‘Why are developers continuing to build in flood plains?’
The fact is that developers will only build where they have had planning permission and will only be allowed to build on an actual ‘floodplain’ in exceptional circumstances but may build in other areas that are at moderate to high risk of flooding where specific measures must be put in place to mitigate flooding.
There is nothing wrong with building in an area ‘at risk of flooding’. However it is critical that the risk of flooding is acknowledged, the development is designed and built appropriately to cope with flood waters and adequate mitigation measures or defences are put in place. Even where defences already exist there is always a possibility that they will fail or be overtopped by severe floods.
In reality if we didn’t build in flood plains half of London wouldn’t exist and we would be waving goodbye to Canary Wharf. It is about balancing the risk. The Thames Barrier was put in place to protect development from a 1 in 1000 year flood – but it has in fact been used more frequently than was originally anticipated.
Historically, the pattern of development has been around rivers and on the coast - towns and city centres have large areas that are likely to flood such as Leeds, Sheffield and York. If we refuse to build on such areas we will sterilise approximately 15% of the land mass. And what is the solution then? Build on the Green Belt?
Over the last few years the UK has been experiencing a very wet period – the 1980’s were very dry now we have sustained bursts of heavy rain that saturates the ground often causing severe local flooding, particularly in urban areas with high-density development and under capacity of drainage.
This is not to suggest that ‘Eureka’ development should be promoted – which solves any flooding in the immediate area but worsens conditions elsewhere – that is not the solution and planning policy guards against this.
Flooding has a devastating effect on people’s lives and communities. This must be acknowledged and prevented. The design of housing needs to be much more innovative in order to cope with the possibility of flooding whilst inflicting the least damage.
The solution must be to all work together, Government, policy makers, the Environment Agency, Local Planning Authorities and developers to minimise the risk of flooding in developments and ensure appropriate defences are located in the most vulnerable places.
The Government has announced recently £120 million in new funding will speed up the delivery of 50 flood defences that could protect up to 60,000 homes and deliver up to £1 billion of economic benefits – on top of £2 billion already set aside for flood and coastal erosion.
The best advice - if you are buying a house – have a look at the Environment Agency’s website and find out if the area is liable to flood. It must be stressed this is not definitive as the website needs to be frequently updated – but it is a good guide. However, if you are looking at a house on ‘Watery Lane’ or ‘Riverside’ there may be a very good reason for the address – use your common sense!
Linda Wright MBA DipTP MRTPI
Town Planning Consultancy & Development Services
M: 07765 250150