Damaging floods are happening more and more often in our country – and we still aren’t tackling the problem properly.
Why is it such a serious problem? First, we’re still building new houses on floodplains. Since 2013, 84,000 new homes have been built that are categorised as ‘at risk’. That’s 1 in 10 of all homes built. And we’re going to build 11,400 more in the next 4 years on high risk land. These are areas which used to catch water and store it during heavy rain. Now, despite so-called ‘planning controls’, this water hits houses and roads to run off much faster down culverts and drains and into rivers. Instead of flood plains which slow down the flood peak by storing water, developed areas push it downstream faster, moving the problems further down the catchment.
Second, climate change means more extreme weather. The UK expects a 10% increase in average rainfall by 2100 from 1985-2005, and in higher intensity rainfall events. We can expect more frequent flood peaks – and our communities aren’t ready.
Why do flood protection schemes fail?
Flood barriers – like the ones proposed in Kendal – can handle moderate flood peaks. But when they’re overtopped the water will run over into properties on the ‘protected’ side. It’s already happened in Cumbria during 2015’s storm Desmond in Carlisle, Keswick and Cockermouth. This winter it happened to communities on the river Severn.
With flooding happening more often, flood barriers will fail more often. In a storm Desmond scale event this will happen to the proposed barriers.
Slow the flow
The Environment Agency is still relying heavily on Kendal-style engineered flood defences, but there are better ways of doing it.
Slow the flow means using natural flood management. You hold the water on land upstream of flood-prone communities with planting and ponds, as well as the creation of temporary surface water retention systems. It has already worked in Yorkshire, and the Environment Agency know this. They’ve even written a guide for farmers on how to do it. But in 2017, only £15 million went to natural flood management, while the Kendal scheme is expected to cost £72m across three phases. We should spend that money on natural flood management, and add to temporary upstream water storage solutions. This requires taking the Pickering ideas and evolving them further to protect our communities.
This choice matters to all of us, throughout the country. Will we build ever higher walls? Keep pouring concrete into our rivers to try and control nature? Or work with nature, our communities and the resources we already have? Using approaches that are working from Pickering to New Zealand?
Now is the time for Kendal to choose. It can reject an outdated scheme that will fail under nature’s ever-higher floods. It can choose to slow the flow and tackle the problem further up the river using natural flood management techniques.
And we believe the choice is obvious – Kendal should set a path for the country to follow.
Sign our petition and join our calls for a rethink of the scheme.