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‘Waving not drowning!’: Gloucestershire's Inquiry into the 2007 Summer Flooding Emergency . Carolyn Roberts 1 , Steve Owen 2 , Matt Reed 2 and Owain Jones 2 University of Gloucestershire, UK 1 Centre for Active Learning 2 Countryside and Community Research Institute.

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‘Waving not drowning!’: Gloucestershire's Inquiry into the 2007 Summer Flooding Emergency

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waving not drowning gloucestershire s inquiry into the 2007 summer flooding emergency

‘Waving not drowning!’: Gloucestershire's Inquiry into the 2007 Summer Flooding Emergency

Carolyn Roberts1, Steve Owen2, Matt Reed2

and Owain Jones2

University of Gloucestershire, UK

1 Centre for Active Learning

2Countryside and Community Research Institute

This research was supported by the U.K. Natural Environment Research Council’s ‘FREE’ Programme

what will be included
What will be included?
  • Learning about the flood: overview of Gloucestershire’s 2007 flood event as a ‘wicked problem’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973)
  • Learning from the flood: evaluation of Gloucestershire County Council’s Scrutiny Inquiry as a legitimate democratic process and social learning mechanism for adaptive management where there are wicked problems (Petts and Leach, 2000; Collins and Ison, 2006; Pahl-Wostl, 2006; WFD)
‘In terms of scale, complexity and duration, this is simply the largest peacetime emergency we’ve seen’Chief Constable, Dr. Tim Brain
  • Thousands of properties flooded, on floodplains and in settlements of all sizes in Gloucestershire and surrounding counties
  • Inundation, contamination, life-threatening disruption to core services for over 400,000
  • Subsidence, stress, illness and other contingent losses
  • £3 Billion (estimated) insured damage, and some permanent losses of business and industry
  • Incipient ‘civil disorder’
a 1 in 400 year event
A ‘1 in 400+ year’ event?
  • 1st June to 31st August: 200-250% long term average rainfall across most of the County. Four main ‘episodes’
  • July 2007: 400-450% long term average rainfall
  • 20th July: 78mm in 12 hours widely, peaking at 110mm in 2 hrs locally (1 in 443 yrs estim). 2 months rainfall in 12 hours.
gloucestershire s 3 stage sequence
Gloucestershire’s 3-stage sequence
  • 19th July 2007 Met Office forecast ‘a major rainfall event’
  • 20th July Exceptionally heavy and persistent rainfall. Localised and severe flash flooding. County Emergency Service goes live at 2.15pm. Helicopter rooftop rescues; travellers trapped; rest centres established
  • 21st July Rain continued but most flash flooding receded
  • 22nd July Major river flooding began in Severn, Avon and Churn catchments. Water supplies from Mythe WTP lost
  • 23rd July Power lost from Castlemeads; Walham saved
  • 24th July Priority to bottled water and bowser deliveries
  • 25th July 900 bowsers in operation
  • 27th July 3 million litres water delivered per day, and rising Severe weather warning again…..
  • 6th August ‘Emergency’ moved to ‘Recovery’
  • January 2009 Some residents still in temporary homes
approximately 4000 houses and 500 businesses flooded in july 2007 in gloucestershire alone
Approximately 4000 houses and 500 businesses flooded in July 2007, in Gloucestershire alone

Flooding included old and new properties, on ‘non-floodplain’ urban areas


Single critical points of failure emerged, such as water treatment plants, electricity stations and motorwaysc. 350,000 people lacked safe piped water supply for up to 21 daysc. 10,000 people trapped on flooded M5 motorway for up to 18 hours

wicked problems rittel and webber 1973
‘Wicked’ problems (Rittel and Webber,1973)
  • Poorly formulated and complex issues
  • A multiplicity of actors or stakeholders
  • Competing value systems
  • Ambiguous terminology
  • Spatial and temporal interdependency, and
  • Lack of clear end points
wicked problems
‘Wicked’ problems

Wicked planning problems defy traditional linear solutions, and require new, more fluid ways of thinking. Solutions are usually ‘better’ or ‘worse’ rather than absolute, but decisions must nevertheless be made in the light of these uncertainties

overview and scrutiny
Overview and Scrutiny
  • Key feature of local government modernisation agenda (Local Government Act 2000)
  • Part of democratic renewal of local government
  • Seeks to enhance effectiveness of elected members through good governance
overview and scrutiny1
Overview and Scrutiny

Overview and Scrutiny should ensure:

  • Openness
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Responsiveness
  • Sound ethical conduct throughout partnerships
overview and scrutiny2
Overview and Scrutiny

Overview and Scrutiny should tangibly:

  • Hold decision makers to account
  • Support effective and beneficial policies
  • Contribute to continuous improvement of services
  • Positively impact on work and outcomes of external agencies
scrutiny inquiries
Scrutiny Inquiries

Scrutiny Inquiries are a principal instrument of ‘Overview and Scrutiny’ and are used to examine:

  • Success of policies
  • Effectiveness of processes
  • Extent to which problems have been solved
  • Impact of work of external agencies
the scrutiny inquiry into the summer emergency 2007
The Scrutiny Inquiry into the Summer Emergency 2007
  • Managed by Gloucestershire County Council
  • Undertaken by selected elected Councillors, supported by senior officers, legal team and a Technical Advisor. These are local decision makers
  • Purpose of Scrutiny arrangements is normally to ‘hold the Council Executive to account’ before and after decisions
  • Focus on ‘lessons learned’ by stakeholders
  • Aligned with EU pressure for stakeholder engagement in decision making about water
scrutiny inquiry operation
Scrutiny Inquiry operation
  • 11-week period from end August 2007 to end November 2007 included four public hearings (‘Select Committee’ style) with cross examination of major witnesses, plus seven other local meetings for the public to address elected representatives
  • Research, questionnaires, house-to-house enquiries
  • Report with 75 recommendations to Council, then Government (via Pitt Review)
  • 12 months of follow up scrutiny
public hearing cross examinees included
Environment Agency

Four District Councils

Glos CC Emergency Management Service

Severn Trent Water

National Grid

Glos CC Community and Adult Care Directorate

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service

Glos CC Planning Officers

SW Regional Assembly Planning Officers

National Flood Forum

Gloucestershire Highways

Gloucestershire First

Tewkesbury Town Council

Longlevens Community Groups

BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire Constabulary

Glos CC Recovery and Infrastructure Resilience

Local Resilience Forum

Public Hearing cross-examinees included..
scrutiny inquiry report
Scrutiny Inquiry Report

Sections relating to

  • The emergency response
  • Watercourses, drains and sewers
  • Land use planning process
  • Single points of failure
  • Communications
  • Recovery and future resilience, including local people and communities
the planning process
The Planning Process

‘The Inquiry has examined the issue of developments on the floodplain, and the role of the Environment Agency in the process. However, the Inquiry has not been able to investigate this complex issue in detail and is therefore proposing a further task-group to tackle issues relating to flood risk, land use planning and new developments’

post inquiry
Post Inquiry
  • Inquiry reported rapidly, by November 2007
  • Report was effectively written by Officers with Chair and Technical support, and legal oversight
  • It informed draft national Pitt Review
  • Sub groups established, and a National Flood Forum for Local Government
  • First review of progress in January 2008; ‘Final’ review in July 2008, but elements continue
  • Temporary accommodation continued in use for more than 18 months
glif exploration methodology
GLIF exploration methodology
  • Participant observation
  • Analysis of documentation (including verbatim transcripts)
  • Extended semi- structured interviews with 38 stakeholders, within and beyond the Inquiry
  • Some quasi-quantitative responses (e.g. Likert scale) and rich ‘narrative’ data
  • Text analysis, comparing national to local reports

External to Scrutiny Inquiry

Individuals and Others

Elected Members

Witness to Scrutiny Inquiry

On, or supporting,

S I Panel

Businesses and Private Sector Agencies

Local Authority Officers

Public and Voluntary Agencies

Grouping Stakeholders

evaluation against criteria based on stakeholders perspectives such as
Evaluation against criteria, based on stakeholders’ perspectives such as:
  • Inclusiveness
  • Transparency
  • Learning
  • Efficiency
  • Efficacy
  • Legitimacy

Davies et al (2003)


“We could have been more inclusive if the constitution had permitted”

“People were so traumatised and angry…there should have been more of that…we needed more public meetings”

“This was not a party political matter”

“Public would not necessarily have the level of understanding of what went on”


“ People in the arena needed to be able to express a view, but also the process had to be seen to be done”

“..hearing bad management to which people admitted…free discussion…I was surprised by admissions”

“Truth was not always secured. Statements were made which were not all true but which were reported as if they were. There was no evidence in some cases”


“The Police participation in the SI was a big step for them in terms of accountability”

“I found the experience quite emotional. It has changed the way I look at the world; it was a powerful experience for me. I will never look at heavy rain again in the same way. I will be thinking, oh dear, how saturated is the ground…runoff…how full are the rivers? This is partly the result of the floods, but also a result of the Inquiry..the impact of the building on the hill would never have crossed my mind…how everything has a knock-on effect…we all learned something”


“It was a good piece of work overall. It focussed people on getting things sorted…I honestly feel we will be better prepared”

“It was rigid, but a degree of rigidity is necessary”

“At the end of it there is still a feeling that there is more to find out and there are still people who haven’t been asked”


“The Scrutiny Inquiry pushed back barriers much further than people recognised”

“Findings from the public meetings (across the County) came in too late to assist in shaping the text”

“It has influenced national policy…when I read Pitt, I thought ‘that sounds like us, that comes from us’”

“Glos County Council should be providing community leadership..it makes democracy relevant. We led it and we brought it about”


“The primary purpose of the Inquiry was to inform Pitt”

“We were prepared to hold this in an area outside our comfort zone”

“Needed to ensure that the process could not be challenged as inadequate or biased”

“I have realised it is all about perception, not about what actually happened necessarily…this <SI> process was a good way of engaging”

  • Scrutiny Inquiry was effective as a social learning exercise at this level, and can be seen as part of ‘adaptive management’ strategies
  • Inquiry Chairing and conduct was exemplary
  • Stakeholder representation was generally excellent (only two prospective witnesses declined to appear) and witnesses appeared appropriately open and reflective
  • Councillors needed technical support
  • Much testimony was emotionally charged
  • Minor but locally important matters were exceptionally well handled
conclusions continued
Conclusions continued..
  • Wider national planning policy implementation issues for landscape development (e.g. floodplain occupancy) and SuDS could not be addressed adequately. Transport, health and flooding were also less adequately covered
  • Councillors were challenged by the scientific concept of an event too extreme to be controlled, and by issues around spatial and temporal interdependency
  • ‘Wicked’ nature of problem proved challenging for the Inquiry mechanism. Education programme is required for full engagement

Collins, K and Ison, R (2006) Dare we jump off Arnstein’s ladder? Social learning as a new policy paradigm. Proceedings of the Participatory Approaches in Science and Technology Conference, 4th-7th June, 2006, Edinburgh.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2004) Making Space for Water: Developing a new Government strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England – a consultation exercise. London: DEFRA. 154pp

Department for Communities and Local Government (2006) Planning Policy Statement 25: Development and the flood risk. London: HMSO 50pp

Environment Agency (2005) Sustainable Drainage Systems: A guide for developers. Environment Agency, (Accessed 22nd February 2008)

Johnson, C.L, Tunstall, S.M, and Penning-Rowsell, E.C. (2007) Crises as catalysts for adaptation: Human response to major floods. Flood Hazard Research Centre Publication No 511, 189 pp

Norton, B.G. (2005) Sustainability: a philosophy of adaptive ecosystem management. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 608pp

Pahl-Wostl, C. (2006) The importance of social learning in restoring the multifunctionality of rivers and floodplains. Ecology and Society 11(1): 10 and http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art10/ (Accessed 22nd February 2008)

Petts J. and Leach B. (2000) Evaluating methods for public participation. EA R&D Technical Report E135. EA: Bristol

Pitt, M (2007) Learning lessons from the 2007 floods: An independent review by Sir Michael Pitt. London: Cabinet Office, (Accessed 22nd February 2008)

Rittel, H and Webber, M. (1973) Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, pp 155-169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc.

Wilson, S, Bray, R. and Cooper, P. (2004) Sustainable drainage systems: Hydraulic, structural and water quality advice. London: CIRIA. 324pp