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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flooding blame game

This morning's newspapers continue to feature the very worrying flooding hitting large areas of Britain. Many of them start to focus on causes and solutions, with the Guardian in particular telling us that the government failed to act on its own advice to overhaul UK flood defences and drainage systems that first highlighted deep-seated problems three years ago.

What is worrying is that the Government seems to be determined that its very admirable programme to build three million more homes by 2020 should not be held up by the problem. The Housing Minister told us yesterday that flood waters covering large areas of central and western England are no reason to delay this scheme, and that includes developments built on flood plains.

Yvette Cooper appears to be under the impression that adequate flood defences built around new housing developments should solve the problem, but she is overlooking an important principle: if the volume of water is expanding then it needs to go somewhere. If we build more and more impermeable surfaces on floodplains and over ground that previously soaked up rain, then flooding will occur regardless, possibly in other not so well protected areas. The Government really needs to think again on this issue.

The Western Mail reports that more than 170,000 households in Wales live in homes which have been built on flood plains. Despite that the Welsh Conservative Environment spokesperson thinks that it is just about building higher walls. He is deluding himself. There needs to be a careful re-evaluation of policy so that if we do build on flood plains in the future then we are clear about not only how these developments will be protected but also what their impact will be on flooding elsewhere. It may not just be about shielding new estates, but existing settlements as well, which may be under threat as a result of this building work.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Lembit Öpik tells the paper that the Government must now give the overall responsibility for flooding to the Environment Agency and put a significant amount of investment in flood defences. He is certainly right about the extra investment needed, but I am not so sure about the transfer of responsibility he advocates.

The Environment Agency already has significant powers with regards to flooding, and with the introduction of TAN 15 can effectively hold up and possibly veto developments it considers will cause an unacceptable risk of flooding. I am not aware of any clamour from them for even more powers, though I will seek them out at the Royal Welsh Show today and ask them.

I am not happy about ceding control of a democratic planning process to an unelected quango, but I do accept that the Agency's advice must carry weight and that guidance must reflect that. If they are to take planning authorities with them, the Environment Agency needs to have the resources to invest in more complex and precise modelling so that their advice carries greater authority. In the past they have taken a sledgehammer approach when advising local Councils, with the result that whole areas have been deemed at risk of flooding when in fact further work has identified that it is just a small part of it that needs protection from development.

If we can get that advice right and establish some clear principles for future development in Wales, then there should not be a need for a wholescale transfer of powers to the Environment Agency. Local Councils can be trusted to act responsibly if they have confidence in what they are being told and it seems to me that this is where the Assembly Government needs to concentrate its fire, that and more money for flood defences for existing settlements.

We must build more affordable housing but those developments must be sustainable too. That means that they must be protected from flooding but also that they do not cause flooding problems elsewhere.
Peter, on a different matter. Who will be replacing Elin Jones in the Assembly Commission?
Pretty close. It was all avoidable, I think it's more to do with covering the Govs embarrassment than anything else.

Pete Wishart wrote to Yvette Cooper a while back, since then Brown apologised for the Dome and Falconer was removed from the new cabinet. Therfore Yvette Cooper should have known something that the floods were going to happen if she had researched some.




Don't take my word for it the Gov don't deny it. They can't deny the truth, just don't want it public I suppose

Christopher, that is a matter for Plaid. We will not find out until September.
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