Noah's Ark homes will save the world

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The Independent Online

Stand by for the newest solution to the flooding brought by global warming - going back to the Ark. The world's first amphibious housing estate - with homes that will leave the ground to bob up and down on floodwater - is nearing completion in the Netherlands.

Stand by for the newest solution to the flooding brought by global warming - going back to the Ark. The world's first amphibious housing estate - with homes that will leave the ground to bob up and down on floodwater - is nearing completion in the Netherlands.

France and Germany are already showing interest in the latter-day Noah's Arks, but not the British Government - even though it warned only 10 days ago that millions of Britons are going to be at risk of inundation as climate change takes hold.

The estate of 36 luxury houses is being built at Maasbommel, south of Arnhem, on a beautiful bend of the river Maas - which periodically bursts its banks. It is on the "wrong" side of the dyke, which protects the hinterland from the rising waters, and is thus particularly prone to inundation.

But the houses are designed to be immune to catastrophe, and their new owners are even looking forward to the thrill of their first flood. Anna and Karel van der Molen, both in their mid-40s, are due to move into their €350,000 (£232,000) split-level, amphibian home in two weeks.

Busily painting the large living room, with stunning views over the watery landscape, full of nesting birds, they recalled yesterday how they had had to flee their old home nine years ago when it looked as if the dykes would collapse. "It's part and parcel of life here," said Anna: "You take what you can to the attic, lock the front door and hold your breath."

Karel, a product manager at a nearby factory, adds: "It is a dream come true finally to have a home that will remain dry no matter what. We are now even looking forward to the floods and the thrill of having the house rise up. Our families and friends want to come and share this unique experience with us."

The houses, designed by Dutch architect Grer Krengen, are made of lightweight wood and constructed on hollow concrete bases, which give them the same buoyancy as ships' hulls. They sit on concrete pillars and are anchored to steel mooring posts with sliding rings.

When the floods come they will rise up the posts with the waters, and then settle back on the pillars again when they subside. All the electric cables, household water and sewage flow through flexible pipes inside the posts.

Each family will need a boat to get to their houses during floods, after parking their cars on the nearby dyke.

"They are pretty much just regular houses," says builder Hans van de Beek. "The only difference is that when the water rises, they rise."

And Andri van Ooijen, a local campsite and marina owner who came up with the idea of the estate, says: "It is a good opportunity to show that living with water, instead of fighting against it, works."

The Ark offers to help the Dutch fight two crises. The first is the growing menace of global warming and sea-level rise to the country, half of which is below sea level.

Already the country is having to modify its 1,000-year battle against the tides, popularised by the legend of Hans Brinker, the boy who saved his community by sticking his finger in a leaking dyke. Some years ago the Dutch government concluded that it could not forever go on strengthening and raising its dykes - and the Dutch water authority is warning that the sea level could rise by three-and-a-half feet this century.

It also offers a way of combating the growing Dutch housing crisis, by opening up land previously too dangerous to consider for homes. Dura Vermeer, the property development company behind the Maasbommel estate, is now looking for a site for an entire floating town. The company has received approaches from France and Germany and is considering "packaging up the houses" and exporting them.

But the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister refuses to comment on the idea, even though it is promoting the building of 90,000 new homes in the Thames Gateway which is so prone to flooding that the Association of British Insurers has warned that it may not cover the development.

Ten days ago, an inquiry led by Professor Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, warned that 3.6 million Britons will be at risk of flooding as global warming increases over the next decades.

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