A newly published study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology calls last winter’s flooding the ‘most extreme on record in the UK’, with November 2015 to January 2016 being the wettest three-month period since 1910.
Last year’s floods after intense wet weather continue to concern me. Every year floods return and wreak havoc, causing expensive damages that hit council cashflows and can push residents into debt while they wait for insurance payouts.
But who’s to blame? And what can we do about it?
After Storm Desmond, much was made of the government's attitude to flood defences – not just because of the risks taken in axing funding to 1,000 defence schemes in 2011, but also in light of the inadequacy of new defences like those in Carlisle, despite costing a reported £38m.
Last year I saw issues like the damaged train line between Tiverton Parkway and Exeter St David's and the large amount of gravel swept from the A169 near Whitby, which suggest to me that better structural planning needs to be in place – particularly when a severe storm is approaching.
Controlling our rivers
More importance also needs to be attached to improving control over river flow. Cleaning streams and culverts where litter and detritus can cause damming and increase in water levels, for example, is something that should be considered basic maintenance.
In the longer term, I was interested by the findings of a study for the Environment Agency earlier last year. It said that planting trees around rivers could reduce the height of flooding in towns by up to 20%. Investing in long-term initiatives like this will prevent recurring and costly short-term 'fixes' weighing down councils and residents.
If central government must consider these kinds of strategies, councils should also be reminded that clear litter and leaves from road drains and gullies is a front-line service. The recent floods in Chiswick and Bristol have shown how important it is, regardless of budget cuts.
Littering plays its part too. I was on the roads this week and I’ve never seen so much rubbish as on the A38 between Derby and Lichfield. If it's allowed to accumulate and grow, this debris is undoubtedly a factor in stopping water from running off more easily. It's an easily shared task – we can all play our part in reducing our waste. That said, if councils do come up against repeat offenders, hefty fines followed up by enforcement are a final option to cut rubbish and raise funds for those front-line essentials.
I'm firmly convinced, then, that it's not about one organisation – all parties need to accept their share of the burden. Preventing such grave costs, both emotional and economic, to the people of these communities is far more important than playing the blame game. I hope we can start looking forward to constructive solutions soon.