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Bristol Harbourside view

Flood Defence

Built on the River Avon, Bristol became a gateway to the world, growing and prospering thanks to that riverside location. But having a river at the heart of the city comes with challenges we need to plan for, especially in the face of climate change and rising sea levels.

Our city is at risk of flooding from both the sea tide coming up, and flow coming down the River Avon. There have been more than 20 minor tidal floods in the past decade alone, putting both central and nearby properties at risk. With future increases in sea and river levels, this is likely to get worse.

We are working with the Environment Agency to deliver a long-term plan to better protect homes and businesses from flooding and enhance the river for all, in a way which works for Bristol year-round, not just when the river floods. By designing defences that improve public spaces, we will provide new green spaces, better access to the river, enhanced heritage features, and improved transport connections. We can protect Bristol and create a more active, sustainable and resilient city.

  • Support safe living, working and travelling in and around central Bristol by ensuring flood threat is reduced
  • Maintain and enhance natural, historic, visual and built environments within the waterfront corridor


  • To support safe living, working and travelling in and around central Bristol by ensuring flood threat is reduced and measures address residual risks.
  • To facilitate the sustainable growth of Bristol and the West of England by supporting opportunities for employment and residential land, and infrastructure.
  • To maintain natural, historic, visual and built environments within the waterfront corridor and where possible deliver enhanced recreational, heritage and wildlife spaces.

Useful Links

Bristol Avon Flood Strategy

 One City Climate Strategy

One City Ecological Emergency Strategy

One City Economic Recovery and Renewal Strategy

Walkfest 2018, walking near the river

Future-proofing the city and neighbouring communities

Without investment, Bristol and neighbouring communities are at increasing risk of widespread flooding. Already, around 1,100 homes and businesses near the city centre and 200 properties in neighbouring communities are at risk of being flooded in either a severe river or tidal flood. Without action, by the end of the century almost 4,500 existing properties could be at risk in severe floods.

Our preferred approach is to create new flood defences or raise the level of existing flood defences along lower sections of the River Avon. This adaptive approach would build in phases over time as we monitor changes to the threat of flooding, with defences only built as high as needed in the short term, but able to be increased in the future to respond to rising sea levels and climate change.

Even for just the work needed in the 2020s, an additional £128 million of investment is needed.

Harbourside showing water and paddleboarders

Enabling a greener, more active city

Building and improving flood defences gives us an opportunity to improve walking and cycling routes along the River Avon, create links with other parts of the city, and make the riverside more accessible, for example, by incorporating walking and cycling links, or green spaces, into the defences themselves. Such defences could also protect and improve historic features and heritage sites, or benefit wildlife and habitats.

As a city, we aim to build more than 33,500 new homes by 2036 and develop more than 60 hectares of land for industry. As development has been a significant driver of loss of wildlife in urban areas, this is both one of the biggest threats to wildlife in the city and one of the biggest opportunities. We need to ensure that we learn lessons from the past and build new houses and transport links that put back lost habitats and wildlife corridors.

The West of England Joint Green Infrastructure Strategy 2020-2030 aims to secure investment in well-planned, managed and functioning green infrastructure so crucial for people, places and nature and a key component in addressing the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Strategic Alignments

One City Ecological Emergency

  • At least 30% of land in Bristol to be managed for the benefit of wildlife by 2030
  • 100% of Bristol’s waterways to have water quality that supports healthy wildlife by 2030
  • People and businesses to reduce consumption of products that undermine the health of wildlife and ecosystems around the world
Cyclists in bristol

Unlocking Bristol’s potential

Having a long-term plan in place reduces the threat that flooding poses to the future success of Bristol. By defending locations at risk of flooding, we can unlock areas for regeneration and new development, creating the jobs, homes and public spaces needed to ensure Bristol is a resilient city where people and business can thrive now and in the future.

Knowing such a strategy is to be delivered will reduce the constraint of flood risk and open opportunities for regeneration and new development, contributing to our economic success. An initial £88m has been identified for phase 1 delivery. It is currently estimated that a further £128m would be required to ensure this can be delivered in full, further affording opportunities for regeneration and development. The city will be seeking a mix of private and public investment to deliver this.

Currently, without a flood risk management strategy, new development must individually mitigate flood risk to ensure the development is safe for its lifetime (100 years for residential uses) without increasing flood risk elsewhere. In some locations this is extremely challenging, meaning some developments are unlikely to get planning permission until we are confident the strategy will be delivered

Strategic Alignments

Support business investment in the green/ eco/biodiversity sector SDG: 8.4, 9.2, 9.4, 12.7

Hotwells and harbourside showing river and residential

Contact the team

Economic Development Officer

Or send us an enquiry