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Flooding - we need to focus on the central issue

21st February 2014

Capita’s Tony Hutchinson on the recent floods and the actions the UK now need to take.

Responses to the floods of recent weeks have become enmeshed in a number of debates peripheral to the central issue.

Large numbers of our citizens have been subject to threats to their lives, property and livelihoods. As a nation we have developed on areas that face risks of inundation. We have done so knowingly and our actions have increased those risks. These actions extend from the personal, turning gardens in to driveways or patios, to the national cutting down trees in upland areas without replanting.

Each action is not in itself necessarily wrong or dangerous, but cumulatively the rate and volume of water run-off into watercourses increases. More water is used in then discharged into drains and sewers. It is too easy to pick sides, point fingers and then take an easy answer, make binary points or look to others for examples of how to respond.

Regardless of what is the underlying cause there is evidence from California to Australia to Somerset that the earth’s climate is changing. This may well be a permanent change and different weather patterns are becoming established. Given that it took 30 years for the Thames Barrier to be designed, funded, agreed and built from the major flood in 1953 to becoming operational in 1983, strategic, tactical and operational measures need to be taken now.

These need to spread from the small scale and personal, water sealing airbricks and flood barriers to doors; local such as non return valves on drains and plans to deal proactively with threats; to regional and national defences. But in recognising this, choices, hard choices have to be made. Water cannot be made to disappear; if it doesn’t flood Chertsey or Burrrowbridge - where does it go? With a tidal surge rivers can’t discharge in to the sea and the pressure on drains becomes irresistible.

The threats from extreme weather need planning for and managing every bit as carefully as any other risk to our national interest.

Tony Hutchinson

Tony Hutchinson

Development director, housing and consultancy

The Pitt Report was a start - far fewer homes are flooded than in 2003 thanks to its directives – but a major debate is required on what else we pay for...and what we don’t.

Tony Hutchinson is development director, housing and consultancy at Capita

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