How are some UK towns more ready for flooding?

July 12, 2007 at 2:16 pm

The UK’s love/hate relationship with the weather was weighted very much toward the latter this summer as Britain experienced the wettest June since 1914, with more than double the average rain-fall. 27,000 homes and 5,000 businesses were damaged and The Association of British Insurers announced that the total claim cost will reach up to £1.5billion.
Aviva, who own the largest home insurers Norwich Union, received 13,000 claims in a few days after the first down-pour. The worst affected areas such as Sheffield and Hull will take months to recover; their schools and businesses swamped in contaminated water.

But what caused this catastrophe? A polar jet stream, which usually creates the UK’s weather, passed through the island much further south this year with a huge area of built-up low pressure sweeping across the north of England resulting in large cloud formation and up to a month’s rainfall in a matter of hours. The cause however is almost completely irrelevant now. The solutions are what many people are demanding from Gordon Brown’s new government.

David Millband, the Environment Secretary at the time of the floods, announced in parliament that “All relevant lessons will be learned once the existing priorities have been met. The Environment Agency’s flood warnings direct system did very well”. This is despite figures from the National Audit Office stating that 54% of high risk areas are not adequately covered.

DEFRA allocated £600 million in 2007 for flood defences but many schemes have been postponed, resulting in insurance companies refusing to cover some of their existing and new customers who live in these so called hot-spots. More than 500,000 people could be refused cover and forced to cover themselves, according to the National Flood Forum.

Flood defences include embankments, walls, weirs, sluices and pumping stations. The Environment Agency claim to be focusing on the country’s ‘soft-defences’, which include wetlands and salt marshes. They stress these can also help benefit wildlife. But why is the government allowing the building of thousands of businesses and homes in these hot-spot areas at the highest risk of flooding?

The Thames Gateway, bordering the east of London, and covering parts of Kent and Essex, is the principle worry for future flooding; these areas are natural basins for the River Thames and would be the first to see the devastation of the river bursting its banks.

The Environment Agency continually puts the government under pressure for more flood defence funding and since 2002 there has been a 40% increase. But in 2006 the budget fell by £15million from the previous year. The fact remains that sites for development, especially around the capital, are few and far between. The risk of flooding might be lessened but it seems that green-bunds placed between houses might not be enough to prevent a yearly repeat of what happened to the UK in June 2007.

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