Thames Barrier closures highlight growing flood risk

The Thames Barrier closed for the third time in four days on Monday after the highest tidal surge since the facility opened in 1983.

The Thames Barrier can only protect London until around 2030

The Thames Barrier can only protect London until around 2030

The situation highlights London's increasing flood risk as the climate warms and the need to improve protection for the capital, Lib Dem leader Sit Menzies Campbell said as he visited the barrier on Tuesday.

The Environment Agency, which manages the barrier, put the almost daily closures down to high winds fuelling massive storm surges and heavy rains. But while London's principal flood gate was shut just under three times a year on average in the first ten years of operation, the frequency of closures has now risen to around double that number.

"It does appear that the number of occasions in which the barrier needs closing are going up. That's not difficult to understand because of the acceptance now of the problems of climate change," Sir Menzies Campbell told edie.

The barrier will serve the capital until around 2030, when new flood defences will come into operation, although the EA's plans for protecting the capital post-2030 won't be unveiled until next year.

Despite a growing risk of flooding, budgets for England's flood defences were cut by £50m this year, Sir Menzies Campbell pointed out. Although the funds will be restored next year flood defence funding should be rising, not falling in line with growing flood risk, he said. He called on the Government to match the £750m by 2011 that the Environment Select Committee has said is necessary.

"I want to see a commitment from the Government to these sums because that is obviously what is necessary if we're going to meet the challenge of flooding likely to arise as a direct result of climate change," Sir Menzies said.

He also called on the Government to increase efforts to curb transport emissions. "Climate change and the consequences for the lives of our citizens should be right at the top of the political agenda," he said.

As for lifestyle changes needed to bring about emission cuts, these can be made painlessly, he argued: "You don't have to give up your comforts.

"You can still have a motor car but a motor car that is less polluting, one with a smaller engine, and you can use your motor car less," for example.

"We can change people's behaviour without materially affecting the quality of their lives."

Goska Romanowicz



Waste & resource management
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