UK unveils new weapon in war on climate change – ‘spongy’ roads that soak up rain

The Chinese-inspired technology will help combat flooding

WUHAN, CHINA - JULY 13: (CHINA OUT) A man walks in flooded Jiangtan park caused by heavy rains along the Yangtze river on July 13, 2020 in Wuhan, The water level at Hankou station on the Wuhan section of the Yangtze River has reached 28.77 meters, the fourth highest in history. (Photo by Getty Images)
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David Brent, the fictional paper company manager played by Ricky Gervais in The Office, boasted of Slough's convenience when he said "the motorway runs by your door".

Now the English town has a new claim to fame after the UK unveiled the latest weapon in the fight against bad weather – “spongy” roads that soak up the rain.

The new flood defence system, first pioneered in the Chinese city of Wuhan, will see selected roads transformed with permeable surfaces that absorb surface water.

The technology will be trialled in Slough, west of London, with expansion planned to other parts of the country.

Under the £125 million ($173m) programme managed by Britain's Environment Agency, the town will also use natural vegetation to improve drainage.

A further 24 schemes aimed at improving waterway defences and coastal resilience will begin ahead of the two-week Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November.

Projects include the restoration of sub-tidal habitats like kelp beds, oyster reefs and seagrass in south Tyneside, while residents in Buckinghamshire will be asked to download an app to warn them of rising groundwater.

New sensor technology to detect rising water levels will also be used in Northumberland.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said the 25 projects will help shape measures to prepare communities for flooding and coastal erosion.

Emma Howard Boyd, chairwoman of the Environment Agency, called the project "extremely exciting" and said it could be replicated on a larger scale around the world if successful.

“What we learn will inform our approach to the climate crisis in the coming decades and it’s something to tell our international partners about at Cop26,” she said.

“I’m particularly interested in the projects that test the ability of nature-based projects to generate revenue.

“If successful, these could be scaled up by private finance around the world, helping to prepare for climate shocks, restore nature and create jobs.”