Reflections on the 2007 floods
The memory of the widespread and devastating floods of 2007, when people lost their lives and 55,000 homes were flooded, will stay with me forever. I was flooded too (more about that later) but also visited many cities, towns and villages that had been so badly hit. Street after street, lined with skips into which the belongings of so many people were thrown. People’s often long saved up for furniture and white goods were totally wrecked and intangible memories were washed away. Talking to people who had lost so much and hearing of the heartbreak they were going through remains with me still. Due to the sheer number of homes flooded, many people had to live in caravans (some for up to 2 years) whilst they tried to get on with ‘normal’ life, as well as project managing the repairs to their homes and dealing with insurance claims. (Believe me, in some cases this was an incredibly stressful and protracted experience!) Relationships were put under severe strain and we mustn’t forget the terrible upset to children, as they too had lost so much.
The Secretary of State for the Environment at that time was Hillary Benn, who came to visit Worcester, where I live. I had the opportunity to have a robust discussion with him on Worcester Bridge, which was broadcast live on the local BBC radio station! I met Hillary again the next week in the House of Commons and he invited me to be ‘the voice of the flood victim’ on the various ‘Flood Summits’ he organised and chaired. My thoughts were listened to closely, not only by him, but also his Flood Minister (Huw Irranca Davies) and Sir Michael Pitt, who conducted the review into the floods. I believe the Floods of 2007 were a big ‘game changer’ as so much has improved since then. We now have the Flood Forecasting Centre, with the Environment Agency and the Met office working in partnership. Flood warnings are clearer and more accurate. Many flood alleviations schemes have been built. (But I have to warn that, whilst these reduce flood risk, they do not take it away, and we must always remain flood aware.)
Crucially, what has also changed (in my opinion) is that those who manage flood risk now work in partnership, not only between themselves but with communities who are at risk. In my book people who live at flood risk can often be the real ‘experts’ on local flood risk – they know how a flood unfolds and often what causes it. There is still too much building on the floodplain for my liking and building regulations need to be toughened up, to ensure that flood resilience is incorporated. Also, we must remember that a large proportion of the 2007 floods were from surface water flooding – so we, as individuals, must take some responsibility and stop paving over our driveways with hard impermeable surfaces. Permeable paving will allow water to seep into the ground and reduce the over loading of the drains that is becoming all too common.
I mentioned at the start that my home flooded in 2007 – however, I had already made my home resilient to being flooded, so I simply pumped out the water, sanitized and got the dehumidifiers out. We moved back downstairs quite soon afterward and didn’t have to make an insurance claim! Since then, I’ve been evangelical about resilient repair, as it really can reduce the awful impact a flood can have at a home or property level. There is no one ‘quick fix’ to stop flooding and, although floods can be managed, they can never be entirely stopped. This is why it is so important that each one of us thinks about how we can cope with ‘residual risk’ as it is called. I have co- authored the ‘Homeowners Guide to Flood Resilience’ which gives lots of information as to how to go about it. It is available as a free download.
I’m also delighted to be spearheading the newly launched ‘Cumbria Resilient Showcase Project’, which is a partnership between the EA, The Prince’s Trust, Business in the Community, Carlisle City Council, Adler and Allan and The Building Research Establishment. We plan to make three properties flood resilient, so if they do flood again, they can all #getbacksooner! Watch this space………!