Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The water has to go somewhere

Yesterday, in my brief post just after returning I mentioned in passing, and in a joking manner, that I noticed that even though there were floods everywhere the Thames Gateway building projects were continuing a pace. The reason I mentioned it is because as we know quite well, the entire project is being built on reclaimed flood plain mostly consisting of marsh.

Each time the Thames Barrier is raised, many of these flood plains swell with excess after from high tide, and when you add the rain of last week it becomes clear why we have flood plains in the first place.

And yet, yesterday, in a classic piece of joined-up Government that is impossible to satirise we had the news from Yvette Cooper (why doesn't she call herself Balls?) that the Government was to plough on with its house building project and would not avoid using flood plains.

In a most bizarre display of argument, Cooper claimed that because the Romans built York on a flood plain and defence then why couldn't we? She also pointed out that Downing Street was on a flood plain, which is actually irrelevant to her point about whether it is right or wrong.

The Roman analogy is absurd anyway simply because the difference of urban density. Building flood defences in Roman times largely meant ditches and walls and they didn't have to worry themselves with such non-porous water holding materials like tarmac.

Perhaps the Housing Minister is confused because she also heard the Romans built roads? Let's also remember that the York that the Romans built was on the highest land within a flood plain. It was on the land that, during your atypical flooding was the little mound exposed and and untouched.

Yvette Cooper is not however talking about building Mott and Bailey type dwellings - although perhaps she is, that might explain her plan for homes that are 'carbonfree'. Mud is the new brick! New Labour home building - Back, not Forward.*

Sarcastic mickey taking aside though, the real problem here with what Cooper is proposing is thinking that it's all about building defences. If we just take the Thames Gateway as the example area which just happens to be where the bulk of the building will happen it becomes clear it's not that simple.

Take a look at the river Thames through London heading east over the years and it's clear what going to happen. Every time we have built in the natural flood plains we have shifted the flood plain along the river until the next building project.

Image from Environment Agency
So.. whilst we may build defences in the projects in Tilbury and Dartford, what we'll actually be doing is creating new flood plains somewhere else further down the Estuary, the water has to go somewhere after all. Now personally I've never really liked Chatham anyway, but I imagine the people that live there might.

A significant amount of the already built PrescottCooper-Paradise down by the Thames is already uninsurable because of the flood risk pointed out by the Environment Agency in it's interactive maps. House prices in the south London parts of the Thames Gateway are already falling and the Government's solution is to build even more?

Of course, there will be those who say "we need these houses!" or "you just want to help the few, not the many", perhaps even allegations of nimbyism. Far from it though. We do indeed need to build houses, but we shouldn't be even thinking of doing it on flood plains that have, as a result of historical defence building, become larger and larger as they've been moved by our actions.

* Yes. I was mixing historical metaphors between Romans and Anglo-Saxons. It's irrelevant to my point though so don't even bother going there.


Anonymous said...

One reason she got away with all that bullsh1te was because there was no official opposition in town.

They (Call Me Dave) could have and should have had a field day with this daft arrogant plan to carry on destroying flood plains, when the whole country could see the stupidity of it all on their TV screens.

Ben said...

I smell Balls. Is this not just a sneaky lefty attempt to reduce house prices in the South East?

In a couple of years time they’ll be able to claim that the average house prices in the (uninsurable and undesirable) Thames Gateway are lower than the rest of the country.

“and they said we didn’t know anything about markets, Comrade…”

Sacerdoteuk said...

I'm with Ben on this one. Affordable housing anyone?

Chris Paul said...

Er, Holland is built on Hollow Land and Netherlands as a whole too. Where's your spirit of adventure? Let's push the boat out.

Anonymous said...

If they must build on flood plains, then why not share the plains with the floods?

Building on Stilts is perfectly possible and is done in other parts of the world where land is scarce. Floating houses are also possible but quite expensive.

Flood Barriers for massive developments built on land whose very existance is due to floods dumping their silt are not a solution. They are just a very expensive method of moving the problem elsewhere.

Of course small local schemes to protect installations such as Water treatment and power plants are just common sense. So why weren't they protected?

Did I detect a lot of slope shouldering yesterday by most of the decision makers? Seems to me that as No one Government department is overall responsible then matters look certain to muddle on.

dizzy said...

Chris, if you want live in a house that depreciates in value and cannot be insured then that's your choice.

Anonymous said...

"Romans built York on a flood plain"

Yes, and it still floods every time thers's a heavy shower in the Dales!

Tim J said...

Anglo Saxons? There was me thinking it was the Normans that built Motte & Bailey. I read it in a LAdybird book somewhere.

At least we're back to that old favourite 'joined up government' though eh?

guido faux said...

Yes it's the solution to providing "affordable housing" in the South East.

Cue government insurance scheme, backed with taxpayer's money - limited to "key workers" of course.

Anonymous said...

Chris, correct about Holland - and the Fens here in the UK - however isn't there some sort a drainage and flood defence system in place? Something I note is lacking in 'sarf london.

Anonymous said...

"Romans built York on a flood plain"

and they built Pompeii under a Volcano!!!

But why are the Torys so silent on this incredible gaff by Yvett Copper-Balls

dizzy said...

re: Anglo Saxon - was reference to mud being used :)