5 Before a flood event

Practitioner’s Interview with Marie-France Beaufils

Marie-France Beaufils

Mayor of Saint Pierre des Corps, Senator, President of the European Centre for Flood Risk Prevention (CEPRI)

“100 % of the territory of my city Saint Pierre des Corps is located in flood prone area, and exposed to dikes breaches in case of flooding of the Loire River. The last flood occurred in 1866. In the late 1990s, I analysed the potential impacts of such an event, and I decided to engage with the State services in order to think about a way to continue the development of my city while adapting it to flood risk. This collaborative work allowed for finding innovative, low-risk urban and architectural solutions for living in flood prone zones. It took more than a decade to implement them.

The project is a good example of resilient urbanisation: developing cities while taking into consideration flood risks. It is based on several relatively young initiatives in European cities like Hamburg and Rotterdam, as well as French cities like Rennes and Strasbourg. Technical, economic and regulatory aspects still need to be elaborated in order to arrive at a common understanding of how to implement such resilient urbanisation.

Rebuilding or renewing the cities in flood prone zones is a delicate matter. Many actors are involved and express different – seemingly irreconcilable – points of view: some promote the idea of preventing construction in flood prone areas; others promote the idea of adapting existing buildings and infrastructure.  This multiplicity of visions generates a complex playing field in which it is difficult to reach consensus.

We also inherited a difficult legacy. 17 million persons currently live in vulnerable flood prone territories. They are more or less protected by defence infrastructure, but the condition is not always sufficient due to lack of maintenance. Furthermore, in many territories urban renewal in flood prone areas is legally allowed, or even implicitly encouraged by law. Other challenges include the uncertainties around the future of local authorities and their jurisdictions; budgetary restrictions and economic and social crises.

As a consequence, the consideration of flood risk in urban renewal projects often remains vague, remote and not a priority. We have no other choice than to build consensus about how to renew cities in flood prone areas. We have to accommodate, to bring closer, to pacify and to reconcile the different approaches. By doing so, we place ourselves in the heart of the implementation of the European Floods Directive and of the National Flood Risk Management Strategy. A promising way forward is the national project called “Territories in transformation exposed to flood risk”. It is managed under the general direction of urban planning, housing and nature and risk prevention activities of the French Ministry of Environment, and integrates insights from several local pilot projects.”

St pierre de Corps

Figure 5.1: Flood adapted passage way in St Pierre de Corps