Editorial: Better flood protection is not the only answer

It is hard to remember that last spring the chief weather threat was drought

Share
Related Topics

It will be scant consolation to anyone affected by the floods over the past week to learn that a slight easing of the weather conditions is expected. Some 400 flood warnings and alerts have been issued. Acres of farmland are under water. Nearly 500 homes have been inundated, and the plans of many thousands to join family or friends for Christmas were thwarted by roads and rail lines cut. The main line from London to Plymouth is unlikely to be open before Friday. Depending on your perspective, either Cornwall or the bulk of England is cut off.

One immediate, and regrettable, result will be that repairs and maintenance to many railways, scheduled – so it seemed – with unusual efficiency this year, will be postponed, as emergency work takes precedence. But the news is not all bad. It is heartening to learn how the emergency services have risen to the occasion and wonder at the customary resilience shown by British travellers towards adversity.

Those who rescued a woman swept away by floodwater near Barnstaple sounded as overjoyed as they were astonished to have found her alive, while reports abounded of friends and neighbours doing their best to help out. All that is as it should be, but still gratifying, not least because for some this is the second or even third time their home or business has been flooded this year.

In the face of such watery misery, it is hard to remember that, as recently as last spring, the chief weather threat was drought, with the water table especially in the east of the country at a record low. The inevitable hosepipe ban followed, kept in force in many areas until early summer. Now the reports are all of land so saturated that almost the slightest shower causes flooding, and this year stands to be among the wettest on record.

It is not enough, though, to reflect on the rapid turnaround that our capricious weather can achieve when it wants to. What the past 12 months have illustrated is that parts of the country are more vulnerable to extremes of weather than perhaps they might have been if the infrastructure had not been so neglected, if more thought had been given to applications of technology, or if planning authority had been exercised differently.

Given that the impact of climate change on this part of the world may be less to raise temperatures than to increase volatility and exacerbate weather extremes, then it is on defences that investment needs to be focused.

It is all very well – and admirable – for the emergency services to work around the clock building temporary flood barriers, as they have just done in Shropshire, to keep homes dry through the holiday, but there are dangers in becoming too proficient in such interim solutions. They offer a pretext for postponing the more substantial, longer term – and doubtless more expensive – protection that is required.

Some risks may be relatively easily reduced. The practice of building housing and community facilities on flood plains needs to be reviewed. It is questionable whether this was ever such a good idea as it seemed to contractors looking for promising sites, but if water is going to be a bigger problem in future, planning policy must be revised to take this into account.

Other risks are harder to tackle. The disparity between the drought-prone east of the country and the flood-prone west argues for a better integrated distribution system able to get surplus water to where it is needed. Enhanced flood protection may look like the overriding priority as 2012 draws to a close, but it is only one part of a bigger and more complex picture.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker