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You are in: Suffolk » Don't Miss » 1953 East Coast Floods

Wednesday 29th January, 2003 - 12:23 GMT
Flood defence - then and now
Find out how flood defences have developed through the ages. The section covers 1953 to the present.

1953 East Coast Floods

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East Coast Floods 1953


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307 people drowned

24,000 homes flooded

1,200 breaches along 1,000 miles of coastline

160,000 acres of farmland flooded

46,000 livestock lost

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Many people blamed the extent of the 1953 flooding disaster and the 307 lives lost on the complex and confusing legacy of flood defence administration

The Waverley Committee, set up by the Government in the wake of the 1953 disaster to examine the causes of the flooding, and make recommendations for measures in case of a recurrence found many organisations and people responsible but no one with overall responsibility.  The Committee summed up arrangements as “indefensible”.

Many felt that it was time the coast was seen as one unit instead of being managed piecemeal. But despite all this, the idea that sea defence was a local matter prevailed and the many organisations remained more or less as before.

The catastrophic floods of 1953 did, however, trigger a major assessment of flood risk from the tidal Thames, resulting in a massive programme of tidal defences over the following decades and culminating in the building of the Thames Barrier, which first became operational in October 1982.


The River Boards were replaced by River Authorities, with a wider remit particularly for water resource management.


The River Authorities were grouped into ten new regional Water Authorities, taking on the additional roles of water supply and sewage treatment.


Thames Barrier becomes operational. Combined with the upstream and downstream tidal defences along the river, the Barrier protects London against the risk of surge tides.   The Barrier was first closed against tidal risk in February 1983


1989 marked the separation of “operation” and “regulation”. Privatisation of water supply and sewage treatment in England and Wales, with a new regulatory body - the National Rivers Authority – created as a watchdog for the water environment and the largest operating authority for flood defence in England and Wales.


Environment Agency formed, taking on all NRA responsibilities including flood defence, within a wider environmental remit to protect air, land and water.  Key aspects of the Environment Agency’s work in relation to flood defence continue to include assessing flood risk and ways of reducing its impact; advising planning authorities and developers in order to avoid development pressure in flood risk; investment in flood defence, flood warning and public awareness.


Government commissions a review of flood and coastal defence funding mechanisms as an outcome of Spending Review 2000. SR2000 identified a possible need for more funds to maintain current levels of protection and meet the needs of eg climate change.  The Review also addresses the need for any changes to institutional arrangements.  Out come of the review is anticipated in early 2002.

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