Leicester’s capacity to address flood risk: barriers and opportunities

Leicester’s capacity to address flood risk: barriers and opportunities

Written by Steven H.A. Koop scientific researcher at KWR Watercycle research institute and Utrecht University in the Netherlands

Leicester’s flood vulnerability

Leicester is particularly vulnerable to heavy and prolonged periods of rain leading to flooding. From the East and West hills, a number of large watercourses flow quickly towards the River Soar through urban areas. In addition, major development projects can be expected in the coming decades, upstream of the river.


The increase in impermeable surfaces – such as roofs, roads and car-parking - could increase the amount of water running off these surfaces, increasing the flood risk in Leicester. According to Environment Agency data, it is estimated that about 1,915 residential and commercial properties are at risk of a 1 in 75 years flood event.


For Leicester City Council it is of major importance that every person understands the causes and risks of flooding and the impacts on their properties, what they can do during flooding emergencies, and how they can get involved in the decision-making process. You can find more information about Flood Risk in Leicester here.


Leicester City Council’s ‘Do you know your flood risk’ stand at the Riverside Festival, June 2017


To make sure everyone is able to read and understand this vital information, Leicester City Council’s “Translation And Interpretation Policy (2017)”, enables under certain circumstances, local management plans and policy documents such as Leicester’s Integrated Flood Risk Management Strategy to be translated into 1 of the 70 main languages that are spoken in the city. However, translation is conducted on a case by case basis when requested by a resident or when dealing with an inquiry where a resident could benefit from its translation. This is also to open to people’s participation in finding a better solution to the city’s wider issues. Leicester City Council has conducted public consultation in drafting local flood risk management strategies, an occasion for residents to provide feedback to their city council and help not only in the co-creation of knowledge, but also in finding better solutions for their local areas. Unfortunately though these processes are often restricted by financial resources.

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National organisational and funding structure

Like all English cities, Leicester cannot depend on national governmental funding after the 2010 austerity measures. Therefore, the city is working on having a more active role to fund flood-defence projects using their own resources, partnership funding or local developers. However, these funding mechanisms may limit long-term financial security necessary to pro-actively adapt to challenges of climate change and changes in land use. Consequently, the role of local people and organisations that provide a long-term vision, promote initiatives, enable collaboration, and provide the required local resources, has become critical (condition 6 Agents of change).


These entrepreneurs can be an active citizen, a representative from the City Council, a local researcher or policy developer. More importantly, it is not an individual but a group of active entrepreneurs that can make a difference. The opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved with or develop new projects and innovations is somewhat limited in Leicester. Being partly explained by the divided responsibilities, interests and tasks between the local authorities, utilities sewerage providers etc., each with national imposed organisational structures that cause issues when bringing different initiatives and policies together (Condition 7 Multi-level network potential). Successful attempts to integrate the development of green infrastructure with flood risk management objectives have been made. However, it has proven more difficult to integrate flood risk goals with the national targets for housing development to which, the Leicester City Council planning must comply with.

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How can governance capacity help Leicester?

Across the UK and globally, we are facing major climatically driven challenges such as rising sea levels, extreme weather events and increasingly severe flooding. How are these water challenges to be addressed? Despite numerous potential solutions being developed – originating from existing scientific knowledge and practical experiences – many cities across the UK, Europe and beyond have yet to find adequate responses to their flood challenges. Part of the problem is that flood challenges today extend across many administrative boundaries and challenge us to go beyond traditional short-term and sectorial ways of managing floods, which have failed to consider the long-term impacts on the entire water (hydrological) cycle. The governance capacity assessments, analyses how well the responsible organisations such as councils, utilities and sewerage undertakes are able to collaborate effectively and overcome the barriers that impact effective management. The analysis of Leicester’s  flood risk management has revealed interesting results.

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How does governance analysis work?

All analysis is done by an independent researcher and is split into three stages:


  1. A literature study is conducted and a preliminary score for each of the 9 conditions indicators determined.
  2. Key members from each of the responsible organisations are interviewed to refine the indicator scores.
  3. Feedback on the preliminary indicator scores is gathered from the interviewees and clients and amended appropriately.


Once the three stages of analysis have been completed, the final indicator scores are determined. Collectively, the indicators are grouped into 9 conditions, which are scored from very encouraging (++) to very limiting (--) that present Leicester’s overall capacity to address water challenges. A more detailed description of the research procedure can be found online here.


The results of Leicester’s analysis are presented below.


The results of the capacity analysis of Leicester’s flood risk governance. Each condition is an average of three indicators. Based on literature research, in-depth interviews with local experts and based on their feedback, each indicator is scored from very limiting (--) to very encouraging (++) the overall governance capacity.

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