Mark Steel: Well, if the Romans built on flood plains...

We can't take their advice - they also built a city at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius
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The Independent Online

Maybe this really is a new period of government with no PR spin, because no one concerned with their image would announce building 20,000 houses on flood plains in the middle of the country's worst-ever floods.

And the housing minister, Yvette Cooper, tried to justify this by saying that York was a fine place to build houses because "The Romans built it on a flood plain". We can't take advice on this issue off the Romans - they built a city at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius and look what happened to that. When she was criticised, she claimed this was an attack on "affordable housing". By this logic she could announce 10,000 cheap houses are to be built in containers full of nuclear waste and, if anyone complained, she could say: "How dare you attack the concept of affordable housing?"

Maybe we'll at last see the benefits of the war in Iraq, and 10,000 affordable town houses for young families will be built on a brown-field site in Basra. Even then they'd probably be bought by bankers, who'd then let them out to jihadists as somewhere to keep people they'd kidnapped until the value had doubled.

Anyway, if the floods keep coming, they'll transform the housing market. Because the safest place to live will be the highest point possible. Estate agent adverts will boast "STAR OFFER ... VERY desirable property in highly sought after location *** This NINETEENTH floor flat in Moss Side tower block MUST BE SEEN ... ALL LIFTS BUSTED so no chance of soaking-wet people making their way to your level ... £3,000,000 ... no reduced offers considered." And five-bedroom houses in Maidenhead will be on a hard-to-let register and used for putting up refugees from Somalia.

One inevitable line of whining has been the one pursued by a columnist in the Mail, who complained: "If this biblical flooding was happening in some far-flung Third World country, pop stars would be falling over themselves to record a charity single." And someone in The Sun said: "If this was happening anywhere else in the world, the Government would be sending wads of our cash."

Which seems to be getting things a little out of perspective. It's doubtful whether Live Aid would have taken off quite as much as it did, if the song had been: "The river banks burst / So the carpets went first / And one woman's fridge / Is now under the bridge. / It's a tale of endurance / But they should get most of it back / On the insurance."

It is almost as if they're angry at how Middle England has suffered most, as if this were a politically correct flood that once again attacks the decent, silent majority, because these days a flood daren't devastate an inner-city area, in case someone accuses it of being racist!

But the irony is it's these same people who are most damning about the probable cause of the floods, which is global warming. It's possible this would have happened anyway, but the floods are almost exactly as predicted by climate-change scientists. Those people who remain certain there's no global warming could have been on the Ark, and they'd have said: "Oh, bloody hell Noah, don't tell me even you've fallen for this nonsense about God being angry - this is all just part of a natural pattern."

Once things start turning out exactly as the theorists said they would, surely you have to accept they've got a point. If, for example, there was a thunderclap followed by live coverage on Sky news of a lamb opening seals and then four horsemen who brought with them war, famine, pestilence and death, I'd swallow my pride and accept that the Christians had been right after all.

The Government accepts that global warming is the likely cause, but seems incapable of doing anything to curb it. For example, one billion pounds is being removed from subsidies to the privatised train companies which sum will be made up in increased fares, which therefore must increase the use of cars.

Similarly, the private water companies were discouraged from building larger drains and sewage systems, because this would have increased water charges. And no one dare suggest decreased water or rail company profits. And the same profit-driven logic will apply to the building of new houses.

So, as the floods get worse, the next move will be to privatise the flood relief, as this is the only way to attract much-needed investment into the emergency industry. Advertisers will divert the river, so the chimneys sticking above the water spell "DFS sofas". And, as residents are hoisted out of their upstairs bedroom window, they'll be asked: "Would you like a pastry with your rescue?" Meanwhile, the housing minister will justify with history why she can spend her day fiddling.