BUCKINGHAMSHIRE is as far from the sea as you can get in England, but even so this winter’s record levels of rain have brought floods and flood alerts right across the county, from Marlow to Buckingham.
In my own constituency, about twenty houses on the western edge of Aylesbury were flooded when a normally small brook burst its banks.
The main road between Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville (also the ambulance route from South Bucks to the A and E unit) was closed several times by floods.
Pumps are still needed to clear water from the road by Saunderton station and residents in Hughenden had to dig channels through their gardens to prevent sewage from an overflowing main getting into their homes.
We cannot control the weather. I support national and international action to reduce carbon emissions, but this will take many years to have an impact. We need now to adapt to the probability that we are going to see an increased risk of flooding in the years to come.
So, here are a few suggestions.
First, we need a presumption built into both central and local government policy that new building will not normally be allowed on land that is liable to flood. That won’t help people whose homes are already at risk but it would stop the situation from getting worse.
Second, we need to be imaginative about flood protection. There will never be enough money for dams or barriers everywhere. Dredging can help in some places, but it’s not a panacea. For centuries, farmland soaked up floodwater during the winter. Can we give farmers and landowners incentives to allow more of their fields to be used this way?
Third, agencies and councils need to get better at working together at local level. It’s good that a recent change to the law has given one authority, in our case the County Council, a lead role. Bucks CC is now analysing the lessons of this year’s floods and I look forward to their report. I was surprised, when I invited Environment Agency, County and District to meet me to discuss the Aylesbury floods, to discover that a number of those present had not met each other before and were not in the habit of routinely sharing local maps and other information. One good thing to come out of this winter would be more joined-up working locally.
The water companies need to play their part in this too. I’m frankly disappointed by Thames Water’s reluctance so far to share responsibility, even when, as in Hughenden, it is their sewers that have burst. Of course, they were not responsible for groundwater getting into the sewerage system, but they presumably design the capacity of sewers making some assumption about what is needed to cope with the impact of heavy rain.
An effective local prevention plan needs everybody involved: councils, water companies, the Environment Agency, local landowners and householders who have a duty to keep their own ditches and culverts clear – and residents who can help the statutory agencies by clearing watercourses of debris and alerting the authorities to problems.
When the floods hit, people helped their neighbours. Firefighters, council and Agency staff worked incredibly hard. I hope we can now draw on that experience of community solidarity to plan for the future.