Written evidence submitted by ClimateNode


ClimateNode is a not-for-profit applying data science techniques to climate risk intelligence. It recently undertook a study of the impacts of flooding in the UK since 2007 by extracting information from over 7,000 national and local newspaper articles using natural language processing. This was undertaken specifically to identify flooding impacts on both infrastructure assets and human settlements. A report summarising the research was published in January by the think tank Bright Blue. For more information see:


The research identified the following key issues relevant to this Call for Evidence:


 Major urban areas including London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, the West Midlands conurbation, Merseyside and Greater Manchester are now seeing repeat episodes of flash flooding which disrupt road and public transport networks. This is a threat to public safety and potentially affects the ability of the emergency services to go about their work. There have been at least two separate major incidents due to hospitals suffering from surface water flooding.


 In some parts of the UK a lack of sewer capacity is clearly contributing to flooding


 There have been multiple instances of flooding at Tube stations during heavy rainfall events going back to at least 2014. 2021 was the highest year on record for the number of hours London Underground stations have been closed due to flooding.


 There have been at least twelve instances of electricity substation flooding since 2007; most notably this was the cause of widespread and well-studied knock-on impacts in Lancashire in 2015.


 Many communities have experienced collapsed road bridges due to flooding. In the worst cases, bridge collapses have divided communities for many months with noticeable impacts on the local economy. Bridge collapses and bridge damage have also cut off road access for some communities, caused power cuts, severed gas mains, posed difficulties for inter-hospital transfers, and disrupted shifts at Sellafield. Bridge scour (erosion of material around bridge foundations) has the potential to be exacerbated by climate change, and this is an ongoing threat to the country’s road bridges which is insufficiently understood or acknowledged.


 When water treatment works flood, water companies’ business continuity plans have kicked in. However, companies may have difficulty transporting substitute water supplies via road when roads are flooded.


 Pumps and other flood defence equipment which is dependent on electricity have on occasion failed due to substation flooding, or electricity being cut off to prevent floodwaters interfering with electrics, and this can exacerbate flooding


• The 2015 floods in York caused loss of emergency phone services in Hull as the York telephone exchange represented a single point of failure for Hull-based phone company KCOM.


 Rolls Royce Derby, which is an important site for the UK’s nuclear submarine program, is at long-term risk of flooding and was closed as a precaution during the East Midlands floods of November 2019.


 Lincolnshire’s high quality agricultural land, flatness and recent experience of fluvial flooding make it an obvious area of concern for long-term risks to food security, as well as shorter terms risks of supply chain disruption.


In terms of effectiveness of Government policy in managing risks, the following are noted:


 Adaptation to increasing surface water flood risk is lagging behind fluvial flooding. This is likely due to surface water flood risk management being the responsibility of local authorities which lack the necessary resources, skills and capacity to discharge their responsibilities in full as the risk changes. It needs to be universally understood that the Environment Agency will not “fix” surface water flooding, because it is not within its operational responsibility.


 Some aspects of  flood risk management are more within the remit of LUHC rather than Defra. These include ensuring the planning system works to mitigate flood risk; ensuring local authorities have the resources and capacity to discharge their flood risk management responsibilities; tackling the spread of impermeable surfaces; and emergency coordination. It is possible that greater progress would be made on these issues with an explicit designated minister for flooding policy in LUHC, working with counterparts at Defra.


• The Climate Change Committee has noted room for improvement in incorporating climate change into the NSRA and NRR, and it is vital these processes do not make assumptions on climate-related hazards based on historical data. Ensuring the NSRA is forward-looking on flooding and other climate-related hazards will allow threats to critical infrastructure to be better flagged and understood in advance.             


 It is unclear whether the Government recognises the systemic risks associated with road bridge scour and road bridge collapse, and has policies in place to monitor for and pre-emptively address it.


 The public should be reassured that metro mayors and metropolitan transport system operators are addressing risks of flooding to underground stations adequately. Urban transport systems have not received much attention in the UK climate risk assessments.


 The government has limited information on the extent to which ports are preparing for increasing coastal hazards, according to the Climate Change Committee.


 Ofcom guidance to telecoms service providers could be strengthened to ensure they are adequately addressing flood risk, particularly relating to single points of failure.


 Ofwat could play a more prominent role in ensuring sewerage companies invest to mitigate surface water flooding.


 Highway drainage maintenance is an important flood risk mitigation function, particularly for the ability of emergency responders and critical national infrastructure operators to get around. However, it is possible that it is treated in a siloed manner by both central and local government, and likely that road drainage maintenance has declined over the past decade or so, exacerbating flood risk in some locations.


ClimateNode has demonstrated that AI and geospatial analysis can be used to monitor the impacts of climate-related hazards on critical national infrastructure, by deploying natural language processing to compile a comprehensive dataset of UK flood impacts. This process can help anticipate future impacts by:  (i) identifying individual assets which have already been shown to be vulnerable; (ii) monitoring the impacts they experience during successive flood events; and (ii) cataloguing the knock-on effects which have already occurred via infrastructure interdependencies, illustrating the problems which can arise and which may be transferrable to similar assets.


Helen Jackson


24 February 2022