Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flooding Action NOT Words

Gordon calls for flooding action, not words.

Gordon Henderson has demanded that the Government learns lessons from this summer’s floods and bans all housing developments in areas at risk from flooding, such as Sittingbourne & Sheppey, until the safety of those developments can be guaranteed.

Gordon said:
‘We have been immensely lucky in our area. We have witnessed flooding across huge swathes of north, west and south England, but we have been spared the traumas faced by so many families. However, the truth is that what has happened elsewhere could so easily have happened here.

‘It is time to call a halt on the huge housing developments planned for our area until the Government can guarantee that such developments are safe from the threat of flooding.’

Government Ministers in Whitehall are planning an inquiry into the floods; and Gordon is calling for a number of areas of concern to be taken into account:

· Who’s in charge ?: There should be clearer lines of responsibility for preventing flooding and tackling flooding emergencies. Since 2000, there have been at least 25 reports on flooding: and yet no single Government Minister, Department or Agency in charge.

· Building on flood plains: The Government’s building plans and regional targets will mean even more high-density development on floodplains, such as in Rushenden and Iwade, many of which may be uninsurable or have exorbitant premiums. Such development should not take place unless the safety of both assets and homes can be guaranteed.

· Urban drainage and gully cleaning: “Cinderella” issues such as urban drainage must no longer be neglected. Pressures on town hall budgets in recent years have squeezed highways budgets, leading to cuts in gully cleaning and more localised flooding.

· Emergency funding review: There must be a complete review of the “Bellwin scheme”, a central fund which gives local authorities financial assistance in the aftermath of large-scale emergencies.

· Climate change matters: The Government should make an annual statement on climate change adaptation, which would include evaluation of flood defences.

Gordon went on to say:

‘Across the country, the emergency services and local authorities have done an immense amount of work in recent weeks to tackle the problems of flooding – from major floods to small-scale incidents. But with a changing climate, we need to learn the lessons.

‘There should be clearer lines of responsibility for preventing flooding; we should end the neglect of urban drainage, sewers and gullies; and we must review Whitehall’s plans for reckless building on flood plains - that threaten to become the sink estates of tomorrow.’

Notes to Editors


The Government has announced an inquiry into why this year’s flooding was so extensive, whether its impact could have been predicted and prevented, and whether the immediate response was effective and co-ordinated. Conservatives are calling for the inquiry to consider a number of issues:

· General co-ordination: As early as 2001, the Environment Agency acknowledged: “the confusion of responsibility for managing the wide variety of flood problems” (EA, Lessons Learned, 2001). However, 25 reports later, responsibility for preventing and managing flooding is still divided among Whitehall departments DEFRA and DCLG, and the Environment Agency, drainage boards, water companies and local authorities.

· Condition of flood defences: The National Audit Office has warned that less than half of the country’s high-risk flood defences were at “target condition”. The Environment Agency has a target of 63 per cent (NAO, Building and maintaining river and coastal flood defences in England, June 2007).

· How cost overruns at the Rural Payments Agency led to cuts in vital flood defence work: After having to set aside almost £400 million to pay for RPA failures and to provide for possible EU fines, DEFRA slashed £200 million from its agencies, including £15 million from flood defence work at the Environment Agency. The Government subsequently promised an extra £200 million a year for flood defences from 2011. However, there are concerns that the money is for capital funding only, with the Environment Agency’s planning budget being slashed.

· Pressures on town hall finances mean less gully emptying: Financial pressures on councils have squeezed highways budgets, which in turn have led to cuts in gully clearing. The industry has warned, “with a continuing shortfall of funds, the backlog of work can only worsen. There is increasing concern about the deterioration of our roads and the consequences for safety... [There is] some considerable concern over problems with localised flooding resulting from reduced frequency of gully emptying. This was mentioned by numerous authorities” (Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey, March 2007, pp.4, 17).

· More building on floodplains: According to the Environment Agency, 50 per cent of the housing built in Britain since the Second World War is on flood plains. Some 15 per cent of all current development is in the flood zone - as is 30 per cent of the building planned for 2016-2021. The Government’s new Housing Green Paper, published on 23 July, has signalled that even more building will inevitably be on flood plains. The Association of British Insurers has said that insurance companies would continue providing insurance “as long as it is in an area where the Government continues to invest in flood defence systems” (ABI Press Release, 11 November 2005). However, less than half of the UK’s flood defences are in target condition. This means that new developments may be uninsurable or have exorbitant premiums.

· Is the Bellwin scheme adequate?: The Bellwin scheme was introduced in 1983 to provide financial help to local authorities in the aftermath of large-scale emergencies. At present, Bellwin covers only revenue spending, not capital payments. It also only covers 85 per cent of costs, although this has been temporarily changed to 100 per cent. Even in 2001, the Government warned that “the main live issue [with Bellwin] is local authority expenditure on flood protection and responses to flooding” (DETR, Impacts of climate change: implications for DETR, 2001). There should be a complete review of the Bellwin scheme, including the capital costs of flooding, rather than short-term fixes.


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