Summer flooding underlines the need for proper risk assessment

The Environment Agency has a perfect example of the advantages of good planning.

Last year, the agency was asked for its opinion on a proposed day care nursery in Sheffield. It objected on flood risk grounds, a move upheld by the planning authority. The application was subsequently refused.

Fast forward a year to this summer's floods and the site was almost 1.5m deep in water one June afternoon. It does not take a genius to work out what this would have meant for very small children or for parents collecting them. Imagine the political fall-out and the media storm that would have followed any tragedy and the disastrous consequences for the wider reputation of planning.

In such circumstances, the threat to life and property should be obvious. Yet the most dispiriting element in the agency's latest annual monitoring report on development and flood risk between April 2006 and March 2007 is that 13 major schemes secured permission against its advice, seven of them in the areas at greatest risk of flooding.

Will occupiers of these schemes be happy about such locations once they discover the background? Insurers certainly will not. How many times must they warn about flood risk and the failure to spend adequately on suitable defences before they lose patience? Whatever claptrap the sales brochure peddles, any property will be worthless without insurance.

Many developers are still ignoring the requirement for flood risk assessments to accompany applications. While the drop in local authorities' performance in providing decision notices to the agency may largely be down to a lack of resources, it is still a poor state of affairs. How can the agency be expected to have a complete picture of flood risk without this information?

Of course, these examples fall outside the time frame of this summer's floods, but that is no excuse. The threat of climate change has been around long enough for the most hermitic planner or developer to have heard about it. This summer's wake-up call must be heeded. We may live in a crowded country, but some areas should not be developed.

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