Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 10:14 UK

Flooding plan 'needs improvement'

Catcliffe near Rotherham during the 2007 floods

"Urgent and fundamental changes" are needed to improve flood defences, the report into last summer's floods says.

Sir Michael Pitt, who carried out the independent review, said building regulations must be stricter in flood-prone areas and planning better.

He said it was "unacceptable" that utilities had been cut off and firms must do more to protect key sites.

The 2007 deluge left 13 dead and 44,600 homes flooded. Nearly 5,000 people are still in temporary accommodation.

Yorkshire and the Midlands were among the worst hit last year, and the Humber and south-west England were also severely affected.

Better construction

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Michael agreed it was "shameful" that so many people had still not been able to return to their homes.

One of the reasons for this, he said, was that the materials and techniques used to build them were inappropriate for a flood-risk area and so they had taken a long time to dry out.

An overhaul of building regulations was, therefore, a key recommendation of the report.


Scenes of flooding around the UK in the summer of 2007

The review recommends a 25-year plan be drawn up on flooding and a dedicated Cabinet Committee created.

It also says:

  • Local authorities should create a definitive map of all drainage ditches and streams in their area, making clear who is responsible for maintaining them.
  • A nerve centre should be set up jointly by the Met Office and the Environment Agency to pool information and issue more accurate flood warnings.
  • A greater onus should be placed on utility companies to protect key infrastructure sites. Sir Michael said some had previously been "quite secretive" about their sites.

Sir Michael said most of the recommendations were "not expensive" and could be achieved within the government's existing 800m-a-year flood defence budget for 2010 to 2011.

He said severe flooding was "an ever increasing threat", and waiting for another crisis before taking action would be "a dangerous strategy of luck", he added.

Sir Michael said it was "tempting" to call for a blanket ban on any more building in flood-prone areas, but that was not "realistic", given the huge demand for housing and lack of alternative land in some parts of the country.


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But he said: "Construction in flood-risk areas should be the absolute exception. And I think it is very important that people purchasing houses are aware of the risks they are taking".

Home buyers information packs should be required to carry detailed information about flooding risks, he added.

'Greater resilience'

Water and power companies must do more to protect and share information about key sites or "single points of failure", the report insists.

"I think that the drive for efficiency means that often companies reduce the amount of spare capacity they have in their networks, so when they are are struck by an emergency of the sort we experienced last year, there isn't enough resilience in the system," Sir Michael said.

But he acknowledged that utility companies faced a "tension" between this sort of openness and concerns around commercial sensitivity and the possible threat to critical sites from terrorism.

It is not just authorities who are criticised in the report - Sir Michael said some members of the public were not properly prepared and did not take flood warnings seriously enough.

However, he said the warnings given last year were "in very technical terms" and must be made easier to understand.

He said the performance of insurers had generally been good following the floods, although there was "something like a 20% level of dissatisfaction with the performance of both loss adjusters and insurance companies".

Power stations

Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth told the BBC the report was "pretty damning" of the government's flood strategy.

"I think the really important thing is to have a proper chain of command, so that when an event like this occurs everybody knows who is in charge and who does what when," he said.

Earlier this month, a report by the Fire Brigades Union revealed that fire crews are going without flood equipment such as lifejackets, waterproofs and boots, one year on from the summer deluge.

But the government said it had spent 200m on specialist equipment.

And the Environment Agency recently said a national effort was needed to tackle the vulnerability of buildings such as power stations and hospitals to flooding.

It also said it had completed 34 flood defences, helping more than 30,000 homes, since last year's downpour, and is mapping the country using a new laser system to identify in detail those areas most at risk.

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