Stop the Flooding Blame Game

14th Nov 2019

The recent UK storms and heavy rainfall have brought river flood defence to the fore (again). The strategy of how the increased risk of flooding is addressed in the coming years will be discussed and debated over the coming weeks and months, with the issues of funding, risk and benefits already highly politicised. This is all set against a backdrop of a housing shortage and Brexit uncertainty!

Yes, recent coverage in the news is stirring up debate, often imbalanced, leading to counter arguments from regulatory authorities, the farming community, and the pro-traditional approach to flood risk management.

Mixed messages from experts (“to dredge or not to dredge”), Politician Visits and 24/7 news has made the topic increasingly difficult and confusing (and the upcoming General Election does not help matters either!).

Furthermore, direct comparison with the Netherlands in terms of financial investment in flood defences is fruitless. They spend a proportionately higher percentage of GDP on flood defences (through direct levies), they have a smaller coastline, and half of their population is at flood risk.

In the UK approx 1 in 5 are considered at risk of flooding, and therefore it is unlikely that simply increasing taxation for flood defences would be well received by the majority of UK voters. We can ask for more money, for higher flood walls, and more regular dredging, but as stated by the EA, it is not a bottomless funding pot!

A “knee jerk” approach (2007 Sheffield, 2013 Boston, 13/14 Somerset, 2015 York to name a few) is unsustainable, costly and traditional hard engineering approaches alone may in fact just move the problem on to someone else.

The future of flood risk management should not be decided in an adversarial arena. Yes development has unwisely taken place on floodplains, but the people who currently live there should not be held accountable. Furthermore, if Climate Change is a manifestation of actions by the whole population, then those who suffer from intense storms should be supported by all of us.

Division along the lines of Protection v Resilience, Environment Agency v Agriculture, Investment v Austerity and Cost v Benefit are in danger of missing the point. There is no ‘silver bullet’. All of these things have put a strain on the environment and nature has fought back. It’s time to call for an amnesty and stop the blame game in order to have a serious discussion about how we correct some of the wrongs, improve on what we are doing well and learn from the past.

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