At last Conservative MPs get it, but what about the planners and EDDC DMC? The building of tens of thousands of homes on flood-prone land is worsening the damage to surrounding areas, Conservative MPs have said, as the head of the Environment Agency warned against new developments on floodplains.
Lisa O’Carroll www.theguardian.com
Tory backbenchers called on Boris Johnson to review the government’s housing policy over concerns that new homes were either not flood-proof or were exacerbating issues in neighbouring communities.
John Redwood, the MP for Wokingham, said building on land most at risk of flooding was “a very foolish thing to do and it’s obviously making the problem considerably worse”.
He said the risk to residents had been “greatly increased” by building on floodplains in his Berkshire constituency, and added: “I think [the government] should certainly review their planning policy and I think they should take the Environment Agency’s advice more seriously on appeal and regard it as a very important factor.”
Two severe flood warnings remained in place on Tuesday night, in Hereford and Ironbridge where homes were evacuated as the River Severn was expected to reach near-record levels. Residents were also evacuated in the town of Snaith, east Yorkshire, after the River Aire burst its banks.
There were 250 flood warnings and alerts in place across England, from Devon to Cumbria, with a further 10 in Wales following one of the wettest Februarys in 254 years of records.
The government has come under pressure over its aims to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to help ease a chronic shortage across the UK. Local authorities say they are struggling to meet these demands because of a shortage of available land, leading to one in 10 of new homes in England being built on high-risk flood sites since 2013.
The Guardian revealed on Sunday that more than 11,000 homes were planned in areas the government considers a high flood risk in the seven English regions swamped by Storms Ciara and Dennis.
The government says its planning policy is clear that housing should be located in the areas least at risk of flooding and, when development in a risk area is absolutely necessary, “sufficient measures should be taken to make sure homes are safe, resilient and protected from flooding”.
However, a series of experts, MPs and local authorities have said that these new developments often increase the flood risk to surrounding areas because water that would be otherwise absorbed by the land instead runs off more quickly into rivers that then burst their banks.
The Tory MP Laurence Robertson said two huge housing developments were under construction in his Tewkesbury constituency, comprising 2,500 homes, and that one of them was currently under water.
“All of that [new housing] is just going to make [the flooding] so much worse,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been any adequate demonstration that they can contain the water in the new buildingwork. I’ve got other examples in my constituency where houses have been built, particularly on slightly elevated land, which throw the water downhill. They suffer [in surrounding areas] and that’s what I fear.”
Kieran Mullan, the newly elected Conservative MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said housebuilding on floodplains was “asking for trouble and I would need a lot of convincing to find that is ever justified”. He said a recently built housing estate had caused a road in his constituency to flood and that residents’ concerns about the dangers had been ignored. “It is no surprise concreting over fields can make localised water drainage worse,” he said.
Ahead of a speech in London on Tuesday, the head of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, said properties should not be built on the floodplain “as far as possible” and that some developments should never have been approved.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Bevan also raised the possibility that some vulnerable communities on the coast and in river valleys may have to move to avoid repeated flooding.
He said those communities should not be “forced out” but that there needed to be a conversation about how they can be protected in the long term.
In a speech at the World Water-Tech Innovation summit in central London, Bevan said it was unrealistic to ban all housebuilding on floodplains given England’s geography.
However, he added: “The clue is in the name: floodplain. So we can and should insist that development only happens there if there is no real alternative, that any such development doesn’t increase other people’s flood risk … and that properties built on the floodplain are flood resilient, for example with the garages on the ground floor and the people higher up.”
Labour has called for an immediate end to building on land considered to be at high risk of flooding, which equates to 10% of land in England. Analysis by the Guardian found that more than 84,000 homes had been built in these high-risk flood zones between 2013 and 2018, with the annual total having doubled in that time.
The government also came under fire from the National Farmers’ Union, which blamed a “third world” approach to water management for the devastation.
The NFU president, Minette Batters, said the government had done “nothing” in the last eight years to act on its 2012 manifesto involving more reservoirs and a national plan to transport water elsewhere to the country to meet needs.
“Years of neglect has created an urgent problem,” she said, adding that farmers’ efforts with wood dams or the introduction of beavers to naturally manage water flow were part of the solution.