Flooded Again!

It’s seventeen years ago since we had the terrible floods in Tewkesbury and across the country. In my area, around 1000 people had to move out of their homes and live in caravans for up to a year; paradoxically, we lost water supplies because the water station was flooded; some electricity supplies were lost; Tewkesbury Hospital was evacuated; and, sadly, lives were lost as a result of the flooding.

Much work has been carried out in the area to help prevent flooding, but alas we still experience it. Just a few weeks ago, homes at Tewkesbury town and down the river at Sandhurst were flooded, roads were closed and negative pictures and stories were broadcast across the nation. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that Tewkesbury is well and truly open for business.

The town of Tewkesbury is situated at the confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon, and other rivers run close by. As a result, the water table is often high and heavy rainfall is a threat to the area. This geographical reality might, therefore, seem to be a deterrence to much development in the area, but actually the opposite has been true.

Outside London, the borough of Tewkesbury is the fastest growing area in England. And the constituency of Tewkesbury has, in recent years, experienced four times the constituency average of house building. All in an area which floods so regularly and so badly. Can the area take this amount of development?

I certainly welcome the expansion of existing, and the arrival of new, businesses, as well as the people coming to live in the area, and I do, of course, recognise the need for housing, but the clear fact is that the more and more fields we concrete over, the fewer places there are for water to rest, and that water has to go somewhere. All too often, it ends up in people’s houses. So we really do need the Environment Agency to change the way they assess flood risk and for them to object to proposed developments where such building would increase the risk of flooding for others.

In other words, its relatively easy to build new houses which are flood resistant, but the problem is the water displacement they cause. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) might have a role to play, and a policy decision should be made as to whether they should be mandatory for a certain size of development. But either way, we should not be building on land when to do so would worsen flood risk in that wider area.

Similarly, we need to ensure that, where new houses are built, there are adequate drainage systems in place. Should developments be allowed to simply tap into existing systems? I don’t think that’s appropriate. There should be an assessment carried out of the adequacy of the drainage systems before development can be commenced. And, as an aside, we should also make sure that the other infrastructure, such as roads, schools, hospitals, GP surgeries and so on are adequate as well.

We also need to ensure that water companies carry out their wider responsibilities fully. A couple of years ago, people in my area had their Christmases ruined when raw sewage found its way back into their houses. They had to leave their homes for a while to allow clear up and repairs to take place. Water pumps had failed, and my constituents paid the price.

Councils need to be ready to help with flooding as well. Sandbags should be available in plentiful supply, and they should actually be filled with sand. Too often, people are told they an have the bags, but they must provide their own sand. This is not helpful to older or more vulnerable people.

We also need to know who is responsible for running things when the floods come. There are councils, the Environment Agency, the government and other bodies, but who is actually in charge? This needs clarifying. And the government must carry out regular assessments of how well the Environment Agency is performing in respect of the flood prevention projects they are carrying out. Are they doing everything they said they would do, and are their plans ambitious enough?

So yes, in some areas such as Tewkesbury, flood risk is higher. But let’s make sure we don’t worsen the prospects of flooding unnecessarily; lets make sure flood protection measures are put in place where possible; and let’s identify who is best placed to be responsible for flood prevention and alleviation. Should that be left to the Environment Agency? We need to have that conversation.

Mr Laurence Robertson MP

Mr Laurence Robertson is the Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, and was elected in 1997.