A business legal expert has called for reform of water management arrangements in the UK in the wake of floods across the Midlands and South Yorkshire.
Simeon Disley, partner at Roythornes Solicitors and head of the firm’s water and flood management team, insists the next government must take a more proactive approach to protect communities from the threat of further devastation.
He said: “To have your home or farm flooded can be soul destroying and financially disastrous. Sadly, the residents of Wainfleet and Fishlake have joined those of Boston, the Somerset Levels and others in having this dreadful experience.
“These recent events together with the predictions for climate change suggest we can expect more extreme weather and rising sea levels to result in flooding.”
With a new government expected to take office in a matter of weeks, Simeon says flood defence management should be high among its priorities.
As it stands, responsibility for flood risk management is shared between the Environment Agency, councils, highway authorities, water companies, and regional committees who coordinate planning.
Roythornes is a sepcialist in agricultural law, and Simeon thinks his farming clients should be given greater say over how water is managed around their land.
He said: “The Environment Agency should be tasked with focusing its experience and skills on the protection of towns and cities.
“Responsibility for rural areas should be passed to further empowered Internal Drainage Boards and other local bodies who should be allowed the resources they need to protect those areas in partnership with the landowners and farmers.”
He added: “Drainage rates should apply to all rural land and drainage boards should be allowed to increase their rates to cover the costs they will incur in meeting the challenges that lie ahead. “Environmental protection regulations should also be reviewed and reassessed to strike the right balance between protecting the environment and those who live in it.”
The floods this month have also revived the debate over dredging rivers and whether it offers an effective mitigation to flood risks — a debate often influenced by the politics of land ownership.
Many scientists and water systems professionals believe routine dredging would have limited effect, and could in fact make flooding worse in some places if water is allowed to move more quickly.
Instead, they often advocate measures like the restoration of meanders and bogland, the creation of new forested areas, and restrictions on the creation of hard surfaces in new built developments — all natural buffers to the build-up of water in the upper reaches of a river.
A report from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, following floods in 2014, noted: “Dredging can play an important role in flood risk management in some cases, but is not a standalone solution.
“It should be considered in the context of a range of tools and the origins of different sources of flood water, and comes with significant risks that must be understood at a local and catchment scale.”
However, Simeon maintains that dredging is the way to go, saying: “Common sense must prevail. Rivers and drains should be dredged and maintained to enable them to cope with the volume of water in extreme conditions and sea defences should be improved against the predicted rise in sea levels.
“The next government must deliver the changes that are required to protect the country’s homes and businesses.”