Buildingspecifier.com’s Joe Bradbury discusses the topic on everyone’s lips at present – flooding.
“It’s a bit black over Bill’s mothers” is an understatement. Apparently, according to the Met, England has received 144% of the average February rainfall this month, and as a resident of Tamworth, a town in the Midlands that two rivers pass through, I’m inclined to agree. Record river levels have been broken on the Colne, Ribble, Calder, Aire, Trent, Severn (which passes through Tamworth), Wye, Lugg, and Derwent.
Even our local theme park Drayton Manor is currently closed, due to their lake bursting its banks. Make no mistake, Britain is waterlogged. We must not underestimate the destructive power and danger of flooding. Not in this day and age.
Did you know, the world’s population is currently consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets resources a year? The Global Footprint Network estimates that if we continue to consume at current rates we’ll blow the global carbon budget and lock in more than 2C of global warming in approximately 17 years.
Over the next 100 years with 2C+ global warming locked in, the very existence of some atoll nations is threatened by rising sea-levels. Limiting warming to 1.5C may restrict sea level rise below 1 metre; yet even at 1.5C warming, regional food security risks are significant. Africa is particularly vulnerable, with significant reduction in staple crop yields in some countries. Between 1.5C-2C increase, mountains lose their glaciers meaning people will lose their water supplies. The entire Indian subcontinent will be fighting for survival. As the glaciers disappear from all but the highest peaks, their runoff will cease to power the massive rivers that deliver vital freshwater to hundreds of millions. Water shortages and famine will be the result, destabilising the entire region. The whole Greenland ice sheet would vanish within 140 years. Miami would disappear, as would most of Manhattan. Central London would be flooded. Bangkok, Bombay and Shanghai would lose most of their area.
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Lack of awareness
A recent YouGov research identified an alarming general lack of flood risk knowledge across the UK.
Ten years since the devastating summer floods of 2007, which saw over 48,000 homes affected by flooding, it seems the UK population is still failing to take adequate steps to understand whether their homes are at risk of flooding, with more than half (53%) of respondents to the infamous survey confirming they have never checked whether their homes’ in an area officially considered to be at risk of flooding.
This actually increases to 63% when specifically asking people in Scotland and higher again, 75%, when questioning people in Northern Ireland.
In addition, when asked what their biggest concern would be if they were to find out their home is located in an ‘at risk’ area, 31% said the potential for loss of damage to personal possessions was their main worry.
It was clear that those surveyed felt that the likes of construction companies, local councils, government and environmental authorities could be doing more to raise awareness and manage defence against flooding with 35% saying their confidence is about the same as it was in 2007. The online survey highlighted that consumer knowledge of how to check whether a property is considered at risk from flooding was limited; 39% said that checking online via Google or other search engines would be their first port of call, followed by asking the Environment Agency (25%) and then asking their local council (13%).
The same number of people also (13%) also stated that they would not know where to turn for this information at all.
Should we build houses or an ark?
An article in the Guardian this week revealed that more than 11,000 new homes are planned to be built on land at the highest risk of flooding in the regions battered by the worst winter storms in a generation.
The article stated that “an analysis of planning documents reveals that 11,410 new homes have been planned for land the government considers high-risk in the seven English counties where thousands of properties have been devastated by flooding since November.”
Greenpeace’s journalism project Unearthed and the Guardian conducted a joint analysis of housebuilding plans for the next five years in those areas already affected.
Unearthed’s coverage noted that “parts of the West Midlands have been devastated by the resulting floods. Whole areas of Shrewsbury were left underwater, with villages and towns affected all along the Welsh border.
“Local plans for Worcester, Shropshire and Herefordshire councils, which were badly affected, show they are planning for 1,224 homes to be built over the next five years in medium and high-risk flood areas.
“In Herefordshire alone, 325 homes are set to be built in flood-prone areas. Some of this land has already been left under water by Storm Dennis and other new developments had caused problems downstream for older homes that had never flooded before.”
John Harrington, the council’s cabinet member for infrastructure, described the government’s housing policy as “completely and utterly flawed” and that it was forcing local authorities to approve “idiotic” developments on floodplains so they can meet demands from Whitehall.
“Central government just say ‘There’s a housing target, now go do it’. It’s really quite stupid. It’s devolving responsibility without giving the authority any power or money to deal with the situation. It is absolutely unacceptable.”
When it comes to dealing with flooding, planning ahead really is the best policy and knowing whether your property is at risk from flooding will ensure that you are better prepared.
After seeing first-hand the impact of the flooding in and around the Midland’s alone, it is clear that the growing threat from more extreme weather events means we must reassure ourselves, and those communities at risk, that our defences, our modelling and our future plans are robust… So are they? Let’s take a look.