Find out how Hull City Council ensured the opinions of vulnerable communities were used to help co-design much-needed flood defences in the city. This approach forms part of 50 climate actions for councils, under Action 12, to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable communities are also represented in council decision-making and council-citizen deliberations.

23 May 2022

How is Action 12 tackling the climate crisis?

The city of Hull sits in a floodplain, and while it is protected by flood barriers, there is a risk that these could be breached – putting many local people at risk from flooding. To build physical resilience to flooding, Hull City Council is designing a series of sustainable drainage systems to be put in place across the city and surrounding villages. The council is also working to build community resilience by co-designing measures and engaging with people whose homes are at risk of flooding.

Sustainable drainage systems collect surface water and channel it away from drains and sewage networks, mimicking natural drainage processes. They might feature pavements that allow water to soak through them, or water butts, or ponds and wetlands. As well as managing flooding, these measures can create more attractive environments, reduce pollution and boost biodiversity.

The council's flood risk team is co-designing multiple aspects of the sustainable drainage systems with residents. This involves completing surveys with council staff, selecting their preferred sustainable drainage systems from multiple options and attending community workshops.

As a member of Living With Water (a partnership that also includes East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency), the council is also engaging more widely with communities on this issue. Living With Water is carrying out a large public engagement campaign, focused in a deprived area of the city with many vulnerable residents. The campaign is uncovering people’s views on what sort of systems should be used, and where they should be placed.

A school's engagement programme is helping young people learn about flood risk, and equipping them to raise the issue with their families. The council is also listening to what students think about potential flood measures and recording the reactions of children to them. The council has also launched a social media campaign and is carrying out resident surveys on the issue.

The council wants to involve communities in decision-making so that the additional benefits created by sustainable drainage systems can be delivered through measures that are accepted, and used by, local people. Potential positive impacts include local food growing, traffic calming, and a safer environment for young children playing outside.

What impact has the project had?

The local authority is using resident feedback to modify existing designs and intends to update the outcomes of this process in spring 2022.

By empowering local people to input into its decisions, the council can tackle resident concerns at the beginning of the process, reducing public complaints further down the line and making it more likely that measures will deliver benefits to local people and remain in place long term.

Feedback from the public engagement so far includes requests to make local areas more attractive, with a desire for more green features and food growing. Other feedback highlights the importance of access to a personal parking space.

What made this work?

External partnerships

Yorkshire Water has been a key partner in ramping up engagement and adapted proven engagement processes from their billing department to be used in this project. The company also helped with communications support and in training up the council’s existing community networks on local water issues.

The authority is also using community groups that have existing networks and are trusted by locals to carry out the engagement. These include Timebank, Groundwork and The Hull We Want. This approach is particularly useful when engaging with diverse communities, or people who may be unsure of engaging with council officers directly.

The local authority took onboard key lessons from Hull University and the University of Sheffield. Both institutions have delivered community engagement projects across Hull to raise awareness of water and flood resilience. Key points such as making residents feel empowered and listened to were fed directly into this engagement process.

Notify communities of surveys and listen to community concerns

The council is having conversations with members of the community who do not usually engage with it. To encourage local confidence, over 7,000 letters were sent out to specific estates telling residents that council staff and partners would be coming into the community to discuss flood resilience.

The authority found many residents had concerns about wider issues beyond the survey brief. It is important to listen to all these points when engaging with people. In the case of Hull City Council, they related to social issues, such as crime or anti-social behaviour. Listening to these concerns and flagging them with relevant parties is important for building trust with residents, who may then be more willing to contribute to co-creation projects and aid decision making.

What resources were needed?

One of the major challenges with a project of this kind is that the funding required is more for revenue than the actual capital. To generate the level of required community involvement authorities will need long delivery timescales and the involvement of a large number of people. The project is fundamentally about behaviour change, and shifting mindsets from a view that water is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to seeing it as a positive resource, one that can be used to create multiple benefits.

The project has capital funding through the Water Companies investment programme. The partnership has also bid for a central government grant which has not yet been secured, as the process does not align well with a project of this nature, which requires extensive community co-creation.

A team of 6 dedicated Yorkshire Water officers works on this project. They are supported by Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council Flood Officers.

Lessons from Hull

Liaise funding contracts, involve communities and be realistic

A significant challenge when bringing communities into council decision making is navigating funding requirements and key performance indicators. On this project, funded by water companies and potentially funded in the future by the government, the results needed include ensuring retrofitted sustainable drainage systems can store a pre-determined volume of water.

Such requirements make it harder to engage communities – where they are a barrier to residents’ priorities or suggestions, people may feel their specific needs are not being catered for or taken into account. When overcoming this, it is important to be honest with community members, manage expectations and not oversell local changes that are offered up in public decision-making processes.

Learn from other departments and mirror their success

Hull City Council’s flood risk team took on lessons from the council waste team’s recycling engagement, which was mainly carried out through schools and used children to drive behaviour change. The flood risk team adopted this approach, putting water and flooding onto the curriculum and offering a lesson and assemblies for students aged 8 to 10.

Friends of the Earth's view

It’s good to see that Hull City Council, with its partners, is trying new ways to engage vulnerable communities and co-design solutions. It would be great to see Hull roll this out across the implementation of its Climate Change Strategy.

Hull needs to ensure it has a sense of urgency across all its climate actions and to make sure all departments are acting in line with climate mitigation and adaptation – for example removing trees is counterproductive to a more flood-resilient city.

Hull’s experience illustrates how changes to funding would help more councils to roll out flood resilience measures that are co-designed with communities.

Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing.

This case study was produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

Climate Action