The sun may be shining but it’s a fair assumption that there is a flood coming. Over the past few years flooding has become one of the UK’s hottest environmental topics. For many years, winter brings the misery of damage to homes and businesses, lengthy clean ups and the uncertainty of when, or if, it will all happen again. The question is: why does this keep happening and what can be done?
Only yesterday, whilst much of the UK was basking in sunshine, many city centres were hit with flash floods. During November last year, high rainfalls associated with the passage of storm Abigail and the remains of hurricane Kate, brought increasingly high river flows. Many parts of north-west Britain saw almost double the average monthly rainfall for November, with the month becoming the second wettest to affect north-west England and north Wales since records began in 1910. Storm Desmond then broke the UK’s 24-hour rainfall record, with 341mm of rain falling in Cumbria, on December 5th. Furthermore, the previous year, 2013/2014, saw the wettest winter on record; and the major floods of 2007 caused misery for homeowners with clean-up costs totalling £1bn.
With an estimated one in six UK properties at risk of flooding, this is an issue that affects millions and is thought to cost the nation a daunting £2bn per year, including £1.2bn in damage to property. Harder to measure is the cost of lost revenue from flooded businesses and the time required to bring homes back to a liveable state – not to mention the emotional trauma which flooding can cause.
The construction and water industries have been collaborating closely with the Government and the Environment Agency over the past few years to provide a clear strategy for understanding flood risk and formulating prevention strategies. However, the issue is the fact that there is no single body responsible for managing flood risk in the UK because of the role of devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead for flood and coastal erosion risk management in England and Wales. They create the policies that then form the basis of the Environment Agency’s (EA) and lead local flood authorities’ work. With its national role, the Environment Agency has a strategic overview of all sources of flooding and coastal erosion. The Environment Agency’s role is to understand the risk and to do something about it. But what exactly does the EA do?
Well, this is where is gets complicated. The EA claims to set strategy by allocating funding for flood defence, warn people and inform. So where does the issue lie? Delivering flood defence schemes and informing communities of impending risk is all well and good. However, all too often flood defence schemes are city centre projects that simply have the effect of pushing water further down the river to where there are poor defences, therefore resulting in the flooding of out of town or rural areas. It really is a case of the small Dutch boy putting his finger in the dyke – solve one problem area and another will spring up. The EA has its work cut out.
In addition, housebuilders, due to land costs, scarcity and the drive for more homes, are now building on brown belt sites; sites that 10 years ago we wouldn’t even have considered developing due to the risk of flood. Whilst the EA can provide advice and guidance, it is down to the house builder to make decisions to safeguard these new homes from flood risk.
Floods will continue to happen and with climate change we are seeing that more extreme events will occur more frequently. Because we all like to live and work near rivers and near to the sea, that puts pressure on us. However, as the city centre floods of yesterday showed, it’s not just the properties near water courses that need to be wary.
The misery that flooding causes should not be under-estimated. It is not only the physical damage to properties and possessions, it is loss of earnings for businesses and the distress to owners. Efficient clean-up is essential to get people back in their homes and businesses up and running. This is where the quick thinking of tankering and waste water management companies, such as ATAC Solutions, comes in to their own, offering fast mobilisation and the ability to quickly remove water from properties.
There is no quick fix for flood prevention. Long term strategies to improve our rivers and coastlines will take time. The development of flood-resistant properties will also take time and will need to be driven by housebuilders. So the reliance on tankering businesses is now
more important than ever. When the flood comes – and it will – it might be wise to have the number of a waste water management business that can help you get back on your feet. Another emergency service that many of us will come to rely upon over the coming years.