Posted on 6th October 2012

The Problem of New Builds on Flood Plains

Martin Williamson, Head of Residential PropertyThe problems caused in our region by the torrential rain last week were a major source of frustration, and severe disruption, to many. The extreme weather was to blame for flooding, which even saw one block of townhouses in Newburn, Newcastle, partially fall apart at the foundations.

As the wet and windy weather becomes a more frequent occurrence and evidence suggests that it is - with incidences of flash flooding caused by torrential downpours increasing over recent years, many are asking why new build homes are still being built on flood plains. In the Eighties, insurers paid out £1 billion for flood damage and in the 2000s, they paid at least £5 billion; according to statistics produced by the Association of British Insurers (ABI.)

Reasons for the rise in flood costs include the increased frequency and severity of flooding in the UK and the growing problem of surface water flooding (the Environment Agency has estimated that 2.8 million properties are at risk of flooding from surface water.) It has been previously estimated that the total value of assets under flood risk exceeds £200 billion more than the current budget deficit.

Half the housing put up since the end of World War II has been built on the top of flood plains. Without the water meadows, ponds and ditches that surround rivers on these plains, there is nowhere for water to flow but into our homes. As home owners increasingly pave over, or add decking, to their gardens, there is less permeable space for rain to soak into; further increasing the likelihood of flooding.

Around 10 per cent of all new developments are still in flood plain areas. In one month last year, the Environment Agency objected to 34 major developments in England and Wales in flood-risk areas. In many cases, they were thrown out due to the pressing need for new homes.

Despite the threat of flooding, we are also ignoring the lessons of our past and building homes that cannot cope with floods. Many moons ago, houses such as those built by the Victorians were built with cellars. They were also built with raised steps at the front door; these days, the trend is for houses to be built that feature doorsteps that are more level with the street, or front drives, which naturally leads to an increased likelihood of flooding.

We, of course, as a country need to find new viable places to build homes, and avoid the blight of building on greenfield sites; but erecting homes on what is essentially sand is definitely not the best way forward. As I mentioned in a previous column, there are now over 930,000 empty homes available in the UK; so, the question is why arent we using these more and building on brownfield sites? There is a real and pressing need for a joined-up housing strategy that needs to focus more on the current availability of housing and to match that up with actual, rather than perceived, demand. We must also ask ourselves whether it is a common sense approach to continue building new homes on flood plains.

Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 40 people serving private and corporate clients. For further information: call 01325 341 500.

Please note: This article is intended as guidance only. No responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by Latimer Hinks. In addition, no responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by the firm.