Flooding – another wet winter?

If we cast our minds back to last winter, which was the wettest in 250 years, the scale of the flooding that was suffered and the resultant damage can still be seen. According to the Environment Agency (EA) 7,000 households, along with a similar number of commercial and industrial premises, were flooded and over 150 severe flood warnings were issued. The Thames Barrier was raised nearly 50 times during the winter and, according to the National Farmers Union, 49,000 hectares of agricultural land was flooded which is very similar to the losses experienced in 2012.

We also suffered from overflowing rivers and tidal surges on both the east and west coast, which most people remember with the collapse of the Dawlish seawall and the railway line being washed away. Heavy rainfall, flash flooding and groundwater flooding all added to the sorry tale.

But despite this most people don’t expect to be flooded even if there is information available to the contrary. In the Evening Standard last year, when the Thames was in full flood around Marlow and Datchet, there was an interview with a riverside resident who neatly summarised the issue by saying, “I bought an expensive house two years ago and I was told by the EA about the flood risk, but if I’d known it was actually going to flood I wouldn’t have bought the house!” So why did he?

One reason for this view is that the vast majority of people will never be affected by a flood or actually witness a major flood. They will most likely be rightly unaware of how flooding would impact and disrupt their lives or for how long. If homebuyers wanted to find out more, the National Flood Forum wouldn’t been a bad place to start as they are a charity that represents people at risk of flooding and those recovering their lives following a flood and they have a lot of useful information for homeowners.

There is also a potential misunderstanding by the public about flood defences and flood risk management. In the public’s opinion any flood which occurs is a failure but, due to finite resources, the various Government agencies involved operate using an approach that can best be defined as cost-effective flood management which means that certain areas cannot be protected and this may lead to flooding.

The final point I will make is that we are actually very good at protecting the vast majority of homes, commerce and infrastructure from flooding so homeowners do feel safe.

Significant lessons were learnt after the devastating floods of 2007. The EA estimates that around 250,000 homes are at high risk of flooding, over 2 million homes are at risk from rivers and seas and over 3 million are at risk from surface water flooding – along with 10% of the road network and nearly 20% of the rail network. All big numbers but, when this is considered against the numbers in the opening paragraph, it is fractions of 1% who were affected last winter.

So how can conveyancers help their clients address the issue of flood risk when buying a house and also carry out their requirements as set out in the Law Society Practice Note on Flood? Thankfully there is plenty of help and information readily available: