(Kingston upon) Hull

Physical context and flood history

Kingston-upon-Hull (or more commonly known as Hull) is located on the East coast of Northern England in the county of Yorkshire. Situated at the confluence between the River Hull and the Humber Estuary, and developed on reclaimed marshland, the city occupies a naturally low basin where almost 90% of the land is below the level of the normal high tides and only 2-4m above sea level (Environment Agency, 2010). This makes Hull naturally very susceptible to several different types of flooding; namely tidal, fluvial and surface water. In particular, this case study is predominantly focused on the Hull and Haltemprice drainage catchment.

Within the (fluvial) River Hull catchment a distinction is made between the high level system and the low level system. The High level system in the upper part of the catchment, transports water from springs and brooks south along the River Hull into low-lying land. In order to constrain water within the channel, the system is dependent on a series of embankments, which essentially increase the height of the river level far above the surrounding land (hence the name “high level system”; see Environment Agency, 2010). As a result, water flowing off the surrounding land is prevented from draining naturally into the river. Instead, a low level system of channels or drains has been constructed to convey water to areas where it can discharge into the Humber Estuary or else be pumped back into the high level system with the support of pumping stations. Ownership of these drainage assets is divided between a number of competent authorities, including the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards and Yorkshire Water. Through the city itself, the River Hull is fully embanked and offers protection against the 1 in 100 year flood event. In addition, the Hull Barrier built in 1980, prevents water from the Humber Estuary from entering the river in the event of exceptional high tides or storm surge, and is designed to withstand the 1 in 200 year flood event.


These defences were tested in 2013 when a combination of the high tide and strong winds led to a storm surge, which in some places exceeded that seen in 1953. The investigation into the tidal flooding reported that 19,000 properties were successfully defended by EA defences (HCC, 2014). However, this event also highlighted some weaknesses in the existing line of defence, where breaches were reported along Victoria Dock and the marina in the east of the city. Furthermore, the defences that withstood the flood were dangerously close to being overtopped; for example, the storm surge barrier was within 40cm of being overwhelmed (HCC, 2014). In total 264 properties and businesses were affected. Since this time, investment has been made to strengthen defences in this area of the city, including a new flood wall at Albert dock as well as 600m of raised defences within the Port of Hull. When completed it is anticipated that these defences will protect up to 300 homes and businesses.

Whilst flood risk management for tidal and fluvial flooding has a long legacy in Hull, the significant threat posed by surface water flooding was highlighted by the Summer floods in 2007, with 8,600 homes and 13,000 businesses flooded. Since the 2007 floods, a number of schemes have been proposed to address the increasing risk of flooding in the city and target surface water flooding especially. Several flood alleviation schemes including flood storage ‘lagoons’ are at various stages of design, consultation and implementation (such as the Willerby and Derringham Flood Alleviation Scheme).

Research motivation

As a case study, Hull offers a number of research avenues to further our understanding of flood risk governance. Firstly, surface water FRM is a discourse which greatly strengthened following the Summer floods in 2007, marking a turning-point and emergence of a distinct sub-Flood Risk Governance Arrangement (FRGA) for surface water Flood Risk Management (FRM). The ways in which surface water flood risk governance has developed and aligned to classical FRM (orientated towards fluvial and coastal risk), is a central research question. Related to this, this study examines the opportunities and barriers for managing pluvial flooding within a system traditionally dominated by fluvial and coastal FRM. In terms of STAR-FLOOD’s Flood Risk Management Strategies (FRMSs), this research is principally focused on the governance interactions between the FRMSs for defence and mitigation.

Secondly, independent reviews that followed the 2007 Summer floods highlighted how responsibilities between competent authorities were highly fragmented and were partly responsible for poor outcomes of FRM. Since then efforts have been made to clarify responsibilities and facilitate joined-up working. Part of this research investigates the effectiveness of partnership working, the potential barriers and opportunities for enhancing so-called bridging mechanisms, as well as being critical of the extent to which these could improve flood risk governance in Hull.

Thirdly and related to the above points, this study examines specific projects and initiatives currently being developed in Hull, such as the Willerby and Derringham Flood Alleviation Scheme (WaDFAS). These projects involve partnership working between Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council, as well as other actors and aim to reduce surface water flood risk. Here, we explore matters of land acquisition (including Compulsory Purchase Orders) and public consultation, both relevant for evaluating the legitimacy of flood risk governance. Furthermore, these projects raise interesting research questions regarding the distribution of costs and benefits.

There are a number of specific questions addressed in this case study, which are listed below:

  • How have arrangements for flood risk governance evolved over time? What are the driving forces for stability and/or change? In what ways did the 2007 Summer flood contribute to changes in flood risk governance in Hull?
  • How has surface water flood risk governance developed and aligned to classical FRM?
  • To what extent have mitigation measures/strategies been embraced by actors and stakeholders within traditionally defence-orientated FRM?
  • What are the tensions/barriers encountered in delivering Flood Alleviation Schemes in Hull (if any)? How are these being resolved?
  • To what extent is there evidence for effective partnership working in Hull? What are the barriers to partnership working?
  • Is there scope for ‘bridging mechanisms’? In what form should these exist?
  • To what extent does the governance arrangement for FRM support societal resilience to flooding?
  • To what extent can flood risk governance be described as legitimate?
  • To what extent can flood risk governance be described as efficient?

For further details contact Meghan Alexander at m.c.alexander@mdx.ac.uk