK commercial property forms a significant portion of the economy, with an estimated turnover of £3.2trn and employing about 22.8 million people with an average growth rate of 2.2% since 2008.

    Commercial property investment rental income derived from business leases on offices, shops, industrial and leisure facilities supports pensions, insurance policies and savings plans. Therefore flooding poses a considerable threat to the security of income from this asset class and means the security of these investments is paramount to the large number of shareholders and stakeholders.

    In recent years, UK flood risk management policy has recognised that floods cannot be totally prevented and has therefore embraced a proactive and more robust approach of managing flood risk and living with floods, captured under the 'living with water' philosophy. This approach often entails building resilience into the system that is exposed to the risk.

    For residential properties, the focus has been on development and adaptation to the risks of flooding. This concept is commonly referred to as 'property level' flood resilience or simply, property flood resilience (PFR). Since its inception, this has gained wider recognition in the domain of flood risk management. However, most studies relating to flood-risk effect on properties or PFR have concentrated almost exclusively on residential properties.

    Given that commercial properties tend to have many different characteristics, for example in form, materials and technologies used, there has up to now been scant research on the application of PFR to them. The aim of this study, therefore, is to explore the application of PFR towards this important component of the building stock and to develop some clear conclusions and recommendations for taking this approach forward.

    The research adopted a mixed methods approach:

    - a review of the existing evidence found in the literature, encompassing government reports, policy papers, grey literature and published research.

    - an online questionnaire survey of commercial property owners and tenants exposed to flood risk.

    - a detailed case study phase, in York, Sheffield and Worcester area of the UK, in which six examples of flood-affected commercial properties were investigated in detail, comprising interviews with occupiers and owners, site visits and observations and scrutiny of documentation.

    The case study businesses were: a manufacturing factory, a business centre, a holiday cottage, a sailing club, a rowing club and a touring theatre.

    The findings revealed
    The detrimental impact from flooding on commercial properties is evident in a number of ways, making a clear case for businesses to take flood risk seriously and to take action to minimise the impact.

    Flood risk awareness among the case study businesses was high, but this was possibly due to the fact that most had direct flooding experience. Effort will be needed to promote awareness to businesses not currently at risk, to allow time to prepare risk management strategies.

    The case studies showed that businesses tended to choose a bespoke package of measures to suite their circumstances, rather than implementing a full suite of all available PFR packages.

    It was also evident that PFR measures enhanced the reputation of the businesses and increased the value of properties, providing indirect and intangible benefits, as well as reducing the damage from flooding - the principle direct and tangible benefit. Businesses need to fully appreciate the range of benefits into their PFR decision-making.

    The case studies showed that businesses chiefly relied on their own resources and instincts, or followed the practices of others in developing PFR strategies. This points to the need for business support in this area, especially for SMEs.

    - Flood resilience should be part of an organisation's business risk management strategy and incorporated into its operational management.

    - The absence of a 'one-size-fits-all model' means businesses need to assess their own flood risks and implement specific PFR measures to address their needs.

    - future comprehensive research on the costs and benefits of different PFR measures will facilitate and encourage more PFR measures in commercial properties.

    - There is an urgent need for a 'one-stop' hub organised by government or professional bodies to provide independent, reliable and practical advice and guidance on PFR measures.

    - PFR measures should be incorporated into building design and construction, where appropriate, to avoid costly retrofitting later.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherProperty Research Trust
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 1 Jan 2023


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