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2007 in 2020, are we heading for another National Catastrophe?

Storm after storm ravaged the UK this February. As soon as one passes, leaving devastation, flooded properties and ruined businesses in its wake, it seemed that the next one was already brewing on the horizon. It was almost second nature to turn on the news and see reports on those areas that have been affected.

Flooding has become so frequent that images of flooded streets has become the new norm and simply part of day to day reporting. Perhaps this familiarity, with so much coverage of flooded properties has inured many of us against the hardships suffered by the many flood victims. And so we fail to identify with someone losing their belongings, their worldly possession or someone losing their business.  

Across England and Wales it is estimated that around 4,300 properties were flooded in February. Last Friday I was on a train back from Dundee and I was in awe of just how much land was under water. How much land now resembled wetlands or paddy fields, with small outcrops of land just above the flood level resembling a temperate archipelago. Sitting in Argyll’s Brighton office, my desk looks out easterly over Brighton and all morning writing this I’ve witnessed non-stop rainfall.

While this may seem to be another review of flooding which I’m sure you’ve all seen plenty of, it isn’t. I have graver concerns about what could happen in future months. We’ve seen so many big flood events over the last 10 years that we forget the flood that resulted in, (or should have) such widespread change to national preparedness, forecasting and policy.

In the aftermath of the 2007 floods we were not talking about a few thousand properties. 48,000 properties were flooded, 8,000 businesses affected, 42,000 hectares of farmland was flooded, 400,000 worth of education days were lost and large areas across the south west were without essentials for life including clean water and power. For over 2 weeks, 140,000 thousand properties across Gloucestershire were without clean water.

It is because of this flood that our approach to flood risk as part of pre-acquisition due diligence completely changed. Flood was essentially a non-topic. This was until Sir Michael Pitt wrote his 92 recommendations: number 63 being: “Flood risk should be made part of the mandatory search requirements when people buy property and form part of Home Information Packs”.

What’s of concern is that the conditions for the 2007 floods, which the Environment Agency described as a “National Catastrophe” are very similar to what we are experiencing now. Like now, in 2007 we experienced a very wet November to February, recharging the aquifers from the previous drought. Exacerbating the flash flooding, high groundwater levels, inhibiting the ability for run-off naturally infiltrating ground resulted in significantly prolonged flooding in some areas. This is as well as areas of the country flooding not as a result of surface run-off of swelling rivers, but solely from a rising water table. Both the Pitt review and the EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) acknowledged the importance that a rising water table played on how significant the 2007 summer floods were.

This is my concern. Yes flooding right now is awful and the impact and loss resulting in flooding is something I can only imagine. However, with the record setting wet period we’ve seen this year and the effects of climate change being felt around the world, further flood events on the 2007 scale are likely to be with us before too long.

So be pragmatic, get an interpreted flood report, understand your risk and take steps to reduce it as much as possible. Sign up to flood warnings, create a flood action plan and know where is safe. Be prepared for the next big flood.