Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Monday, 17 December 2007

Q&A: Review into summer floods

An interim report has been published into the flooding which damaged large parts of England during the summer. Author Sir Michael Pitt spoke to BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the issue.

Why was the flooding so bad during summer?

We're all facing up to climate change and there are all sorts of implications for the country in terms of having to adapt to that change. As the report explains, during May, June and July this was the highest level of rainfall we've ever recorded in this country since the 18th century, so understandably there were very high volumes of water and big implications for emergency services.

Surely the drainage systems should be able to cope?

All drainage systems are built to a certain design standard. The levels of rainfall we received this year during June and July well exceeded those standards.

Should the standards have been better?

We're all having to change and adapt to what's happening. I don't suppose the people who built those facilities many years ago, some of them Victorian, were anticipating these very high levels of flooding. Certainly the review and the lessons we are learning from June and July can now be applied to things in the future.

Do you have any criticism of what has been done so far?

No, the report does not point the finger of blame. Anyone looking for that will be disappointed. What we've tried to do is look forward and be positive about what can be done in the future.

What should be done?

There's a very wide range of recommendations. Altogether there are 87 recommendations and proposals. It has implications for central government and for local responders to emergencies.

For example?

We are looking to localities, local authorities to take a stronger leadership role, to map the drainage systems, to work with Environment Agency, internal drainage boards, water companies, and others, to make sure they have a really good understanding of how drainage operates and what the implications are when we have the sort of flooding that we had this summer.

Should there be any more building on flood plains?

From my point of view I would like as little building as possible in the flood plains. Obviously it's a matter of concern when building takes place in those localities. But we have to build something like three million houses between now and 2020 and there is bound to be some construction, I believe, in the flood plain.

And where that takes place why can't we build proper resilient properties which if they do flood they can recover very quickly?

We've been visiting the flood sites throughout the country. What's been very surprising is how many houses built during the last 10 years are not resilient to flooding.

The building materials, the fact that the electricity sockets are at skirting board level and not raised up, the construction of the flooring is such that when becomes damp and flooded, it takes a year or so for the property to dry out and be refurbished.

What about rescue co-ordination?

When 'gold command' is set up, clearly the police are in control of that - and I think that's the right way. But there are issues around rescuing in flood water where there is ambiguity. That needs to be sorted out and that is one of our urgent recommendations.

It hasn't been clearly set out. We need to make sure that the people who are rescuing in water are properly trained and they have the right equipment.

What should government be doing?

We're asking government to take the broad, strategic leadership role. It's up to government to make sure the recommendations we're coming forward with are being properly implemented.

We're also asking government to look at the way it plans for flooding.

We're trying to raise the priority of flooding, putting it on a level that is somewhat similar to terrorism or pandemic flu.

The government has taken this review very seriously indeed. I've been in close contact with the secretaries of state and I have very little doubt that the government will read this review with great interest.

But will it treat flooding on a par with terrorism?

We're having to respond to the fact that flooding is now such a major issue.

Is it as serious as terrorism?

I think it is. It's obviously very different but we want the same levels of performance and reaction that we have with terrorism events.

What can individuals do?

There are lots of things. We were really surprised by the extent to which people in flood-risk areas were not well prepared for flooding. They seemed to be extremely surprised when an event happened and had made very little preparations themselves. And then of course panic sets in.

We've set out some really simple and useful things that people can do to protect themselves, their families and their property.

The sorts of things include making sure you're properly insured - large numbers of people do not take out house insurance in the way they should.

And having a little kit in the house - like a radio with batteries, a torch, rubber gloves - simple things that are relatively inexpensive to make sure people are prepared.

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