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Flooding in Northern England

12 January 2016

Through the month of December 2015 Northern England faced terrible flooding. Communities in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester were faced with the devastating consequences of unprecedented rainfall and inadequate flood defences.

Belinda Gordon, CPRE’s head of government and rural affairs, outlines how we can seek to mitigate the possibility and potential impact of flooding in the future:

“The flooding that has been experienced in recent weeks in large parts of the UK is having a devastating impact on people’s lives as well as significant economic consequences. The heavy rainfall that has caused flooding this winter and in recent years is consistent with predictions about the impact of climate change and can therefore be expected to continue and get worse in future.

“A first step must be to reconsider and reduce further development in areas that are prone to flooding1. Development should only go ahead if buildings can be protected from flooding and measures put in place to ensure it does not increase flooding elsewhere.  

“Wider flood prevention measures must also be improved. A range of techniques should be used rather than assuming that costly man-made structures are needed. In particular, working with nature and the landscapes can be effective in slowing the flow of water downstream. For example, involving farmers and communities to help reconnect rivers to their floodplains, plant trees in appropriate places and manage land so soils can absorb more water can reduce flooding as well as delivering other benefits to people and nature.

“We also need action to ensure the transport network is resilient to flooding. The rail network in particular is susceptible to damage due to its age, while rural areas, having fewer transport options, tend to be badly affected if routes are cut-off due to extreme weather. For this reason the re-opening of rural railways should be considered, meaning alternative routes are available in the case of damage to roads and mainline railways.  

“It is clear that a re-think of the way that we cope with heavy rainfall is needed if we are to be resilient in the future. Investments in innovative measures that will not only be effective in reducing vulnerability but deliver other benefits to communities are likely to offer the best value.”

1The Committee on Climate Change, an independent body which advises the government on climate policy estimates 208,664 homes have been built on a floodplain in England from 2001 to 2011, 38,026 of which are in areas of serious flood risk.

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