Events – some you can control, some you can’t. Looking back over the last two months of extreme weather, it’s hard not to think that even if you do all the planning and preparation some events are simply beyond the scale of normal prediction.
We have experienced four extreme flood events in the last 10 years. The summer flooding of 2007 remains the most significant event in terms of the number of homes affected and the cost to clean up, over £3 billion according to the insurance industry.
It’s estimated that more than £200 billion of assets are under flood risk in the UK, 500,000 people face a significant flood risk by virtue of where they work or live while one in six homes are thought to face some flood risk.
So far, this winter’s wet weather has cost around £426 million with 174,000 insurance claims arising from flood damage to property. In December, the East Coast experienced the highest tidal surge since 1953 yet the impact on life and property was significantly less. Damage occurred but we coped better.
Yet flooding is not just the result of sea surges and high tides – certainly not this winter. When the soil is saturated the rain cannot percolate into the ground, leading to flash flooding. This winter has been the wettest on record and the rain has not only been relentless but also intense, resulting in flash flooding and very high river flows leading to the scenes of inundation across flood plains in Somerset and Surrey.
Such events are said to focus minds. The recent debate has focused on whether enough investment is being made on flood prevention. Who should pay and how much is it down to the individual householder to prepare?
The last seven years has seen an improvement in the UK’s flood warning systems, protection and emergency response. Political promises have been made at national level to spare no expense on emergency aid this time round. A new industry agreement called Flood Re has been reached between Government and insurers to alleviate the ongoing financial burden for those at high flood risk. This will cap annual premiums based on Council Tax band. All of us will pay for this through a levy, or should that be levee (sorry, it’s no laughing matter).
On a more practical level, it’s well worth doing your own research and, if necessary, getting prepared. First, find out whether you are at risk from flooding; for the latest information on flooding in your area, visit the Environment Agency website or call the agency’s Floodline (0845 988 1188). Second, if you are at risk then make a plan; advice from Suffolk Resilience will help you on what to do before, during and after a flood. Finally, look at the Association of British Insurers website which contains advice on what to do if you are flooded and how to get back on your feet.
-- Peter Gudde is environment manager for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils.