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01/03/2014

Cloud cuckoo politicians should create a single department of planning to deal with UK floods

Flooding in the UK

The record rainfall and widespread flooding of the past two months have regrettably proved one thing, says Huw Morris. It’s a hard lesson for politicians of all parties to learn but ignoring warnings is tantamount to a dereliction of duty, especially if they were made a decade ago.

In 2004 Sir David King, the then-chief scientist, and a team of experts reported on flood risk over a 30-to-100-year timescale. Their conclusions were to expect greater rainfall and rising sea levels but, most of all, to treat flooding as one of the biggest peacetime risks to the country.
 
In 2006, Lord Stern urged early action on climate change to minimise economic and social disruption and to drop the business-as-usual attitude. If that was not enough, Sir Michael Pitt’s review of the disastrous flooding of 2007 made 92 recommendations, many of which are still on the drawing board. A case in point is that flood boards should be used to defend homes instead of the simple sandbag, although they were notable by their absence along the Thames.
 
Yet again the taxpayer has forked out for expensive reviews and advice only for them to be ignored. This becomes all the more unedifying when it descends into a ludicrous blame game, never mind the too simplistic calls for widespread dredging and early use of the military. Any river engineer will warn that dredging cannot provide channels large enough to contain the amount of recent rainfall.
 
Spending is one issue. Climate change committee chairman Lord Krebs estimates a £500 million shortfall in resources for flood prevention and coastal defence in the four years to 2015. That is unbelievably shortsighted given the warnings.
Concreting over front gardens and continuing to build on flood plains are two major aspects of the built environment that are damaging the country’s ability to alleviate flooding. Tackling the nation’s housing crisis must be a priority but the planning system’s increasing trend in favour of development and economic growth, with 200,000 homes built on flood plains between 2001-11, needs a rethink. Who wants a home that is regularly inundated?
 
Anybody who thinks the insurance industry will endlessly continue to pay out for this shambles is living in cloud cuckoo land.
 
The call by former environment secretary Lord Gummer for a single government department of planning and land use is at least a more constructive contribution amid the summits and soundbites. The buck needs to stop somewhere instead of the pass-the-parcel reaction of today. How many more wake-up calls do we need on how we manage water?
 
It is said that experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it. Unfortunately this does not seem to apply to flooding.
 
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