Flooding the Housing Market
It has been hard to miss in the news recently, the widespread flooding caused by storms Ciara and Dennis. Severe flood warnings were issued for several heavily populated areas, meaning a danger to life
In the wake of this, Sir James Bevan, the head of the Environment Agency, has said that building new homes on flood plains in England should be resisted if possible.
Whilst this may seem quite sensible, for decades now developers have built new housing estates on floodplains as the land is usually less valuable. Whilst such estates are usually protected by flood defences, this merely moves the area of impact explains Graeme Booth, property solicitor at Farleys.
During storms Ciara and Dennis, some areas saw a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours with river levels in the Colne, Ribble, Calder, Aire, Trent, Severn, Wye, Lugg, and Derwent all setting new records. Unfortunately, as England has so many rivers, much of the country is a flood plain and, by the 25th February, England had already received 141 per cent of its average February rainfall!
For years the Environment Agency has raised concerns about building homes on floodplains but Sir James has stated that where there was no alternative, homes should be made more resilient, for example by using ground floors for garages so people stay safe upstairs. This is particularly important, given that Sir James predicts the number of properties built on floodplains is likely to nearly double over the next 50 years.
He has called for a discussion about the sustainability and protection for communities at risk of flooding in the long term, accepting that there may be a need to shift some of these out of harm’s way when the risks become too great. This discussion will raise some profoundly difficult questions such as whether it’s feasible to build ever bigger flood defences, with alternative techniques to flood-proof homes including planting trees, creating wetland habitats or restoring rivers that have been artificially straightened to their natural curves.
Scientists warn that climate change is raising the risk of flooding because winter storms will bring more heavy rainfall in a warming world. In response, the Environment Agency has claimed that it is spending £2.6bn on new flood defences that will better protect 300,000 properties by 2021, plus £1bn on maintaining existing defences in England.
Sir James accepts however there are some places that will become too hard to protect from rivers or the sea and in those cases, says: “It may be better for communities to choose to relocate out of harm’s way.” This will create a problem for homeowners in those areas as their homes will be virtually worthless once identified as being in such areas.
From a conveyancing perspective, it is impossible for lawyers to predict when a property is at risk of flooding due to the impact flood defences further up or down a river can have on other areas. We offer all our residential clients’ flood risk searches, which attempt to identity flood risks based on historic data, insurance claims history and computer modelling. We are also able to offer searches that look at multiple environmental risks, including flooding.
For advice on flood risk searches and purchasing property in areas at risk of flooding, contact Farleys’ residential property team 01254 368040 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Farleys Solicitors has offices across the north west