In the last couple of weeks I have visited several sites that were badly affected by floods last summer. In several cases people did not have their homes back in use for Christmas, as builders scrambled to complete the new plastering ,wiring and other tasks to restore the properties.
Each location has a different version of the common problem. In some inadequate surface drainage led to sewers overflowing as well, in others proximity to a river or stream bursting its banks just engulfed the low lying areas in flood water. In each case there is an argument between the authorities over who is responsible for the maintenance and improvement of the drainage.
The Environment Agency, after a series of meetings, has accepted that it is responsible for the Emm and for the Loddon. However, responsibility does not mean that riparian owners, the Highways Authority and others are free of all duties. The Agency does seem to accept that too much water can try to come through the Emm brook, and spill over into homes at pinch points along the stream. They have suggested an improvement scheme to hold surplus water away from homes, releasing it at a manageable rate. I am keen they should press on with working this up into a firm proposal and putting it in their budgets.
Thames Water is still reluctant to commit to spending where its facilities have been overwhelmed by flood water, taking out pumps or exposing inadequate capacity in pipes and manholes. I do think that where foul water reaches into peoples homes they should move quickly to improve facilities to prevent that happening again. I will keep at the task of trying to persuade them to do something to sort it out.
In some places ditches, culverts and drains have not been kept clean. In other places they are simply not large enough. We seem to have plenty of lawyers, administrators, assessors and experts writing letters and arguing over liability. It is high time more of the budget was spent on some people to go out and scour the ditches and widen and deepen the watercourses so next time heavy rain hits people can be assured it will not come into their living rooms.
The Environment Agency itself did not maintain its systems to a sufficiently high standard, and had to admit as much in its annual report. It now has extra money from the government for anti flood investment for later years, but needs to get more out of its current ?1,000 million a year budget to reassure us. Many of the schemes we need locally are small and relatively cheap. I want to see a greater sense of urgency. It is no good just spending money on putting all our homes on maps on the internet, and placing lines around the unlucky ones to say they are prone to flooding.
This government has been particularly keen to require more and more homes be built in places like Wokingham. Much of the land is low lying. Much of the open land that remains is flood plain. Planners have a duty to consider the impact more tarmac and concrete will have on the rate of water run off when it rains, and the impact converting flood plain into housing estate will have on the neighbours as well as on the new properties. It is heart breaking to see peoples dreams shattered when their brand new homes are awash with dirty water. It is high time the authorities sanctioned fewer houses, and improved our flood defences. This is not global warming, this is bad planning.