Never mind the Housing Bill, the big housing story of the past month has been flooding. Images of houses under six feet of water have much more impact than MPs burning the midnight oil discussing amendments to a Bill that probably few people are even aware of. I have written before about flooding, drought and building on flood plains. It seems to me that opinion is slowly shifting towards the views that George Monbiot has been putting forward for some years, which I wholeheartedly support. Just as you can’t solve the housing crisis with a single tool (owner occupation) we won’t stop flooding with single measures like dredging or defences around towns and cities alone. It will need a whole menu of measures, starting with the retention of water in upland areas, using natural barriers (and beavers, which will do the job for free!). In addition we need to reverse the stupid subsidies that incentivise farmers to send water straight down the valleys, and manage grouse moors and other upland areas in a more sensitive way.
You don’t need to be a hydrologist to comprehend this. If, as a child you ever tried to dam a stream or build sand defences against the sea you will understand the basic principles of how water works. Or if you ever watched The Dam busters you will understand that a series of smaller reservoirs at Möhne and Edersee would have inflicted less damage than the single massive structures that were breached.
On top of this, it’s worth remembering that Southern and Eastern England experienced a severe drought only five years ago. So we need to think about storing more water to use during dry periods and a national grid that would allow water to be shifted from areas of high to low rainfall.
There has been a lot of hysterical discussion about building on flood plains but some take a counterintuitive approach. Flood plains are by definition marginal land, so they need to have dual uses. If their use for agriculture is limited then housing could be an option so long as it allows the flood plain to continue to perform its natural function. That means designs with houses on stilts or with floodable undercrofts or homes that are amphibious, as in Hollland. More and more young people in London are looking at boat living, and given that flood-plain land would achive lower land values it could provide genuinely affordable housing.
What about housing providers? They manage vast estates and will need to carry out surveys and audits to see exactly how their assets impact upon, and are impacted
by, local flooding. That means looking at water retention through grey water systems and water butts, green roofs that will hold rainfall and release it slowly, discouraging the concreting of driveways and open spaces so that rainfall can percolate and not run off, and thinking about the safety and security of their assets if flooding does occur.
The recent excessive rainfall has no doubt been caused by global warming, and if mitigation is having limited success we will have to adapt. Over millennia mankind has had a cunning ability to adapt to his or her environment. Housing providers have a part to play in that process.
(This article also appeared on the 24 Dash website)