One hundred delegates, two MPs, experts from Kent County Council, the Environment Agency and the influential Committee on Climate Change and many members of CPRE Kent attended our highly successful conference – Flooding: Facts, Fears and the Future.
The event was organised by CPRE Kent, in conjunction with Kent County Council, to draw attention to the major threat of flooding to the county, to consider the lessons learned from the devastating floods of Christmas/New Year 2013-14 and to share opportunities to reduce risk in the future.
The event was covered on BBC South East today, BBC Radio Kent and ITV Meridian as well as local newspapers.
Opening and chairing the event, CPRE Vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston, said; “If we rewind to the situation just over one year ago we must remind ourselves that it could happen again. We want to raise awareness of how it happened; were communications adequate; how successfully did the agencies work together; were the insurance claims handled efficiently and fairly; was there adequate support for people forced to leave their homes and what action is being taken to address future risk?”
He added: “It is a sobering fact that houses are still being built in flood risk areas.”
The Rt Hon Damian Green MP for Ashford told the conference: “Flooding has long been recognised as the greatest natural threat the UK faces.”
Environment Agency data shows around two million homes in England and Wales are at flood risk from the rivers and sea, and around 2.4 million homes are at risk of surface water flooding. This problem is getting worse due to climate change, increased building and higher population density, and rising sea levels – it has been estimated, because of these factors, that annual flood damage costs could exceed £27 billion across the UK by 2080.
According to Damian Green: “Flood defence and maintenance funding must be seen as a vital part of our national interest by all future governments. We need sustained, ambitious, and targeted investment in the building and maintenance of flood defences.”
David Thompson, Senior Analyst at the Committee on Climate Change said their research showed that 214,000 properties were built on the floodplain between 2001 and 2011 (9,000 of them in Kent) and the rate of development was higher on the floodplain than outside it and this difference was even more marked in Kent. Particularly worrying was the fact that 37% of floodplain development was in areas of significant risk.
He said the Committee had analysed the planning decisions on these developments and found that Environment Agency advice did seem to be adhered to. However with job and budget cuts at the Environment Agency, many small developments (fewer than ten properties) are not consulted upon and there are many decisions where the outcome is unknown.
Mr Thompson also talked of the problems of people concreting over their gardens and the impact this has on surface water and pressure on the sewer system.
To read The CCC reports click here.
Andrew Pearce, Area Manager for the Environment Agency (EA) talked of the response to flooding over the last 20 years and how it has changed and improved, with further measures taken since last winter’s major floods. Currently Kent has 85,557 properties at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. The county has 9,700 flood management asserts which must be maintained and replaced.
Leader of Kent County Council (KCC) Paul Carter talked of the “phenomental growth” expected in Kent with population expected to grow by 22% by 2031. This and the associated house building and emploment will have a huge impact on infrastructure with £4billion needed to provide the schools, roads, health facilities etc.
Mr Carter described the successful partnership working with the EA, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), central government and the private sector, namely Pfizer, to provide a flood defence package for Sandwich, protecting both the former Pfizer site (now Discovery Park) which has a one in ten year serious flood risk and the historic centre of Sandwich itself. He said he hoped for more partnership schemes in the future and expected contributions from local councils, developers and businesses.
Paul Crick, Director of Environment, Planning and Enforcement at KCC, described the major effort to deal with the floods of winter 2013-14 with KCC staff working 120 hours a week and dozens of volunteers mobilised to help people escape their flooded homes and those living without power. However, he recognised they stood people down too quickly before recovery was properly underway.
Following the floods in April 2014 the Kent resilience team was established, including Kent Fire and rescue, Kent Police, KCC and the EA, and this has improved efficiency and communications. More people have been trained and on call arrangements have improved.
“What should I do in an emergency?” is an advice booklet prepared by the Forum. To read it and to study KCC’s emergency plans click here.
Max Tant, Flood Risk Manager at KCC, explained the situation in the Nailbourne and Little Stour valley where villages are at risk of flooding when the Nailbourne flows during periods of prolonged rainfall causing a rise in groundwater levels. In 2014 the flood alert was in place for 101 days and tankering and overpumping lasted for five months. He described the measures being taken to prevent this in the future and the steps being taken to manage the watercourse.
The chairman of Yalding Parish Council Geraldine Brown and Yalding Parish Clerk Angela Gent told the conference of the remarkable experiences of Yalding over Christmas 2013-14. The community spirit was outstanding with everyone rallying round to help the most vulnerable. “That absolutely got us through it,” said Mrs Gent.
Mrs Brown also gave out useful advice about buying battery operated phone chargers and analogue phones to keep communications open if the power fails in an emergency.
The village saw visits from the Prime Minister David Cameron, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. This raised the profile and helped secure the funding for flood defence work.
Espen Østbye-Strøm, Chief Operating Officer of Floodline Developments, gave a fascinating outline of plans to build “can-float” houses on the floodplain. these are already being built in Holland and can offer a solution in areas with a shortage of housing and flood risk. In some cases an artificial lake can be created to take water from overflowing rivers and this would also provide leisure activities.
Helen Grant MP for Maidstone and the Weald joined the Q&A panel and stressed the importance of groups and communities working in partnership with the EA and KCC and private sector to come up with sensible and reasonable plans. She said this would be more likely to receive Government funding and each plan would need to show collaborative working and strong leadership.
The final speaker was CPRE Kent Chairman Christine Drury who looked at the Romney Marsh Challenge and the impact on farming in this important and iconic landscape. The area has 100 square miles of Grade 1 farmland which is a vital resource and should be protected. She expressed concern that the funding criteria for flood prevention works counts people and properties but not crops and in a time of climate change and food insecurity it was more important than ever to preserve our farmland.
To view all the presentations from the conference click here.