The Institute of British Geographers' conference: Landslip experts 'could help insurance firms cut costs'

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The insurance industry is failing to tap into expert knowledge on unstable ground conditions, despite a massive increase in claims from householders hit by subsidence, the conference was told.

Professor John Doornkamp, of Nottingham University, said ground instability had cost the insurance industry more than pounds 1bn since 1971, yet the industry had failed to take advantage of the specialist knowledge and advice which could be given by geographers and others.

The dramatic increase in costs to insurers has stemmed from their decision to include subsidence and landslip damage within domestic property policies, combined with more cases of subsidence because of the expensive effects of successive droughts on clay soil.

The industry has responded by introducing differential premium rates on the basis of claims experience. But Professor Doornkamp suggested there was a need to increase the knowledge, both of insurers and of local authority planners, of the behaviour of clays and landslips.

Pressure for more housing was bringing more marginal land into use and the potential for landslides was being increased.