Flash Floods Across UK as MPs Call for Proactive Approach to Flood Management

A report by the UK’s Environment Audit Committee issued last week said that the British government is failing to protect communities from the growing risk of flooding.

The Committee warns that a reactive approach to funding for flood defence exposes the Government’s lack of long-term strategic planning to manage flood risk.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said, “We know that flooding is projected to get worse and occur more frequently because of climate change, so it just isn’t good enough for Government to react to flooding events as they occur. Communities at risk deserve certainty from Government.”

Condition of Flood Defences in Decline

The Committee also found that the condition of critical flood defences was in decline. The independent Worsfold review demonstrated a relationship between flood maintenance spending and the good condition of critical flood defences. As the money required to maintain these defences was cut, the number of defences which met the Environment Agency’s required condition also declined.

Mary Creagh said “The Government needs to put money into the upkeep of existing flood defences as well as investing in new defences. Failure to do so can have terrible consequences for residents and businesses when defences fail.

“Any decline in the condition of critical flood defences represents an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas. We urge the Government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency’s required condition by 2019.”

Lack of Planning and Resilience

The report also says that Local Authorities are not receiving the support they need to prepare for, and mitigate, the impacts of flooding.

While there is national policy in place to plan for flood prevention, the report says that the number of local flood plans and strategies is worryingly low and the Government does not seem to be supporting local authorities to develop them. The Committee is concerned that the Government does not know how prepared local authorities are for mitigating future flood events or whether their flood plans (if they have them) are fit for purpose.

The Committee also found that there is a lack of Government vigour to ensure a consistent and robust approach is taken to protecting essential services. For public confidence, infrastructure companies should be mandated to report their target flood resilience level, why this target is appropriate and what progress they are making to achieve it.

See the full report Flooding: Cooperation across Government here.

Take the Politics out of Flood Control

In response to the Environment Audit Committee’s report, Laura Hughes, property policy adviser at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said:

“Taking the politics out of funding decisions about flood defences and flood defence maintenance is the only option if we are to properly protect homes and businesses from the growing threat of flooding. We agree with the committee that communities need to know they are being protected for the long-term by consistent, planned expenditure on vital defences; investment should not be a sticking plaster in an emergency situation.

“Insurers also agree more detail should be collected about how planning decisions are reached in flood risk areas to ensure the UK’s exposure to flood risk isn’t being irresponsibly increased.”

Wave of Flash Floods in England and Wales

As if to emphasise the heightened flood risk, flash flooding has been reported in areas up and down England and Wales over the past week, with more rain forecast.

Flooding in numerous locations occurred after short periods of intense rainfall. The actual volume of rainfall has been fairly small in comparison to other recent flood events. For example, during the December 2015 floods in the North West of England, 341.4 mm of rain fell in Honister Pass, Cumbria on 05 December 2015. During the flash floods in parts of Surrey and south London on 07 June, the highest recorded rainfall that day was 48.2mm in Kenley, London Borough of Croydon. However, much of the rain is thought to have fallen in a 2 hour period.

This recent spate of flash floods highlight the difficulties UK cities and built-up locations face in dealing with intense rainfall, where areas have lost the ability to absorb rainwater, which is instead directed into low lying roads and buildings.

This is not just a problem for cities and urbanised areas in the UK. Recently Australian scientists said that drainage systems built for a different climate regime will fail as rainfall patterns change and become more intense, over a more confined area and over a shorter timespan.  The risk of flooding is increased further when such rain falls on asphalt, tiles and cement.

A new report from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), managed by the World Bank, said that cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from extreme weather and other hazards.

Flash Floods in North West

Parts of Cheshire and Greater Manchester, including Stockport, Bramhall, Marple, Offerton, Disley and Poynton, suffered severe flash floods on 11 June. Firefighters were called on to rescue those trapped in the floodwaters and a refuge centre was set up for those evacuated. At least 6 major roads were closed as a result of the floods.

Cheshire Police said: “Residents affected by flash flooding in Poynton and Disley areas are advised to stay indoors and move upstairs. Do not go outside”

The water subsided later the same day. Cheshire Police said that the the flooding had caused “major issues, affecting a number of properties and closing a number of major roads through the local area, although there were no reports of any casualties.

“The majority roads have now reopened, although motorists are advised to drive with care as there is still a large amount of surface water in the area.  Middlewood Road will remain closed until tomorrow morning at the earliest, until a structural assessment has been conducted.

“The Stockport to Disley railway line will is also expected remain closed throughout the weekend, due to structural damage caused by a landslide.”

Flash floods were also reported in Chester and Ellesmere Port in western Cheshire, and also in Liverpool, where some roads were blocked. Wrexham, North Wales also reported flash flooding on 11 June.

London and South East

Earlier in the week, three children were rescued after vehicles became trapped in floodwaters in North Harrow, north-west London on 08 June 2016.

At one stage fire-fighters carried passengers trapped at North Harrow Tube station after floodwaters reached stairs to the two platforms on the Metropolitan Line.

The previous day several cars were trapped in flood water on a road under a railway bridge in south London.

Car underwater in Wallington, after flash floods 07 June 2016. Photo credit: @sparkiesuze / Twitter
Car underwater in Wallington, after flash floods 07 June 2016. Photo credit: @sparkiesuze / Twitter
Vehicle trapped in flood water in Wallington, 07 June 2016. Photo: London Fire Brigade
Vehicle trapped in flood water in Wallington, 07 June 2016. Photo: London Fire Brigade

In nearby Purley, Surrey, areas of the town were flooded three times within a week, according to a local newspaper.

Midlands

Torrential downpours also affected parts of the West Midlands on 08 June, including Birmingham city centre, Edgbaston, Great Barr, Handsworth, Oldbury, Wolverhampton and Smethwick, amongst others.

Parts of the East Midlands, including Gedling, Netherfield and West Bridgford in Nottingham and Syston in Leicestershire were also affected on 10 June 2016.