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The 2015 floods have caused great hardship to the communities affected. Yet another ‘unprecedented’ event, made all the worse because many of the areas affected were ‘protected’ by flood defences, some relatively new. Following the 2007 floods, which impacted over 55,000 homes the Government of the day established an independent public review, headed by Sir Michael Pitt.
He made 92 recommendations, most of which, it was generally held, were eminently sensible. Parliament supported his conclusions and we were promised early and comprehensive implementation. So it is perhaps worth reflecting, in the light of the recent floods, on just how well Sir Michael's recommendations have been progressed.
There have clearly been some notable successes. The collaboration between the Environment Agency and the Met Office has given us a much better flood forecasting service which is fully available on all main media devices. Better flood modelling tools and visualisation tools have been developed and progress has been made on sharing knowledge between local flood resilience forums. The Government has recently committed to a long term investment plan for flood defences (though some are questioning if the amount of investment identified will prove to be sufficient – and maintenance funding is still decided on an annual basis).
But there are a number of important gaps. From the 92 recommendations, little or no progress has been made on around 12 recommendations whilst only minimal progress has been made on a further 19. This amounts to a third of the total – not great given the importance of flood risk management to the economy and to the quality of life. We were promised changes to the building regulations to make homes more resilient to flooding in flood risk areas. Using cementitious wall linings rather than gypsum plaster and concrete rather than timber floors, for example. Measures that would make little difference to the cost of new buildings and would allow flooded property to be restored to a more resilient standard.
It was suggested that natural catchment measures might be an affordable way to reduce flood risk, but little progress has been made despite a few promising examples (e.g. Pickering) where such measures appear to work. We have struggled to get sustainable drainage implemented in England for new development, and we are still awaiting real progress on agreeing a suitable adopting authority. And we have retained the right to connect to the public sewerage system despite a clear recommendation by Pitt that this should be repealed. Following the Pitt review, smaller reservoirs will now come under the requirements of the Reservoirs Act in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but we are still awaiting a clear implementation programme for England.
Following this winter's events Government has been quick to launch two reviews into flooding. While the Government should be commended for its quick action it must take account of previous flooding reviews, particularly Pitt, as it searches for the solutions to the problems served up by this recent bout of flooding. Their first action could be to establish a specific cabinet committee to join up the different parts of Government that currently oversee flood risk management.