DAVID GROSSMAN: Misery by the gallon. The floods
of two-thousand caused over a billion pounds worth of damage - in human
heartache the costs can't be measured. But these are scenes we may have
to get used to - the Government's latest climate change study predict
winter rainfall may increase by thirty per cent over the long term. Already
the experts say rivers are rising more often - the need for flood defence
has never been more vital.
Even before the flood waters drained away from here in Worcester and from
other parts of the country the Government promised urgent action to try
to prevent that kind of devastation from happening again. What was needed
it's argued is not only better physical defences against flooding but also
better protection against building, for the green areas around rivers that
are needed to allow floodwaters to seep away before they become a problem.
But many of the people who live here and in other flood threatened communities
say almost nothing has been done, and if there isn't action soon, their
homes could become uninsurable and potentially worthless.
ANDREW LANSLEY MP: Well the worst case scenario
of course is that the consequences of climate change mean very substantially
greater flood risk in future and that if we don't have flood defence measures
in place, a lot of people will be, well they'll be driven out of their
MARY DHONAU: The Government are acting
very, very slowly. They've commissioned lots and lots of studies into flooding,
but nothing has been done to stop it. It's still going to happen. If we
flooded tomorrow, to the same levels as the year two-thousand we would
flood just as badly.
GROSSMAN: Flooding is a problem
that threatens a significant proportion of the population. The Environment
Agency estimates that one point nine million properties in England and
Wales are at risk from flooding - that's about five million people.
MARY FRANCIS: It's quite a serious problem.
I mean we have two aspects of it. One is that flood defences haven't
been maintained in a sufficient way. And the other is that we have got
increasing prospects of more, of rain, over the coming fifty years or so.
Something like a, an increase of up to a third in the amount of rainfall,
and those two things together mean that many homes are not protected.
GROSSMAN: In Worcester one of the
homes to be hit in two-thousand belonged to Mary Dhonau. Today the waters
have gone but she thinks they'll be back - this house has been flooded
in seven of the past nine years - rainwater mixed with sewage.
DHONAU: Well this room here is
at the moment a makeshift kitchen as I'm having a new one. But during the
floods of two-thousand, it my two little boy's playroom and we woke up
in the morning and found all their toys floating in sewage.
GROSSMAN: And how high did the
water come up to then?
DHONAU: Well at the worst it came
to window-sill height.
GROSSMAN: And this is raw sewage?
DHONAU: Yes it's raw sewage, yes.
We've been flooded seven times, we've made three insurance claims, so this
is our third floor.
GROSSMAN: From her window, Mary
can see the local water company starting work on a sewage pumping station
that should mean that any future flooding won't be nearly so vile. But
as a whole, Worcester isn't any better protected according to its MP. He
says there's still nothing concrete to show for nearly two years of worry.
MICHAEL FOSTER MP: Certainly there isn't any defence
that's going to be in place by this coming autumn, nor was there obviously
for the autumn and the winter period that's just gone, and people have
to sort of cross their fingers and hope that the flooding didn't repeat
and, and thankfully it didn't but it was very close.
GROSSMAN: As the late spring rain
falls on Worcester the river Severn fills up but this time sweeps by. Many
believe the delay in getting better flood defence in England and Wales
is caused by fragmented planning - a tangle of national, regional and
local bodies with criss-crossing remits. The lead national organisation
is the Environment Agency - its chairman says the time has come for a more
SIR JOHN HARMAN: There are a range of committees
around the country who take the decisions on flood defence. Now, now this,
this is fragmented, there, there are local committees, there are regional
committees. We have to deal with twenty-nine decision making authorities
in coming to our annual flood defence budget, as well as government, and
its, its contribution through grants, so it's quite a complicated arrangement,
and when things go wrong or when there's a flood, it's actually not an
easy arrangement for the public to understand and it can be very frustrating
to find out who's actually responsible for your flood warning or flood
FRANCIS: It is a, a dreadful maze,
all the local authorities in the country have responsibilities for planning
flood spending, and for undertaking it. We also have the Environment Agency,
we have numerous other planning authorities, and we are pretty sure that
there's not a sufficiently co-ordinated system to ensure that the money
that is available is spent very efficiently.
GROSSMAN: Lovely weather for some
no doubt but the pressure for new homes means many, like these, are built
on flood plains. Not only are such houses more vulnerable to flooding themselves
but also instead of slowly seeping through open ground, rain rushes into
the river off tiles and tarmac. The Government has tightened up the local
authority planning guidance for building on such sites - but rivers of
course don't respect local authority boundaries and the flooding impact
of development can hit many miles downstream.
LANSLEY: One of the most important
things that ought to be done is to institute what's known as catchment
management, that is looking at the whole catchment of a river. You know,
whether it's the Great Ouse or whatever it might be, and look at that as
a co-ordinated responsibility with a body, probably a sort of catchment
wide body in place of the present Flood Defence Committees who have that
responsibility to ensure that flood defence and the management of that
river is co-ordinated.
GROSSMAN: Now to get some idea
of how high the water floods in a place like Worcester - in November two-thousand
it came from all the way down there and reached a mark on the cathedral
wall - there. Now the question is, is it economic to try to defend against
this level of flooding - the Government insists that to work that question
out you need to take into account the value of the property you're trying
to defend. But critics say that discriminates against places like Worcester
with average or lower than average property prices .
FOSTER: A small house owned by
a relatively low income family is less likely to be defended than a large
house which is owned by a higher income family, and clearly that's not
fair, and there are many people who argue against the current formula,
on the fairness basis. But also, just looking at the value of the property,
to work out what the cost of flooding is, I don't think takes in to account
the full impact of flooding, the social costs experienced by those that
are flooded are enormous.
GROSSMAN: In Worcester, the Severn
View Hotel today has a somewhat drier view than it had in two-thousand.
It's where the local flooding action group meets.
ACTUALITY: "This is the map of
Worcester. There are eleven cells - each cell has got to pass the cost
GROSSMAN: They believe the current
system means they won't get defended.
ACTUALITY: "If we lived in Maidenhead
or in Henley of course we would because our houses would cost more and
I just want to know what you think about that?"
DHONAU: My house is my castle,
everybody's house in Worcester is their castle. It just has the same feeling
of value to us, just because we're in a different part of the country it
really shouldn't mean that we have, don't have the right to be defended.
HARMAN: What the system doesn't
really reflect, and we think it should reflect is the value of the people
that it's protecting. We think it should be much more people based, one
only has to deal as we do and our staff do all the time, with people who
have been affected by flooding to know that it's a traumatic experience,
it can have huge impacts not only in the short term but the long term,
it's almost the worse thing that can happen to you as a family, other than
a death in the family, is to be flooded.
GROSSMAN: Sorting out insurance
is one of the chores that goes with being a homeowner but for Mary Dhonau
and the millions of others threatened with flooding it could soon become
impossible. As flood damage claims go up so could premiums to the point
where they become unaffordable.
FOSTER: The prospect of flooding
insurance being withdrawn from businesses and residents in my constituency
has quite literally, been a time bomb waiting to go off. The prospect of
people having to pay repairs, bills for ten, fifteen thousand pounds every
time a property floods, and not have insurance cover to, to cover that
cost quite frankly doesn't bear thinking about for those home owners, and
of course the other side to it, is that they wouldn't actually be able
to sell the property either, because no one would want to buy it.
GROSSMAN: It's easy to see why
the insurers are getting nervous, the national bill for flood damage is
currently about eight-hundred million pounds a year but it's predicted
to rise to one point eight billion over the longer term if there's no extra
spending on defences.
FRANCIS: Insurers are businessmen,
they want to retain their customers wherever they can, but if in exceptional
cases, homes are flooding year after year after year, it does just become
uneconomic to afford the kind of levels of payment that would be necessary
to get insurance. So in some cases yes, there's a danger of not being able
to get insurance, but I stress, insurers want to maintain cover, where
ever they can.
GROSSMAN: The scale of the autumn
two-thousand floods shocked ministers - who promised action. Seeing the
devastation for himself, Tony Blair was warned insurers could start withdrawing
cover. The industry though agreed to continue covering existing policyholders
if the Government spent more on defences. That agreement though ends in
December and insurers say they've yet to see the rise in spending they're
FRANCIS: The Government has been
carrying out a very thorough review of its spending plans for three years
to come. And, we wanted the Government to have time to make that assessment
and to reach its decisions about what flood defences it could afford. We're
very much hoping that we'll hear a favourable result based on the Government's
own figures, we believe that more spending of about a hundred and forty
five million pounds each year, is needed.
GROSSMAN: So if the Government
is going to spend all the extra money on flood defence it's going to take
to keep the insurance industry happy - where is it going to come from?
Well, up to now, defences like the Thames Barrier here in London have been
paid for out of general taxation - but a new government report suggests
alternative sources of finance. Why not, it asks, impose a tax on developers
who build new homes in flood prone areas - or, and most controversially,
why not ask everyone whose home is at risk from flooding to pay towards
the cost of defending it.
HARMAN: The Government's talking
in its consultation about a developer connection charge. In other words,
if you build new properties in the flood plain, you do add to society's
costs. You add to the agency's costs. That ought to be accounted for and
so, if money can be recovered through that route, that would seem to us
to be sensible. On the other hand, the idea has been put forward that a,
a sort of tax is levied on every individual living in the flood plain,
we don't think that's sensible. We don't think it's fair,
WEATHER REPORT: The weather really has changed
- we had a line of torrential rain moving through last night, flashes of
lightening, rumbles of thunder...
GROSSMAN: In Worcester Mary Dhonau
already finds she has to keep a constant eye on the weather forecast -
so with that and the worry of losing their home insurance are flood victims
to be taxed more as well? Mary's local MP says the idea just doesn't make
FOSTER: They bought the home expecting
a flooding event, one every two hundred years, but now because of climate
change it's one every five years, then it, it isn't fair to ask the home
owners themselves to pay for the flood defences and we should look through
the General Taxation Fund I think to find a way of helping them overcome
what is a natural phenomena or arguably one that we have caused nature
GROSSMAN: The test of the Government's
commitment to better flood defences will come in July when the Chancellor
announces his spending plans for the next three years. But many believe
more money is only the beginning - flood defence they say needs urgent
reorganisation if it's to meet the challenges of what looks like being
a much wetter future.