John Woodhall examines the Government’s plans to reduce the impact of flooding on communities.
Government data shows that one in 10 new homes is built on a flood plain. In the wake of flood damage caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, greater resilience is essential if we are to minimise the impact of climate change on our communities.
As a priority, existing properties must be properly protected, so it was good to see the Budget contain £5.2billion of government investment in a five-year flood and coastal defence infrastructure programme.
As extra money, on top of what the Environment Agency is already allocating to maintain existing flood defences, it’s a step in the right direction and a positive story for the West Midlands. With £23 million earmarked for the Severn Valley and £7 million each for Tamworth and Solihull, thousands of properties will benefit from enhanced protection.
One thing is certain, we cannot afford to disregard the impact on families when residential developments flood. Since 2009, some 70,000 houses have been built on sites likely to flood, according to research by independent think-tank Bright Blue and 20,000 are without any kind of defences. There is also the not insignificant matter of insurance, as homeowners in properties built in high-risk areas after 2009 may well be unable to obtain cover.
Over recent years calls for action by various advisers and industry experts have gone largely unheeded. Now, it seems the government is taking the issue seriously. We welcome recommendations from the Environment Agency that new homes should only be built on sites prone to flooding if there is no viable alternative and agree that, where development of flood plains is the only option, properties will require flood-proofing.
Tree planting, the creation of wetland habitats and restoration work to allow rivers to follow their natural course are among the Agency’s proposals. It also advises that building at ground floor level should be limited to garages. We suggest that a definitive list is drawn up, including greater use of resilient building materials and positioning electrical points comfortably above expected flood levels.
The Government has set an ambitious house building target. If it comes to it, the planning system should dictate choice of site, incorporate regulations that make flood plain development a last resort and spell out how to make homes flood proof.