A flooding policy

I am dusting down the submissions I have made over the years to have a successful counter flooding strategy. Necessity should  be the mother of invention.

The first task must be to cut inward migration to the government’s reduced targets, to reduce the demand to build more homes. In and near residential areas, more homes means more concrete and tarmac, faster run off of water, and more water to handle. All too often new homes are built on low lying land.

The second task should be to refuse planning permission for new properties on floodplain and other low lying land prone to water problems. Only if a developer puts forward a plan to handle all the extra water a development will generate, handle all the fast run off the hard surfaces will create and make a contribution to improving water management in the area should permission be considered.

The third task is to change the balance of spending in the Environment Agency, so more of its budget is spent on traditional water course management and maintenance. I have fought many a long battle to get better water course maintenance for the local River Loddon in my area. The EA remains reluctant to dredge, to tidy banks and to remove blockages.

The fourth task is to identify holding fields and areas above settlements where water in extreme weather can be diverted to flood countryside rather than housing. Farmers should of course be compensated, which would be cheaper than the rebuild costs of flooded property.

The fifth task is to complete better embankments, culverts and diverted watercourses where streams and rivers cause problems.

None of this requires pioneering technology. The Dutch have kept back the sea and lived happily on land below sea level for centuries, thanks to dams, embankments, pumps, canals, culverts, ditches and an active programme of land and water management. They have managed to do this despite the EU Water Directives. So too has our own Fenland area, where the old pattern of drainage and water management has survived whilst other areas have fallen prey to modern less effective methods. The Somerset levels were returned to dredging, embankments and pumps after their last catastrophe, showing that the old fenland methods can work.



  1. The Active Citizen
    December 29, 2015

    All good stuff as usual, JR. I’d like to comment further on your third and fifth tasks, regarding dredging, embankments and general water course management.

    Can someone please speak up against the EU’s European Water Framework Directive which was issued in Oct 2000? Of course, as with everything generated by the EU, the situation is complicated even further by the Habitats Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment, the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, and other Directives too numerous to mention.

    In an effort not to bore your readers with the detail of the above Directives, it seems to me that the EU’s policy when it comes to rivers, water management and floods is driven almost wholly by a green agenda. The overriding sense is that ecological considerations are dominating everything. Words like ‘sustainable’, ‘biodiversity’ and ‘ecosystem’ abound in the EU’s Directives.

    I have no objection to efforts to help us live in a cleaner world – far from it – but I have to question the extent to which the eco-agenda is submerging all other considerations, such as people’s right to expect that generations of successful and careful water management are maintained so as not to encourage flooding of their homes and businesses.

    Regular dredging is essential to ensure rivers have the capacity to deal with heavy rainfall. However the EU’s priorities seem to be that water should ‘flow naturally’ and ‘find their natural paths’. Dredging is anathema to the EU as it might disturb a sleeping toad in the silt. As we find so often, this might sound reasonable to EU bureaucrats in their utopian dreamworld, but it’s not much use when you’re up to your waist in water in your kitchen at Christmas.

    Interestingly, the French seem to ignore this Directive on a regular basis, as we always have to move our boat (which is on an inland waterway) when planned dredging is announced.

    Quick Solution for the UK : The EU’s Water Framework Directive allows for emergency action to be taken by Member States in the event of serious floods and it specifically states that Members won’t then be found in breach of regulations. I suggest that we immediately revert to former dredging routines of all our waterways to be completed over the next 12 months. This would be a short-term fix to help to prevent disasters next year.

    The long-term fix is of course to leave the EU which helped to cause the problems currently being experienced in the North of the country.

    1. Denis Cooper
      December 29, 2015

      A medium-term solution would be for Parliament to disapply the EU Directives even though that would put the UK in breach of its EU treaty obligations.

      Unfortunately it couldn’t be a short-term solution because it would require primary legislation to authorise the government to ignore the EU Directives, that is to say an Act suitably amending the European Communities Act 1972; and even if the government did decide to go down that route, and it managed to get the Bill through the Commons with its large majority of pro-EU MPs across the parties, it would then have to either get the Bill past the unelected legislators-for-life in the House of Lords or accept the thirteen month delay before it could by-pass them using the Parliament Acts.

      So really it would be quicker to vote to leave.

    2. Martin
      December 31, 2015

      As I have pointed out before on here dredging for navigation is one of the exemptions allowed so your boat has to be moved when the French or anybody else is clearing a river.

  2. Alte Fritz
    December 29, 2015

    Hear hear. Today’s theme is to blame the government for spending too little and that in the south. Never mind that the rain fell in the north or that the Environment Agency peddles a left agenda favouring a return to a medieval landscape.

  3. Antisthenes
    December 29, 2015

    “refuse planning permission for new properties on floodplain and other low lying land prone to water problems”

    As usual I agree with most of what you say except for the above statement it contradicts your other observation that the Dutch have found ways to live in low lying areas where flooding is a constant danger. Building land is scarce enough so we need to use all that we can. So we must use Dutch methods and means to build on low lying lands and thereby live there safely.

  4. Know-Dice
    December 29, 2015

    The second task should be to refuse planning permission for new properties on floodplain and other low lying land prone to water problems

    Maybe councils need to be given more powers and local public objection to a planning application should be given more weight and they should be able to appeal against a planning approval. At the moment the public can’t appeal and councils are scared to reject as this potentially costs them a lot of money if they loose an appeal.

  5. alan jutson
    December 29, 2015

    All sensible stuff John, but then you need sensible people to read it, and then have the drive to put it in action.

    Do we have any such people in positions where actual decisions can be made, and action taken.

    If we do, let us hope you find them.

  6. Ian wragg
    December 29, 2015

    …..The environmental agency seems reluctant to dredge. ………..
    They are banned from dredging according to EU dictat as you well know.
    Why isn’t this being shouted from the rooftops.
    Cameron was on TV telling us how much you are going to spend over 5 years which is only a fraction of what you’re going to waste on foreign aid.
    Many people are beginning to see what’s happening and it doesn’t bode well for the future.

  7. Martyn G
    December 29, 2015

    No one with an ounce of common sense would disagree with what you say, John. That pretty much sums up the present government, which seems hell-bent on destroying our rivers (amongst other things). Recent floods have exposed the mindset of government and the EA, which is to comply with the 2000 EU waterways directive and let the rivers silt up and banks crumble so as to protect fish and other lifeforms and let rivers take there own course as time goes by.
    And then to appear purposeful and concerned about flooded citizens by spending £m on flood protection measures which in many places are manifestly unfit for purpose. You couldn’t make it up! It now seems that farmers and landowners are being paid to remove trees on uplands and so on. Common sense and established landmanagement history tells us the removing trees on uplands and other areas is the worst possible thing to do, since trees tend to hold up rain water and release it slowly to lower levels. That can only have been thought up and implemented by demented idiots.
    It seems to me that recent governments have lost all sense of proportion, are very much out of touch with the real world, are bereft of common sense and appear to care very little for the common peoples of the dis-united nation. Other than at GE time, of course when the carrots are dangled before we donkeys…

  8. Nig L
    December 29, 2015

    Excellent. Cam being heckled and the morning headlines will almost certainly mean that ‘miraculously’ extra funding/alternative solutions will be found.

    No sign of Teflon George, funny that?

  9. Denis Cooper
    December 29, 2015

    “The first task must be to cut inward migration to the government’s reduced targets, to reduce the demand to build more homes.”

    Well, if the EU- inspired objective is to allow our watercourses to revert to something like their previous “natural” state then the task must be to cut the population, and drastically, rather than just cut the rate at which the population is increasing.

    There’s a table showing how the estimated population of England has increased over time, historic and prehistoric, here:


    So should the EU’s “rewilding” project aim to take us back to the untouched “natural” drainage patterns of 5000 BC, with a population of about 6000 according to the best guess, or to the time of the Romans when it was about 1.5 million, or to the Norman Conquest when it was about double that, or to Tudor times when it was still less than 4 million, or to the Napoleonic Wars when it had doubled again to about 8 million, or to the First World War by which time it had exploded to 34 million, or just back to 1945 when the population was about 38 million?

    And if the EU’s aim is to “rewild” our country back to the kind of conditions which obtained when it was supporting only a small fraction of the present population – now around 54 million, packed into a space which accommodated barely a tenth of that number only two centuries ago, and less than that for many centuries previously – how is that policy consistent with the other EU and UK government policy of allowing and encouraging mass immigration to cram ever more people into that same space?

    At times it seems that these people have taken complete leave of their senses.

    1. stred
      December 29, 2015

      Re watercourses reverting , Bill Bryson’s excellent book Little Dribbling (p207) tells us that the most ancient human remains north of the Alps chose to live in Happisborough, Norfolk and at that time the Thames estuary flowed into the North Sea there. A land bridge connected England to the rest of the EU then before, fortunately, rising sea levels swept it away.

      One way to avoid much flood damage occurred to me after seeing the effect of the severe flooding in Lewes, Sussex. This seems to have been solved during recent heavy rains, by dredging and diversions over flood plains, pre directives. Most of the damage had been caused by the filth washed in through doors and internal drainage connections. I wrote to the Agency dealing with the matter, suggesting sealing door dams and blockers for drains and any wall ventilators. Naturally, I received no reply. However, perhaps someone had the same idea, and after a while these became available. In relation to the cost of damage, these dams and seals are well worth the cost. With a few hours warning, they can be fitted and, although there is a limit to the depth of water that can be retained, this would be a way to prevent immediate damage.

      For houses and businesses at low level near the sea, there is a new threat. Although tidal markers have and continue to show sea levels rising at less that 2 mm a year, Nasa and the Met Office have taken to using satellite measurements and, combining these with reduced estimates of past temperatures and big increase in future rises, they are now forecasting rises of 3ft, 5ft or more per century, rather than 200mm or 8 inches. The 8 inch rise has been going on for ages.How satellite can measure fluctuating levels and average them ou is intersesting. Everyone is out there predicting the worst and in some cases, as with John Snow in Bangladesh or Barrack Obama in Alaska, they seem to think it has already happened, despite the tidal markers. Unfortunately, as with my seaside house, this is causing ‘inundation blight’ and buyers are becoming wary, as they believe the official version or at least think it is a possibility. Surprisingly, the Dutch do not seem to be panicking at the moment.

      1. Denis Cooper
        December 30, 2015

        They’re predicting the worst but paradoxically they’re reluctant to attempt effective precautionary measures against it, while needlessly shutting down swathes of our economy through a much longer term global plan which if it worked at all, which is very unlikely, would just stop their predicted local worst being even worse and might make it a bit better, and at the same time trying to expand the economy by expanding the population which can only make the local worst even worse.

  10. agricola
    December 29, 2015

    Read Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail today. He sums it up in all its’ horrific reality placing the blame exactly where it belongs.

  11. Jon
    December 29, 2015

    I was somewhat amazed to see the Guardian expert commentator on flooding on TV lamenting somewhat angrily that it’s the failed method of dredging that caused the flooding.

    I am a fan of the Fells, I have been there in all seasons, one thing I haven’t seen are people dredging the streams that come down the mountains and hills because of silt build up. I suspect he has never left a town environment. Silt build up is not a problem in the Fells, it’s amazing how some people get their jobs.

  12. Ken Moore
    December 30, 2015

    We must tackle ‘climate change’ say the global warming alarmists…
    It would seem ‘extreme weather events’ have been a problem long before dodgy hockey stick graphs and the ‘burying of bad data’ were even thought about.


  13. David Tyler
    December 30, 2015

    Don’t forget planting many more trees, which have a great influence on preventing run-off. This affects many national policies, including how we manage our water supplies. The major problems relate to timescales – the benefits are for future generations rather than our own.

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