Flood-hit areas earmarked for more homes

An article in the Sunday Telegraph by Andrew Gilligan and James Quinn spells out in graphic detail the problem of the Government’s relaxed planning laws. The article appears in full below:

Councils in some of the areas worst affected by Britain’s flooding crisis have published plans to build hundreds of homes on land that is currently under water.

Dozens of potential sites have been earmarked for development in areas hit by the floods, such as the village of Wraysbury in Berkshire and Chertsey in Surrey.

Potential housing development is also scheduled for Walton-on-Thames and Molesey — two riverside sites in Surrey that are subject to “severe” flood warnings involving danger to life.

On the Somerset Levels, Taunton Deane borough council has designated land in the village of North Curry for new homes, even though one of the proposed sites, next to Curry Moor, is used as an overspill area for flood water and has been underwater for weeks.

The neighbouring council, Sedgemoor, has identified sites in at least four villages for housing, even though all are within the highest-risk flood zone.

Writing for the Telegraph, Mark Wilson, the chief executive of Aviva, Britain’s largest insurer, calls for a halt to building on “defenceless” floodplains.

In the past decade alone, tens of thousands of homes have been built in areas of significant flood risk, with the British insurance industry paying out more than £5 billion to homes and businesses since 2000.

Mr Wilson says: “As a nation we need to build more homes, but the cost of development must include the cost of defences. Let’s be crystal clear: no defences, no development.”

Large swathes of southern England have been underwater for weeks following the wettest January for almost 250 years and continued storms and wet weather at the start of this month.

More than 85,000 homes were without power on Saturday following the latest storm, which caused havoc across the country and killed at least two people. In a dramatic 24 hours:

• A minicab driver died when part of a building collapsed on to a car in central London. Julie Sillitoe, 49, a mother of three, was killed close to Holborn Underground station;
• An 85-year-old man died after the 22,000-ton Marco Polo cruise ship was hit by a freak wave in the English Channel;
• Emergency services and the Army rescued 32 people from the Marine Restaurant in Milford on Sea, in Hampshire, evacuating them in a military vehicle at the height of the storm on Friday night;
• A 20ft-deep sinkhole appeared under a quiet cul-de-sac in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Speaking during a visit to Chertsey on Saturday, David Cameron said the relief effort in the next 24 hours would be “vital” as river levels were expected to rise again.

“This is a vast national effort where we’re bringing all the resources of our country together,” the Prime Minister said.

“What we do in the next 24 hours is vital because, tragically, the river levels will rise again so every sandbag delivered, every house helped, every flood barrier put in place can make a big difference.”

The weather is expected to improve for most areas on Sunday, but rain is forecast to return on Monday, before a slightly more settled week.

The Environment Agency still has 16 severe flood warnings in place, 14 of them along the Thames.

With the ground saturated and the water table at record levels, flood waters in some areas are not likely to recede until next month at the earliest.

Despite this, an analysis of plans in some of the worst-hit counties shows how councils have proposals for significant building in flood-risk areas.

Five potential sites on green-belt land, accommodating up to 150 dwellings, have been designated at Wraysbury alone. The sites were shown in a “preferred options consultation” published by Windsor and Maidenhead council only three weeks before the waters rose.

Three of the proposed Wraysbury sites sit wholly within areas classed, even before the latest inundation, as having a “high probability” of flooding, and a fourth lies largely within the high-risk zone. At least two of the sites are currently submerged.

On the Somerset Levels, Taunton Deane borough council has designated land in the village of North Curry for new homes.

One resident near the proposed development site, Keith Madge, said that his home had been uninhabitable for 14 of the past 21 months.

Sedgemoor has identified sites in at least four villages – Cannington, Chilton Trinity, East Brent and Westonzoyland – for housing, even though all are within the highest-risk flood zone.

Parts of Westonzoyland have flooded in the current crisis, and residents of the village fear that they will be “sacrificed” as floodwater is pumped towards them to save larger communities.

Throughout the country, tens of thousands of properties are due to be built on high-risk “grade 3” flood land as councils struggle to meet government targets for house-building.

Between 2001 and 2011, about 40,000 properties were built on wholly or largely undefended plains at “significant risk” of flooding, according to a report produced by a sub-committee of the Government’s committee on climate change. Floodplain development grew faster than building in the rest of the country.

In the six years to 2011, the Environment Agency did not object to more than half of all planning applications for flood-risk areas, the report said. In about half the cases where it did oppose an application, it dropped its objection after negotiations with councils and developers.

In almost 10,000 cases over the past six years reported, the agency was not informed of the final outcome of the application.

In the past year alone, councils allowed 87 developments involving 560 new homes to proceed against Environment Agency opposition.

There are no national regulations to prevent developers from building homes on floodplains, and construction companies bear none of the subsequent risk should the houses flood.

Michael Saunders, the cabinet member for planning at Windsor and Maidenhead council, said on Saturday that its development proposals were based on “historic information” from the Environment Agency that had not been backed up by the “real events” of the past week.

He added: “No development site will go forward where recent evidence demonstrates a meaningful flood risk.”

Anthony Gibson, chairman of the Somerset Levels and Moors Task Force, said: “It’s actually the development of Taunton, Chard, Crewkerne and Yeovil that is more of a problem than development in the Levels itself.

“Whatever the planners do, it is essential they don’t shed any more water than they can possibly avoid.”

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