Prescott vows to curb building in flood areas

After the “wake-up call” of the worst storms since 1987, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, John Prescott, said he would push through new guidelines to limit building in flood risk areas.

“Our policy is clear: it is to discourage inappropriate development in flood risk areas,” Prescott told the House of Commons on 31 October. “We are, therefore, together with the Environment Agency, improving flood warnings; encouraging, and providing more funding for, flood and coastal defence; and encouraging development away from flood risk areas,” he said, adding that a new guidance on the latter policy would be issued in December.

A recent report from the Association of British Insurers showed that between 950,000 and 1.2 million homes are in flood-risk areas and the Environment Agency (EA) believes that five million people in England and Wales live in areas at risk of flooding.

Storms nationwide from 29 October have seen widespread flooding in many residential areas, disrupted power supplies, blocked roads and rail lines, closed seaports and blizzards and tornadoes. “We cannot say that any one storm is due to global warming, but there is growing evidence that the pattern of weather around the world is increasingly stormy and extreme,” Prescott warned, referring to the storm as “a wake-up call for everyone”.

Prescott said that the Environment Agency’s total flood defence expenditure for 2001-2002 is planned at £290 million, an increase of £7 million over the 2000-2001figure. The Secretary of State said that more flood warnings were now being given, that the EA had a responsibility to produce a report at the end of the flooding crisis “to show how it dealt with the crisis”, but questioned whether Britain had adequate drainage systems on the roads.

His Conservative opposition counterpart, Archie Norman, heaped scorn on the Government’s proposals for building new homes (see related story): “Does he (Prescott) accept that decisions to build in river valley areas that may or may not be designated flood plains but which play an important role in absorbing rainfall, such as Lewes, Hertfordshire north of Stevenage, and the flood plains of Ashford and the Nene valley in Northamptonshire–are exactly what the Environment Agency warned against?” Norman also suggested that there should be a single telephone number for the public to turn to for all flood-related problems, questioned the EA’s capability in dealing with floods and suggested that its funding remained insufficient.

“We must take practical action now so that we are prepared for a future where extreme weather events are more frequent,” Prescott said. “That is why we have produced the climate change impacts study for the UK, and why we are producing a series of regional climate change impact studies on how different parts of the United Kingdom will be affected. We can now accurately predict and forecast extreme weather events.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie