Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Tuesday, 26 June 2007 15:15 UK

Defending our homes from flooding

By Sarah Bell
BBC News website

Flooding in Beverley, East Yorkshire
Five million people in England and Wales are at risk of flooding

Cars floating down city streets and fire crews pumping water now seem a regular part of the UK landscape.

Even the best flood defences could not prevent the chaos hitting cities like Sheffield, the Environment Agency says.

Our towns and cities need to be 'climate change-proofed' to cope with this unusual weather, which will happen more regularly, it claims.

As people mop up from the latest floods, can more be done to protect our towns and cities from rising water?

The Environment Agency says global warming means we face extreme floods more regularly in the future.

Permeable pavements

Five million people in England and Wales are currently at risk from flooding, with two million homes built in the floodplain of rivers or vulnerable parts of the coast.

Phil Rothwell, head of flood risk policy at the agency, says they already identify areas which are likely to flood, but it is difficult to predict how exactly they will be affected.

All sorts of things can be done to design the urban landscape to enable us to withstand these major events in future
Phil Rothwell
Environment Agency

This weather has never been seen before in Sheffield, which is not prone to flooding.

He says flood defences are not the only way to protect homes.

"People generally don't want their houses surrounded by 50 foot walls. There is a balance to be struck between defences and softer options," he said.

"All sorts of things can be done to design the urban landscape to enable us to withstand these major events in future."

This includes introducing permeable pavements which allow water to absorb into the ground, reducing the amount flowing across streets and into houses.

Playing fields and green space can be put next to rivers so the water can be absorbed.

Houses in flood risk areas can be designed to ensure they are better able to withstand flooding with features such as power points installed halfway up walls.

Stilts

For example, some homes in the flood-prone Thames Gateway are being built on stilts.

The Environment Agency has asked for 150m from the government to bring flood defences up to peak condition.

As many scientists link extreme weather to global warming, becoming more environmentally friendly will help, experts say.

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Chris Williams, managing director of Hydro-International, which has been working on flood issues for 25 years, says making new buildings should be made eco-friendly.

Currently there is only a voluntary code and government regulation is needed, he says.

"Making sure that homes are energy-efficient buildings and are made from energy-efficient materials will help reduce their carbon footprint," he said.

"We also need to provide increased storage for water with with features like ponds on sites and underground storage tanks to hold rainwater back during storms."

Rainwater re-use should also be considered, he said. People could reuse water for everything but drinking using sophisticated water butts.

Flood defences

One place which knows the damage caused by flooding only too well is Boscastle in Cornwall, devastated in 2004.

Torrential rain caused an estimated 440 million gallons of water to flood the historic village, destroying over 50 homes and many businesses.

Since then, flood defences have been installed, which helped protect the village from a three-foot torrent of water when heavy rain struck again on 21 June.

North Cornwall MP, Dan Rogerson said: "The new flood defences have done their job and kept the river within its banks."


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