The Government is under pressure to roll out huge new flood defence schemes in the wake of recent floods that have spread across the country. Well there’s a less eye catching but probably more effective policy they could look at before opening up the coffers.
Our national obsession with all things meteorological reaches a crescendo of frenzy when it turns extreme. Such has been the case over the past month with flash floods causing havoc in the North East of England and now in the Midlands and South over the past weekend.
The pattern of reaction to such event is well worn – emergency services are heroic, householders are furious at inaction from public authorities, journalists and rival politicians call for urgently needed extra cash and ministers defend the current level of spending and point to “unprecedented levels of rainfall”.
Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, environment and housing ministers respectively, both rolled out the usual Government line on the Today programme this morning. Cooper in particular called for some realism, claiming that new houses will have to be built on floodplains and that the response of ruling out such development wholesale due to recent event was “whipping up hostility” against “desperately needed new housing”.
One can see her point but serious doubts persist about the Government’s grasp of just what is causing such dramas. Cooper and Benn did point to the problem of insufficient urban drainage systems and the problem of surface water as exacerbating extreme rainfall but this has yet to have filtered through to those planning new developments.
A timely piece in last Friday’s Building points to how patchy the introduction of sustainable urban drainage systems (Suds) for new schemes are. These systems perform the basic task of reducing the amount of water flowing from a site and managing its flow so that sudden influxes are avoided. Those promoting Suds are coming against the usual barriers to introducing anything new:
• Who is responsible for implementing the systems and keeping them maintained and who pays for then?
• Are there the levels of skills to implement the schemes
• Are project teams thinking about implementing SUDs early enough
Training and research body CIRIA is doing it bit to spread the good word on the systems and to train engineers in implementing them successfully. I met with a experts working with CIRIA on the training modules a couple of week ago and they voiced frustration at misconceptions about SUDs (that they are expensive) and at how little attention is paid to them by developers, architects, engineers and planners.
Perhaps the Government needs to use a stick to address this apathy. The use of Suds are recommended in planning guidance but surely an insistence that they must be implemented on new developments, especially on floodplans, would be a good start for Benn and Cooper.