Flood prevention: deal imminent for new homes

Jan 10, 2014

Four-year standoff betweeen developers, authorities and environmentalists may be coming to an end

A FOUR-YEAR standoff between developers and authorities, over rules designed to prevent new housing projects from exacerbating the effects of flooding, appears to be a step closer to a resolution today. But what are the rules, why are they contentious and what form will a deal take? Here are five key questions: 

What caused the standoff?

Building policy has been "paralysed" since the Flood Act of 2010 was written into law, says the BBC. The act requires developers to landscape their projects so that rain water collects in "ponds and grassy hollows" or seeps into open ground rather than rushing into the drainage system.

Detailed rules governing the implementation of the act are being drawn up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). But the governance has been repeatedly delayed by two factors. Firstly, a standoff between developers and environmentalists on the best way to ensure run-off doesn't contribute to flooding. And, secondly, by the £500 million budget cuts at Defra and the resulting staff reshuffles which have cause bureaucratic delays. 

Why are developers unhappy?

It all comes down to money. Developers argue that allocating valuable building land to ponds and the like will drive up the cost of the housing, make homes less affordable and projects less viable from a commercial perspective.

What do the developers propose?

They want some "flexibility" under the terms of the Act, the BBC says. For example, they suggest run-off could be captured using giant underground tanks, an approach that would free-up more land for development.

What's wrong with that proposal?

Well, according to technical experts, the tanks are an inferior solution compared to "surface features" such as ponds. Drainage expert Paul Shaffer tells the BBC: "There are much greater benefits if you capture water on the surface".

He adds: "It's a simpler solution that's easier to maintain; you get pollutants broken down free of charge by vegetation, you get amenity value that improves people's quality of life, you help to improve biodiversity." Surface features also help to cool down the surrounding land during heatwaves, Shaffer says.

So, has the standoff been solved?

Not exactly. There is still "deadlock" over the land allocation issue, but the BBC understands that an important deal has been reached over who pays to maintain any new "anti-flood landscape features".

Under the terms of the deal, councils will be able to charge the owners of new homes for the maintenance of anti-flood landscaping. The councils believe that’s a fair solution because the owners of established homes have to pay to have their run-off treated by water firms through the sewerage system.

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"Developers argue that allocating valuable building land to ponds and the like will drive up the cost of the housing"...To be offset by the benefits.

Given the developments cause/exacerbate problems, why shouldn't developers (and so home buyers) pay? Maybe they will say existing developments cause as many problems as new ones and if they were not there the new ones would be OK, so we should all pay.

Maybe this is just one way our expanding population is causing problems. Maybe climate change is causing the problems we have with flooding...but there is little we can do about that on our own.