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Local Governance and Community Resilience: How Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and Communities Managed Flooding in England

People Involved

Clare McKinlay

Greg Bankoff

Project Description

This project examines forms of community flood risk management in the past in the form of IDBs and their precursors, to determine their viability as a model for future policy-making. It develops an approach that views flood as a social construction as much as a physical hazard, and that places people and environment at the centre of a more historically oriented understanding of flooding in England. Valuable records are neglected and lessons that might be drawn from experience overlooked. This is an urgent issue given recent serious floods (e.g. Somerset 2014, Cumbria 2015).

The network of IDBs is an underrated and under-researched factor in flood risk resilience. Since the 18th century, local communities have formed IDBs to manage questions of flooding and drainage. These boards remain an integral agency in community flood risk reduction, yet little is known about their formation, functions, politics or personnel and how these have changed. This project questions the role IDBs have played in flood risk management, the extent to which they constitute an important manifestation of community-level resilience, and the degree to which the changing nature of their governance is crucial to an understanding of effective future flood management policy. These are relevant questions given government policies in the wake of the Pitt Review.

IDBs have been instrumental over the centuries in creating much of the lowland landscape of England as well as shaping the nature and extent of local flood risk. Understanding how these boards operated and what decisions they made will reveal much about the extent to which localised flooding has altered, and the relationship between the level of flood risk and the nature, practice and extent of community structures in a given area. We wish to determine the degree to which historically shared risk fosters community cooperation and resilience (social capital), what manner of persons participated in the decision-making process, and whether such community-based models of management proved to be proficient managers of flood risk governance. We will also examine the institutions, practices and policies of IDBs in managing changing levels of flood risk, what factors influence their development, and how local issues relate to wider ones of flood and environmental governance. We wish to appraise whether IDBs represent an effective model of local flood risk management for the future.
As the political geography of community flood risk management in England is diverse, we will focus on the role and function of IDBs in 4 areas: Lincolnshire, the East Riding, Cumbria and Somerset. These counties represent a cross-section of the flood risk issues that have historically confronted communities including: storm surge and coastal flooding on the east coast; heavy rainfall from North Atlantic storms along the west coast; land reclamation in Somerset, East Riding and Lincolnshire; upland catchment management in Cumbria; and riparian flooding in all areas.
To undertake this research, we adopt an applied history approach that understands contemporary flood risk as a historically-generated process that can only be properly understood through an examination of how communities "normalise risk" over time. This is a methodology that Bankoff has long piloted and is based on a belief in community resilience and local formal and informal institutions of governance. The relevance of community-based disaster risk reduction to England is overdue and can provide practical insights into flood risk management in the present.

The hallmark of this project is outputs based on solid historical research that have practical application to modern flood management policy. Our intention is to make an important contribution to the literature on the nature, history and management of flooding in England, as well as to consider models of governance that serve as the basis for more devolved forms of flood risk management in the future.

Type of Project Project
Status Project Live
Funder(s) Arts & Humanities Research Council
Value £296,237.00
Project Dates Nov 1, 2017 - Apr 30, 2022

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