Rising from the floods: One town’s journey from recovery to relocation



Rising from the floods: One town’s journey from recovery to relocation

Many communities in Queensland face a significant, ever-present risk of flooding; 16 of the 20 most flood-prone Federal electorates in Australia are located across the state. Suncorp has long advocated on behalf of our customers and communities for greater investment in flood mitigation; reducing the risk of damage from natural disasters such as floods can help to drive down insurance costs for homeowners, minimise adverse economic impacts on the broader community, and ultimately save lives.

When posed with such options as risk reduction, where does relocating an entire town sit in the mix of disaster mitigation options available to governments and communities? Can a relocated town maintain its sense of community and flourish while being better protected from natural disaster?

These are the questions that emerge with the launch of a new book ‘Rising from the floods’; a detailed account of the efforts to relocate the town of Grantham in the Lockyer Valley, South East Queensland, in the aftermath of devastating flash flooding that destroyed the town on January 10, 2011.

The book's author, Jamie Simmonds, had been involved with the Lockyer Valley Council for several years prior to the 2011 floods as a geo-environmental engineer, paving the way for his crucial role in the relocation of the town of Grantham after the floods. 

Grantham presented an opportunity to trial 'managed retreat'; a unique approach to flood mitigation in Australia. Relocating the town to a nearby parcel of land above the water line would make it more resilient over the long-term. Residents would not only be better protected from the risk of damage in a future flood, but its community would be able to keep their connections to the area and to each other.

A resident of Samford for many years prior to the floods in 2011, Mr Simmonds' involvement with the Strengthening of Grantham project was a professional, and personal, milestone, not least because of the unique approach to the project.

Reflecting on the success of Grantham's relocation, Jamie concedes the Strengthening Grantham Project was unique, in more ways than one. “It is an incredible example of what is possible following a terrible natural disaster,” Jamie noted when it came to the practicalities of relocating a town, there were no examples to go off.  

“There was no template for how to do it, so we just made it up as we went. But we were focused on a goal, we persisted, we got the community on board and we delivered. I'm proud of what we achieved, and I hope that the lessons that came out of it can help other communities facing the same challenges.”

10 years on, the town of Grantham has flourished on higher ground. While managed retreat isn’t feasible or practical for every community with a high risk of flooding or other natural hazards such as bushfire, it’s another option to sustainably reduce risk which can be explored alongside traditional mitigation solutions.

Suncorp hosted the pre-launch event and Q&A with Jamie through Suncorp's involvement with the Flood Community of Practice. The event was hosted before the federal government imposed social distancing measures.

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