Leading Article: Questions now the rain has stopped

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The Independent Online

It seems safe to say that the worst of the flooding that afflicted central and western England is now over. The weekend rain was not as heavy as forecast, and yesterday the sun came out. Running water was restored to several hundred people, although it is not yet safe to drink, and some may have to wait two weeks before full service is resumed.

But the subsiding of the water is only the beginning of an aftermath that will be long and costly. For many households, the disruption of not having a habitable home will be aggravated by the unavoidable dealings with insurers, builders and banks. And revelations about the bonuses paid to officials at the Environment Agency are hardly likely to lift their mood.

Pay arrangements for agency officials and the precise demarcation of responsibilities between this quango and the Environment department are both questions that now cry out to be asked. But there are many others.

The obvious one, exemplified by the water treatment plant that was inundated and the power station that very nearly was, relates to the siting of crucial parts of the infrastructure. Another - equally obvious - is how quickly flood warnings should be acted on and where flood protection apparatus should be kept. It is no excuse for ministers to say that this is not relevant because the water would have run over the floodgates. It is relevant, although the quality of the protection also needs review.

While the emergency effort seems generally to have gone well, some aspects were better than others. For instance, demand for water after the treatment plant failed seems far to have exceeded what was envisaged.

Regrettably, contingency planning also appears to have underestimated the likely scale of vandalism and profiteering. Mobile water tanks proved particularly vulnerable. For the Government, it was unfortunate that the worst of the flooding coincided with publication of its housing White Paper, which accepted that some new homes would still be built on flood plains. The coincidence, however, had the benefit of exposing an arrangement according to which insurers had been allowed to spread the risk between those who faced a high risk and those in areas where the risk was negligible.

If climate change means that flooding will become more frequent, it is hard to see how such risk-sharing can continue. And it is not just the financial aspect but the disruption and danger to lives. Already, flood-weary householders are talking of moving away; if departures gather pace, such housing will lose its value. In this case, developers and councils will have to look to buildelsewhere. The re-think cannot start too soon.

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