Publication - Research and analysis

Mapping flood disadvantage in Scotland 2015: report

Published: 23 Dec 2015
Environment and Forestry Directorate
Part of:
Environment and climate change

This research identifies and maps the neighbourhoods in Scotland that would be most disadvantaged by flooding.

Mapping flood disadvantage in Scotland 2015: report
2. Background

2. Background

Flooding is already a significant issue in Scotland as the winter 2013/14 floods in Dumfries and Galloway; surface water flooding in Glasgow in 2002, and, more recently, in July 2015 in Aberdeen; and floods in Moray in 1995, 2002 and 2009 have shown. In 2011 SEPA produced the first National Flood Risk Assessment ( NFRA) for Scotland, which suggests that 1 in 22 of all residential properties in Scotland is at risk of flooding from any source (sea, river and surface water), considering the 1 in 200 years return period.

Climate change is likely to exacerbate the frequency and severity of flooding in Scotland.

The UK Climate Projections data indicates that rising sea levels, increases in winter rainfall, and more days of heavy rainfall will affect Scotland (Defra, 2012). The sea level in Edinburgh is projected to rise by between 10.5 and 18.0 cm by the 2050s (The Scottish Government, 2009). Depending on the region in Scotland, it is unlikely that the increase in winter precipitation by the 2050s, under the high emissions scenario would be less than 6% or greater than 55% (The Scottish Government, 2009). The consequential increased risk of river, coastal and surface water flooding is recognised in Scotland's Third National Planning Framework (The Scottish Government, 2014a). Also, the intensity of rainfall is likely to increase: the wettest days of the year are likely to be considerably wetter than at present (The Scottish Government, 2009). By the 2050s, rainfall on the wettest day in winter is projected to change in the range of -5% to 25% across regions in Scotland, under the high emissions scenario, with a central estimate (50% probability) of 10% increase ( UK Climate Projections, 2009).

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment emphasised that, under the changing climate, flooding would increase the risk of deaths, injuries, and health effects (Defra, 2012). However, not all individuals or communities will be affected equally, as their ability to cope with these events is different. For example, groups such as older people, those on low incomes or in poor health are more prone to harm (Defra, 2013).

The impacts from extreme weather events under the changing climate could disproportionately affect some sectors of society.

The uneven distribution of climate impacts has implications for social justice, which in relation to flooding is about ensuring that people, both individually and collectively, have the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from flood events and that the policies for reducing the risks take account of existing and projected vulnerabilities, resources and capabilities (Preston et al., 2014). Thus, there is an urgent need for the development of tailored policy responses for vulnerable groups who are the most likely to be affected by the impacts of climate change, including flooding (Lindley et al., 2011).

2.1 Policy context

In recent years there has been an increasing focus on the notion of vulnerability to climate change in UK and Scottish policy. The UK National Planning Policy Framework includes guidance for planning authorities on meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change, and emphasises the need to protect vulnerable locations ( DCLG, 2012). In addition, the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment ( DEFRA, 2012) highlights the potential impacts on, and the need to protect, the most vulnerable individuals and communities. The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme accordingly presents the vision of Scotland with "strong, healthy, resilient communities which are well informed and prepared for a changing climate" (The Scottish Government, 2014b: 84).

SEPA's (2014) report 'Our Climate Challenge: helping to deliver a resilient, low carbon Scotland' aims to assist the delivery of Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Programme and promote adaptation across all of SEPA's strategic themes by 2018. SEPA identifies their role in flooding as particularly key in terms of adapting Scotland to a changing climate. Further, Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework advises that decisions on adaptation should be informed by robust scientific research into the impacts of climate change, vulnerabilities to those impacts, and effectiveness of adaptation options, and emphasises the importance of various agencies in supporting vulnerable groups (The Scottish Government, 2009).

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 ( FRM Act) sets a framework for Responsible Authorities to exercise their functions collaboratively towards the overall reduction of flood risk in Scotland. It enables a plan-led and risk-based approach to sustainable flood risk management that considers catchments holistically. The NFRA ( SEPA, 2011) established for the first time a strategic consideration of flood risk across Scotland. Using available data, it defined flood risk in terms of the hazard likelihood and potential exposure, vulnerability and value of receptors to enable an assessment of the potential adverse consequences of flooding to people, businesses, the environment and cultural heritage. The NFRA considered a broad suite of metrics, one element of which was social vulnerability, to define those areas most affected by flooding (Potentially Vulnerable Areas ( PVAs)) and which are the focus of Flood Risk Management Strategies ( FRMSs) and Local Flood Risk Management Plans ( LFRMPs). The PVAs therefore identify those communities which may be most adversely affected by flooding, considering the impacts on people and community services, but does not explicitly report on flood disadvantage.

The FRMSs will be published in 2015 and will update the NFRA using the most up-to-date information on flood hazard. These establish the Management Actions which, when implemented, will reduce overall flood risk considering a 30-50 year time horizon. The development of a wide range of socio-economic metrics that detail social vulnerability to flooding could greatly support local authorities in better understanding how to implement and target their Actions within LFRMPs and thus support current strategic flood risk management tools.

Beyond flood risk management and climate change policies, there are a number of cross-cutting policy issues that support efforts aiming at better understanding of flood disadvantage. The importance of reducing inequalities is emphasised in 'Achieving our Potential: A Framework to Tackle Poverty and Income Inequality in Scotland' (Scottish Government, 2008a). This document mainly addresses material disadvantage but it also provides a strong focus for various public, private and third sector organisations in its emphasis on community planning and empowering locally based stakeholders.

Flooding has significant impacts on physical health and mental well-being and therefore health policies also bear strong relevance to flood disadvantage. Reducing health inequalities in materially disadvantaged areas is prioritised as documented in 'Equally Well' (Scottish Government, 2008b:1) which stresses that "radical cross-cutting action is needed to address Scotland's health gap to benefit its citizens, communities and the country as a whole". This may be seen as supporting increased cross-departmental working between flood risk management teams, emergency planning and health and social care to reduce flood disadvantage.

Matters of civil contingencies are also the responsibility of the Scottish Government except in a few identified areas (such as terrorism). The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Contingency Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2005 notes a wide range of Category 1 responders in the event of an emergency who could all be involved in helping to address flood disadvantage. Many Category 1 responders operate beyond local authority boundaries including the police, NHS Health Boards and SEPA. Effectively addressing flood disadvantage, with a particular focus on securing adequate response in the event of flooding, will mean identifying stakeholders both within and beyond the local authority.

Of future policy relevance is the current Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill (Scottish Parliament, 2014) that was passed by the Scottish Parliament during June 2015. The Bill aims to strengthen community voices in decision making and to improve community planning. Flooding could be an issue through which conversations around empowerment might begin particularly since more responsibilities are being placed upon citizens to manage their own risks.

2.2 Building on previous research on flood disadvantage in Scotland

Several previous studies have assessed the impact of flooding on communities in Scotland in relation to their characteristics. For example, Werritty et al. (2007) found that the lowest income households reported the highest levels of stress and anxiety and suffered from more adverse health impacts; and that older people were more affected by 'intangible' impacts such as loss of cherished memorabilia. Houston et al. (2011) carried out an analysis of the pattern of pluvial (rain related) flood risk within Glasgow, which indicated that groups with a lower socio-economic status may be over-represented in the areas at risk. Houston et al. (2011) also emphasised the need for better identification of which social groups are most vulnerable to the impacts of a flood, i.e. the most negatively affected by flooding. It has been recognised that there remains considerable scope to introduce indicators and measures of vulnerability taking into account the uneven impacts of flooding on different communities (Lindley et al., 2011; Preston et al., 2011).

Understanding the geographical distribution of social, economic and environmental factors contributing to vulnerability may assist with flood risk management

Knowing the location of vulnerable groups can support actions aimed at reducing exposure of communities, prioritising particularly vulnerable populations for intervention and anticipating where the future risk 'hot spots' may be located (Preston et al., 2011). Accordingly, Lindley et al. (2011) carried out a spatial analysis of social vulnerability to flooding in Scotland, using an extensive set of indicators derived from the 2001 census data and other socio-economic datasets based on factors recognised as contributing to social vulnerability in the literature. Lindley et al. (2011) identified a strong concentration of the characteristics increasing community vulnerability to flooding in urban and coastal areas. This assessment was taken forward by Lindley and O'Neill (2013), who identified to what extent these social, economic and environmental characteristics of neighbourhoods that increase their vulnerability coincided with the probability of flooding, i.e. where there was flood disadvantage.

Whilst the assessment by Lindley and O'Neill (2013) provided a valuable picture of the spatial distribution of flood disadvantage, the assessment of flood disadvantage needs to be updated given the economic, societal and demographic changes in Scotland that have occurred in the last decade. For example, between 2001 and 2011, the number of people in Scotland aged 65 and over increased by 85,000 (11%) (National Records of Scotland, 2012). In addition, the number of private tenants - a group which is potentially disproportionately affected by flooding due to limited legal protection and poor housing standards in the private rented sector - nearly doubled and stood at 11% in 2011 (The Scottish Government, 2012a). However, these numbers do not tell us where change has occurred and how the spatial distribution of potentially vulnerable groups has changed since 2001. Thus, it is important to use the most up to date socio-economic information to determine the current spatial distribution of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in Scotland.

Further, this project has provided the opportunity for a detailed review of the social vulnerability indicators used in the original study on social vulnerability to climate change impacts (Lindley et al., 2011). The review allowed for the consideration of new evidence from the literature that was not possible in the earlier assessments. As a result there have been some modifications to the methodology (see section 3 and the methodology document). Importantly, the results from this study cannot be used to illustrate temporal changes with regard to the first disadvantage assessment (Lindley and O'Neill, 2013) or for comparisons with other parts of the UK.

Also, recent advances in flood mapping since the first assessment of vulnerability and disadvantage, together with them taking account of the influence of flood defences (represented by the defended flood extents), add an additional angle to the analysis of flood disadvantage. Moreover, the first assessment of vulnerability and disadvantage to flooding did not include the risk of surface water flooding, which has only recently been systematically mapped for Scotland. Surface water flooding poses a significant threat to the well-being of communities, accounting for approximately 38% of all flood impacts in Scotland ( SEPA, 2011a). Whilst the intense rain events that cause surface water flooding are difficult to forecast and it is challenging to provide adequate warning times (Houston et al., 2011), it is possible to predict where pluvial flooding might occur and be a significant hazard for a range of return periods that enables mitigation measures to be put in place. Thus, estimating the levels of surface water flooding disadvantage by combining the spatial distribution of surface water flooding hazard with the updated vulnerability assessment in this project will provide additional information guiding the appropriate mitigating actions of the Scottish Government, local authorities and service providers.