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Relocation, relocation: Suncorp’s answer to flood-prone towns

March 20, 2019

If a town is being constantly wrecked by floods because it’s situated in the middle of a floodplain or on the banks of a river, why not simply move it to higher ground?

Managed relocations of towns that are too exposed to flood should be considered as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, says Suncorp.

The insurer says there are dozens of examples of such moves in the US, and after the 2011 Queensland floods the township of Grantham was relocated from a floodplain to higher ground via a council land-swap scheme.

While it may seem extreme, Suncorp Acting Executive Manager Government, Industry and Public Policy Josh Cooney says all mitigation options should be considered.

“Suncorp is a vocal supporter of flood mitigation, and what we are keen to do is initiate much more rigorous discussion about what the mitigation options are,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“Exploring the viability of managed relocations in towns that are more prevalent to risk is a worthwhile thing to do.”

However, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) says relocation of towns should only be considered as a last resort.

Suncorp recently hosted a forum to discuss the issue with US flood retreat expert Professor Nicholas Pinter.

Professor Pinter outlined more than 30 examples of relocations in the US, and Mr Cooney says they featured common themes.

“They were all pretty small communities,” he said. “Clearly there is a population tipping point where the business case for retreat becomes unviable.

“In all the cases there was strong community leadership, and a viable and more attractive site nearby.”

Mr Cooney says in each case the relocation was sparked by a tragedy, and in some cases loss of life.

He says insurers could help relocations get off the ground by offering cash settlements after losses, and putting a “price signal” on risk.

“Wholesale relocation can be a cost-effective and humane solution for communities at risk of spiralling flood damage,” Professor Pinter said. “But it needs to be part of a broad portfolio of options.”

ICA spokesman Campbell Fuller told insuranceNEWS.com.au the relocation of extreme flood-risk towns “should be regarded as a last-ditch solution when all other options are not feasible or economically justifiable”.

Mr Fuller says more efficient and cost-effective solutions are available for most communities, including investments in mitigation, better land-use planning and improvements to building codes. 

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