Why Sheffield floods… and how good planning can help

PDP_Sheffield Flood

Sheffield, owing to its geography and pattern of land use, is predisposed to flood from time to time.

Like Rome, it is famously built on hills, cradling 5 rivers (the Don, Sheaf, Rivelin, Loxley and Porter) as well as many smaller water courses, and is bordered by uplands on its western side.

During extreme rain events, water will run off quickly from the built over valley slopes. Many of the smaller watercourses have been constrained into culverts. The principal rivers have been hemmed into narrow channels, their natural flood plains concreted over. The neighbouring uplands would have once been covered with woodland, able to soak up rainfall, but are now used for grazing land or maintained as moorland for shooting game.

Much can doubtless be done at the local level to help mitigate the risk of flooding, dredging watercourses, building flood defences etc.

But if, over the longer term, the city wishes to address the underlying causes of flooding, a more radical approach to land use planning, which goes beyond the boundaries of the city’s administrative area, will probably be required. How we manage and farm our uplands, the extent to which we allow our flood plains to flood, whether we re-open culverted watercourses and give them space to breathe, the extent to which we prioritise tree planting, all of these things should be considered.

A balance must of course be struck. Many valuable heritage assets are situated on flood plains, many homes and businesses have to be safeguarded. But finding the right balance is what good planning is all about. The key is planning for the long term and planning across a wide area, beyond administrative boundaries. With good planning there is no reason why people cannot continue to live and work successfully in and around river valleys, as they have always done since time immemorial.

Jon Millhouse, Director, Planning & Design Practice Ltd

Top Image: Google Earth

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