Developers warned of flood risk around Huntingdon and Alconbury

07:41 Tuesday 20th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: The area around Huntingdon has been named among the top twenty areas of the country that’s most at risk of flooding. A campaign has been launched today by the Association of British Insurers, who say annual flood defence spending needs to rise to £1 billion a year by 2025 in order to meet the rising flood threat in the UK. It’s also calling for no new homes to be built in flood risk areas. Tom Horn is in Alconbury near Huntingdon, a village that faces challenges with flooding. What can you tell us Tom?
TOM HORN: Yes Dotty good morning. It’s a cold white frosty morning here. I’m on the medieval bridge which has arches spanning Alconbury Brook, which runs through the village. It’s on The Green, a lovely picturesque green, lots of trees, and surrounded by houses on either side. But of course, as you’ve been hearing, this area is among the top twenty places most at risk from flooding in England. With me here is Ray Pickering, who runs the Alconbury Flood Plain Facebook page, and is a flood risk consultant. Morning Ray. So what issues does this area face with flooding?

RAY PICKERING: Good morning. Well only last week the brook was right up out of bounds. In fact the road here on Mill Lane was flooded, cutting off access for many of the residents. The village has a long history of flooding. I recall in my research in March 1947, Easter 1998, every property you can see around The Green here, most of these were flooded, and more recently in November 2012, which almost caught a lot of people out. So it is a big issue. It’s a risk that is there every winter. And people learn to live with it, and people have adapted their properties, but it is a big issue, particularly for people who are vulnerable, can get cut off, and perhaps may need help in the event of another big flood.
TOM HORN: So what are the main issues then that are caused here in Alconbury? Is it just something in terms of damage to homes? Because of course there are lots and lots of houses, dozens on either side of The Green here, which would be at risk if this were to burst.
RAY PICKERING: Well there’s well over 100 properties at risk here. If you look around The Green here you see properties old and new. If you go upstream to Alconbury Weston you see exactly the same thing. So there’s well over 100 properties. When they flood, you’re talking about six to twelve months out of your property in temporary accommodation, tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage. And that’s not including the stress that it causes to people that are impacted. Another effect of it is that I’ve spoke to one or two residents who when they’ve come to change insurer for flood insurance for their home, they’ve seen premiums increase and excesses go exponential.
TOM HORN: So what can be done to minimise the impact of flooding here then?
RAY PICKERING: Well there was a scheme on the table a few years ago, promoted by the Environment Agency. It turned out that that was economically and environmentally not feasible. So the local council, Huntingdonshire District Council, initiated a scheme funded by DEFRA about four years ago where about 80 to 85 properties now have flood gates, flood boards, non-return valves, individual measures for their property that they can deploy when they receive a flood warning. But that for me, that’s a best endeavours, and it’s not 100% fail-safe. We’ve seen schemes like this around the country that have actually failed, where you can’t lift a property up and seal the cracks underneath. So you can’t really protect a property by these measures. And I think there are new funding rules in place which allow partnership funding, and I think it’s time that perhaps partnership funding was looked at again for somewhere like Alconbury.



DOTTY MCLEOD: The area around Huntingdon has been named among the top twenty places in the country most at risk from flooding. The campaign has been launched today by the Association of British Insurers, who say annual flood defence spending needs to rise to £1 billion a year by 2025, in order to meet the rising flood threat in the UK. It’s also calling for no new homes to be built in flood risk areas. Malcolm Tarling is from the ABI. Tell me more about this Malcolm.
MALCOLM TARLING: Well as you’ve just said in the introduction, Huntingdon is one of the parts of the region that’s actually in the top twenty list of constituencies most at risk of flooding. It’s a top twenty that nobody wants to be in, which is why we’ve launched our campaign. The Flood Free Homes campaign aims really to do and to promote three things. The first issue mentioned, we need more investment in flood defences. We want to see around £1 billion being spent a year on flood defence management by the year 2025, and that’s not unrealistic, given the fact that this is something that the National Audit Office and the Government’s own Committee on Climate Change said that more money needs to be spent on tackling flooding in the country. We need to ensure of course that we don’t build homes in areas of high flood risk. Despite some very stringent planning guidance that already exists, around 20,000 new homes each year are built in areas of flood risk …
DOTTY MCLEOD: Malcolm this is a bit of a worry for Huntingdonshire actually, because they have Alconbury, or Alconbury Weald being built just north of Huntingdon, and then also just a few miles away a new town planned at Northstowe. So bearing in mind all of that, what’s going to happen?
MALCOLM TARLING: Well I don’t want to comment on individual developments, because obviously I don’t know the area. What we want to ensure of course is that we do two things. We meet the demand for new homes, because of course we’re a small densely populated island, and we’re not only at risk of flooding. There are lots of people wanting to get on the property ladder, and it’s important of course that we satisfy the demand for new homes. But we can’t satisfy that demand and build a sustainable construction or indeed property market if we are building on land that is of known flood risk. So what is important is when developers are looking at giving planning permission and assessing new developments, they take into account the flood risk. If properties need to be built in areas where there is a flood risk, at the very least there should be flood defence projects planned for that area, or measures taken account of by the developers to reduce the flood risk. What we don’t want to see are homes springing up in areas of known flood risk where there is no protection against a threat which as we know is going to increase in future years. Britain I’m afraid in the long term is not going to get drier. It’s only going to get wetter. We’re going to see more episodes of severe flooding I’m afraid, like we saw last winter.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Malcolm Tarling there from the Association of British Insurers.