I received some better news today from the Environment Agency. They tell me they are now working on a paper to submit to the October flood prevention meeting to propose an Emm Brook flood prevention scheme in Wokingham.
Nothing is guaranteed until the paper is written, the case is successfully made and a decision to finance it taken. There’s still plenty of scope for disappointment. Nonetheless, it is a welcome move forward, after previous requests have been met with replies saying the money has to come from developer contributions, or saying that the scheme would not pass the financial tests.
Whilst flood prevention is in our thoughts again, I would welcome more thinking on this from the planning officers at Wokingham. Now we are rapidly moving to a world where more planning decisions are taken on local initiative rather than in response to national and regional policy, we need locally to rethink our attitude towards flood alleviation and prevention.
One of the worst consequences of the last decade of top down housing targets and other planning requirements has been large areas of water meadow and field disappearing under hard surfaces and concrete in low lying areas. This causes a double flooding threat.
There is less land to absorb the excess water which runs off in periods of heavy rain, less space for oveflowing rivers to fill with excess water. There is also much faster run-off of the water from the concrete than from the muddy fields that pre-dated it.
Every new housing estate, road and platform for windmills, every new school or industrial building places on floodplain jeopardises existing homes and workplaces from these two forces pushing too much water into the wrong places.
One of the main guides in our new local plans should be the wish to avoid further damage to the floodplain, as we take action to deal with the backlog of problems from too many years of building too much on open fields near rivers and streams and too much development pushing more water too rapidly into watercourses.
As Wokingham considers applications for homes, wind farms, industrial parks and the like, it should make clear on its planning map that it will now act to protect the low-lying damp areas from dangerous attrition. We also need to protect green gaps between settlements, leisure land and good quality agricultural land, which planners can now opt to do.
I am sure it would be popular in the public consultations which follow any such proposed change of course.
If there is to be large-scale future development of course the developer of that should include in the plans and his costings the ncessary water management measures to ensure the development does not make things worse.
As Wokingham is rightly rethinking its development strategy we should not rely on the arrival of large-scale new development. It is more difficult to expect developers of new estates to pick up the bill for past flooding errors.
That is why I welcome the opportunity to back a proposal to do something about part of our flooding problem from within existing flood alleviation public budgets.