Will we ever learn lessons from flooding?

A swan on a flooded field next to the river Thames in Windsor, Berkshire

As the winds accelerate and the rivers rise, many are asking if we ever learn the lessons of previous floods.

After the severe inundations of 2007, Sir Michael Pitt was asked to head an independent review.

I interviewed him at the time and he was horrified by multiple failures of planning, warning and response.

A key concern was the lack of what's called resilience: the robustness of everything from power supplies to railways.

Now, as we see signalling equipment waterlogged, among many examples, there will be questions about how seriously the threat of flooding has been taken.

One of the Pitt Review's worries was that the various agencies were not properly coordinated.

Talking to people from the Met Office and the Environment Agency, that problem does seem to have improved.

But one of the central conclusions remains unanswered: that spending on flood defence should rise faster than inflation.

Someone who was close to the review told me privately that the government was now struggling to catch up and had yet to prepare emergency workers and the public for what will be a long haul.

David Shukman Article written by David Shukman David Shukman Science editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Flood Lessons?

    Like always ensure that there are duplicate rail links to anywhere significant. Like the old Oakhampton line to avoid Dawlish (cost £100M to reinstate) and the Ardingly loop via the Bluebell line to East Grinstead for the Brighton line. etc etc. Most of the Beeching Cuts need to be instated!

    Demolish or build floating buildings on flood plains.

    Of course 'they' won't do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I see the BBC has an item "How Bad Have These Floods Been?", presumably written by a journo whose house has not been flooded.

    Well, the answer is, if you've been flooded, pretty grim, and you don't need anyone to tell you that. If not you're lucky, and ditto.

    I think tact would say wait until people aren't waist deep in their living rooms before printing suchlike.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    A fundamental flaw with representative democracy: no names on ballot papers promising to increase spending on flood defences. So no one could have voted for that even if they wanted to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    87. l j s

    Would those be the same Architects and Civil Engineers who are designing and building things, for a goodly profit, below those absolute height limits they consider to be insane?

    I don't exactly see them out on the streets protesting that they are being forced to do such things.

  • Comment number 91.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    60. P J Hughes
    "if you had a friend who needs a wheelchair .. What would happen then?"
    63. The J Hoovers Witnesses
    What's the alternative?

    Get rid of stupid, archaic wheelchairs and give disabled people personal transport which can walk up stairs. The cost of robotic leg-chairs would be far less than changing the whole environment to suit wheelchairs.

    Then build flood-proof houses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    As mentioned towards the end of last year, the Planet needs to be put on a war footing; NOT to kill each other but to save everything we know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I live in Leiden in Holland and I can tell you that the authorities in England are not a touch on what I experience here. In Holland the government is not trying to penny pinch when it comes to looking after its people...this was the cause of the UK floods. When these floods are forgotten next year it will be all back to square one with authority cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Any architect or civil engineer will tell you that buying a property less that 10 metres vertically from a river or less that 30 metres above sea level is utter insanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    No because we build on flood plains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    82. Shears
    "He then went on to say that the UK has reasonable flood defenses and then mentioned public awareness which then the BBC very hastily cut him off"
    But that IMO is one of the main functions of the BBC: to divert attention away from matters, of which The Establishment would rather the public were not aware. This is a national disaster and there's no proper contingency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Cardiff was badly flooded in 1979, and I can well remember people saying that it must never happen again, so work started soon after to build up the banks of the river Taff. It took months to complete, but there hasn't been any subsequent flooding of Cardiff since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    When politicians are involved, it is always the wrong lessons that are learned which means they can more easily slither out of any blame or are able to spin their way into denouncing the opposition. The other issue is whether we, the public, will learn the lesson that to detect whether a politician is not being entirely transparent one merely has to see whether their lips are moving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    79. Albert - I was listening to Radio 4 the other morning, they had a Dutch Flood expert on there who stated that his visit was a two-way learning experience. He then went on to say that the UK has reasonable flood defenses and then mentioned public awareness which then the BBC very hastily cut him off..very poor journalism.
    Also, it doesnt help when there are settlements actually below rivers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    What flooding lessons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    We absolutely MUST spend as much money as it takes, on flood defences.

    No arguments, no excuses.

    Just find the money somehow, and do it. And if that means less money to prop up failed banks, I am very relaxed about that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    O course we won't learn flooding lessons. The prime minister would rather listen to a bunch of farmers than his own Environment Agency. The BBC sees fit to invite climate change deniers in for a chat. We won't learn any lessons until we actually listen to someone who knows what they are talking about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I learned something: that we spend less than £1bn on flood defences year-on-year but we can spend £40bn+ on HS2. Surely preventing the horrendous flood damage costs is more beneficial to the economy than faster trains to Birmingham?

    Can anyone provide any concrete figures on this? I'd love to know...

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Stop building housing estates and shopping centres on flood plains. Set up more wetland areas that act as natural flood defences. Slow water run-off into rivers by replanting hedgerows and areas of woodland.


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