Why are we still building homes on Britain’s flood plains? Just say ‘NO’!

photo of flood defence work being carried out in 2014 overlook Chesil Beach on the doorstep of the Cove House Inn public house at Portland, Dorset
We have long had a desire to live by the sea. These dramatic flood defences were carried out in 2014 at Chesil Beach on the doorstep of the Grade II listed Cove House Inn public house at Portland, Dorset which was built in the 18th century.

A Welsh village that is home to 850 people could soon need to be entirely relocated due to the threat of climate change, although refugee resettlement plans are uncertain at present. As sea levels continue to rise, the multi-million flood management scheme in place may not be enough to protect the area and Gwynedd Council is considering the withdrawal of funding.

The Welsh seaside resort of Fairbourne was built on the flood plain of the River Mawddach and Natural Resources Wales has spent more than £6m on flood defences over the last four years. However, Gwynedd Council decided in 2013 that it was unlikely to be able to safeguard the area in the long term.

Significant concerns over the future sustainability of the sea defences are growing and it is thought that no more money will be spent on it after 2054. There are around 400 homes built on the flood plain, all of which would have to be abandoned. Gwynedd Council said it had not decided to ‘decommission’ Fairbourne but admitted that the move had not been ruled out. Not everyone will see in the year 2054, but those with an investment in businesses or homes are now concerned over the council’s lack of long term plans.

The council says the ‘point of no return’ to save the area is the year 2042, if not earlier. Residents are alarmed that there are currently no measures in place for homeowners to receive compensation to enable them to relocate. The local community council said that not knowing when sea levels would affect the village was one of the problems, and that residents were ‘seriously angry at how it’s been handled’.

Gwynedd Council councillor, Catrin Wager, agrees that the authorities must work with the people to protect the social and economic progress of the village for as long as possible as well as offering support to people who may lose their homes or livelihoods in the future. She said: “Climate change is happening, it’s only a matter of time before it has a very real human impact on coastal communities, such as Fairbourne.”

Local resident, Alan Wilde, said that regardless of what may or may not happen in the future, Fairbourne was already ‘washed out’ with fewer amenities than it had previously enjoyed. He cited the loss of toilet facilities, safe access to the beach and notice boards in particular and accused the council of killing local tourism by abandoning Fairbourne.

Gwynedd Council is now discussing what it can do to give people time to prepare. The council has established a ‘multi-agency project’ and is seeking assurance from the government that a national funding stream will be available, should Fairbourne be decommissioned.

Rising sea levels

Sea levels are estimated to rise by two metres over the course of the next century. Flooding is an issue that affects much of the UK and a recent government advisory report said that, by 2080, up to 1.5 million properties and homes in England could be at risk of flooding. More than 1,000 miles of coast are already at risk of erosion and 114 miles of coastline is deemed to be beyond protection or adaptation.

Many organisations are responsible for the prevention of flooding in UK homes, and the big players are national Government, local Government and the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency holds ultimate responsibility, but is it really in the best possible hands? Although the agency is run by politicians, but private sector managers might be preferable for their ability to to get things done ‘on time and in budget’? With such a substantial task required, should the ambition and get-up-and-go of a professional be preferred to long-term public sector servants?

Do we continue to ‘manage retreat’ areas that are frequently exposed to damaging floods? Wouldn’t a better long-term plan be to compensate some of the worst affected homeowners now and encourage them to move elsewhere? Protecting a home from flooding to preserve its capital value is all very well, but why build a property in that location when the probability of floods is so high? Perhaps even more pertinent, why buy such a house without carrying out a simple, realistic flood risk check beforehand, and not building in that location if there is any risk of long-term flooding or erosion?  

Home insurance

Insurance becomes ever more increasingly difficult to obtain in a property that has flooded or that may flood but why should all householders share this burden? Perhaps the people who buy, occupy or build on flood plains should be paying extra.

Why are we still building new homes on flood plains?

Local planning authorities “are required” by central government to build homes. Flood plain land is typically level and uncomplicated. Britain has a substantial housing shortage but why don’t council planning authorities have sufficient power to just say NO BUILDING ON ANY FLOOD PLAINS WITHOUT EXCEPTION and if they already have those powers, why don’t they use them? Perhaps the answer is the addition of a S. 106 agreement on flood plain areas with a contribution towards flood defences, including dredging where appropriate.

It would be prudent to get any property exposed to coastal erosion or flooding assessed by a Chartered Surveyor who can let you know the risks involved.

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