Blog Archives

Flooding: Environment Agency, food security, wildlife and the PM’s advice

Camilla Hodgson reports that ten English authorities with the highest number of homes at serious flood risk plan to build homes in what the government considers “high-risk” areas. Almost 35,000 are planned – and more in lower-risk flood zones, according to local planning documents analysed by the FT.

Council planning officers at both Fenland and Hull councils said the risk of flooding must be balanced against the importance of economic growth.

Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at catastrophe risk modelling company Risk Management Solutions warns of several hazards, including:

  • the failure to consider insurance during the planning process, so that some homes end up being uninsurable or very expensive to protect;
  • councils’ inability to afford to monitor the installation of planned mitigation measures – such as raising the height of the electrics in new housing
  • and that currently developers bear no further responsibility for properties after they are sold.

in November The Lincolnite reported that more than 5,000 homes have been proposed in high-risk zones of Lincolnshire, where roads and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded with some farms being totally marooned.

Andrew Ward, one of the affected farmers, described the ‘horrendous’ damage: “Potatoes, sugar beet and maize have been ruined and the loss of wildlife will be colossal here, all of their habitats will be ruined.”

He complains that the Environment Agency are using farmland as flood plains to prevent flooding in Lincoln: “The rivers need to be dredged but we haven’t ever seen it happen here”. The Environment Agency has insisted that it does carry out regular and ongoing maintenance and blamed problems on the heavy rainfall. See video link

On the campaign trail in flood-hit Derbyshire, the prime minister said: “We’ve got to stop building on flood plains. We’ve got to stop building on areas which are vulnerable to flooding.”

In due course this statement should be fact-checked.






How many realise that the government’s much-vaunted & welcomed 2013 flood insurance agreement has not yet been implemented?

Britain is still building nearly 10,000 new homes a year on floodplains despite growing warnings over episodes of extreme flooding. The FT reports that one new home in every 14 that was built in 2013-14 — the most recent year for which data is available — was constructed on land that has a significant chance of flooding, either from a river or the sea, according to an FT analysis of official figures.

defra 2 14-15 report coverA report by the Environment Select Committee has warned, on page 27, that “the large number of properties at significant and in some cases increasing risk of flooding means that prioritising spending on flood defences is essential if the UK is to minimise potentially huge costs of future flood events”. It called on the environment department to set out its detailed budget for maintaining flood defences within the next three months.

In 2013, reports following government negotiations with the Association of British Insurers, announced the capping of flood insurance premiums.

Smaller businesses were to be excluded from the programme, which guarantees affordable insurance to domestic properties, except for rentals; landlords are not eligible, so tenants in flooded properties face the prospect of being removed. Yesterday the Financial Times reported the FSB’s estimate that about 75,000 smaller businesses at risk of flooding had found it difficult to find flood insurance and 50,000 had been refused cover nationally.

flooded business in yorkFlooded businesses in York

Accountants – KPMG [Press Reader], PwC [BBC] – have warned that thousands of businesses will face financial ruin because they will have to bear a fifth of the estimated £5bn national cost of flood damage, with inadequate or non-existent insurance cover.

John Allan, the FSB’s National Chairman, said: “Ministers should look again at the availability of affordable and comprehensive flood insurance for small businesses, potentially through a dedicated Flood Re style agreement. The financial cost to small businesses following the 2012 flooding was £200 million.

“We can’t hope to create a buoyant economy . . . if vulnerable small businesses can’t sufficiently protect themselves from increasingly unpredictable and severe weather that in the worst cases can close a business.” 

Secret State 15: Why did BBC helicopter footage of flooding fail to show the threatened Cumbrian nuclear installations?

Secret State 1 drew attention to a 2011 report in the Guardian showing how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with multinationals EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse, to try to ensure that the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

Three years ago DEFRA reported on the nuclear sites which are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion – see Rob Edwards in the Guardian – but politicians are not facing the risks. Today’s Drigg flood alert:

env header nuclear 3 drigg flood notice

Last year, the Guardian reported that in internal Environment Agency document, suggests that it was a mistake to position the Drigg radioactive waste site close to the Cumbrian coast because of the risk of flooding. In 2013 Drigg Railway station was closed due to the flooding and the area was also affected in 2014.

Ian Parker, the Environment Agency’s group manager in Cumbria said, after detailed technical examinations: ‘It’s highly probable the coast will erode and the waste (at Drigg) will be disrupted.’

nuclear marianne kirkbyMarianne Birkby who lives in the area, has been questioning the Environment Agency and the Department of Energy and Climate Change via the Freedom of Information facility about the condition of nuclear installations in Cumbria and Lancashire.

Earlier this month, she reports that the BBC helicopter relaying images of the devastation avoided showing areas in which nuclear installations are located: Sellafield, Drigg, Lillyhall and the proposed new nuclear plant on the river Ehen floodplain, Moorside.

In her blog she asks:” Why the journalistic omission?  Why are there no questions being asked about the breaching of Cumbria’s growing number of uncontainable nuclear installations which already leach “a controlled release of radioactivity” into groundwaters, marine holding tanks and such like?”

Answer: most mainstream media, including the BBC, depend on corporate or political favour for survival and become, to varying degrees, servants of the state.

nuclear Drigg beach main

Drigg Coast (above) is a special marine protected area of conservation – ideal for housing radioactive waste?

Government websites record that it has extensive sand dunes, saltmarsh, intertidal mudflats and sandflats and estuaries. The dune wetlands support other SSSI notified features including an amphibian assemblage with great crested newt, natterjack toad and dragonfly assemblage. They also provide an important environment for reptiles, breeding birds and invertebrates. Its politically-backed corporate neighbour – Drigg radioactive waste disposal site – may be seen below:

nuclear 2 drigg repository

Successive governments have also promoted risky and polluting nuclear and waste disposal industries, encouraging mass medication of the water supply. The current administration has permitted the latest abuse, fracking, and looks on supportively as the corporate drive to use the green belt for unnecessary ‘aspirational’ housing is underway. Approval for GM crops, though constrained by EU legislation, is another item on their agenda.

In 2016, will the public continue to tolerate politically backed corporate pollution – a threat to human and environmental health?

Incinerators 5: a very courageous decision Eric Pickles

Corporate-political oligarchy rules OK!


gov uk logo

Cameron’s ‘localist’ government insists on placing an incinerator in this green and pleasant county, over-ruling its rejection by Gloucestershire County Council. Read the judgment here.

javelin parkThe Environment Agency presented the following plan for consultation after receiving an environmental permit application from Urbaser Environmental Limited to run a waste incinerator (energy recovery facility) at Javelin Park, Haresfield, Gloucestershire.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has ruled – despite local opposition and the county council’s decision – that it can go ahead.

“a massive Conservative carbuncle”

Gerald Hartley from campaign group GlosVAIN said: “It’s going to be a massive Conservative carbuncle built on the fringe of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A carbuncle that none of the local communities want.”

incinerator javelin 3

Though grossly misguided and undemocratic, the Cameron government has made the very courageous decision to deliver a judgment which will lose them so many votes.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude: calamitous errors of judgment – minor and major

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who sees himself as a ‘moderniser’, lauding the government’s IT prowess, has faced several less-than-creditable charges according to his Wikileaks entry. After recruiting Tony Caplin, who recently resigned as head of the Treasury’s Public Works Loans Board, Maude has made a far more serious mistake.

Despite David Cameron’s Davos commitment to ‘reshoring’ British jobs, Francis Maude has appointed an offshore and outsourcing expert, Peter Swann, to supervise the export of jobs of civil servants who provide back-up facilities such as pay roll and contract details to Whitehall offices.

David Hencke records in the Tribune that these jobs handling sensitive personal pay roll details, and possibly criminal and police records, are to be moved offshore by private companies under a Cabinet Office initiative to save money.

A rising star

steria logoUnder Swann’s leadership, Steria, a French international company with a presence in India, has a joint venture with the Cabinet Office: Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL) – its slogan: ‘a Trusted Transformation partner’.

The latest news on Steria’s website is that the Council of the European Union’s General Secretariat has chosen the company to secure its internal communications networks.

SSCL has already taken over back offices across the country for the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Environment Agency. It is now looking at taking over work at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

steria values

Within a year, it started a closure programme of sites affecting more than 500 jobs in Sheffield, Cardiff, Newport and Leeds and is looking to relocate the work to India. Other centres such as Blackpool, Newcastle, Peterborough and York will also lose staff.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “It will be a major blow for local economies losing hundreds more jobs . . . The Government should act now to keep these jobs in the UK, rather than attempt to cynically exploit the inferior pay and employment conditions that workers abroad face.”

Environment Agency offers dredging equipment for sale

env agency header

Though the news that the Environment Agency was to shed 1,700 of its staff was widely reported in October, with an interesting impact analysis in the Guardian, mainstream papers did not appear to notice recent reports of its large equipment.  The search facilities on the Financial Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent revealed no references to this.

barge-mounted excavator

In December, a long-reach excavator was sold for £47,000. Last week three long-reach excavators, capable of removing earth and debris from underwater, were to be auctioned by Brightwells, near Hereford, on Friday.

Machinery buyers contacted farmers groups after spotting the Environment Agency was selling a barge-mounted crane, large digger and long-reach excavator ‘on the cheap’.

Farmers pressured the Environment Agency to stop the sales, arguing that the taxpayer would have to buy new equipment when the floods recede and dredging begins in earnest.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that selling off equipment was all part of managing a working fleet and designed to recoup some of the cost for taxpayers, but Jeremy Perkins, who runs a livestock farm in Suffolk and is an online moderator for The Farming Forum, likened selling off an excavator of this age as selling a car that’s done 30,000 miles, adding that it had “plenty of miles left in it”. Brightwells sold one digger for £47,000 in December which was bad enough,” he said. “I’ve been told by a machinery company the new list price would be £130,000 . . . Even if they are not using them now they should be keeping them in reserve. David Cameron will have to spend all the money all over again, and what for? I think it is quite unbelievable that they are selling off assets cheap when we have this enormous crisis going on in the South West”.

The Environment Agency said the three excavators would now be reconditioned and put back into service; it had withdrawn the items from auction because of the present floods.

Sources – in case links malfunction:

The government’s Environment Agency should serve the public

dredging somerset floods

Almost the same amount of rain that flooded the Somerset levels fell in the Netherlands, but there were no floods in the Netherlands . . .

Following flooding in 2012 and 2013, on 24th January this year, in light of the flooding of the Somerset Moors, Somerset County Council and Sedgemoor District Council declared a major incident.

Environment Minister Owen Paterson visited the area on 27 January 2014, and promised at a media-only press conference that if a local water management plan could be developed over the next six weeks, he would approve it. This would probably include the dredging of both the rivers Tone and Parrett, and possibly a later sluice near Bridgwater.

Fortunately the prime minister took a different line and called for immediate action.

On 22nd January Hansard recorded an address by the local MP, Ian Liddell Grainger in which he described the Environment Agency as one of the most expensive quangos in this country:

”It employs more people than the Canadian environment agency, and the number of people employed by the environment agencies of Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Austria put together . . . (Ed: but note that it has decided to sack staff employed working on flood risk management) . . .

“Today on the levels (it) spends far more money creating floods than averting them. Right now the agency is pioneering a . . . scheme to flood the Steart peninsula near the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, which we in Somerset know about, in order to create a “wonderful” habitat for wildlife. The agency will also prove to . . . Brussels that we are doing all we can to meet EU objectives to make life more comfortable for reed warblers”.

revolving door largerPassing through environmental charities’ revolving doors to the House of Lords

The current chief executive of the Environment Agency is continuing the policies of his predecessor, Barbara Young, once chairman of English Nature and chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who has been elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Young of Old Scone.

The Environment Agency, created eighteen years ago, made a policy U-turn

Regular dredging of the Parrett and the Tone came to an end and the agency decided that the future lay in managing any floods that might result. The Parrett and the Tone rivers are now so silted up that in some places they no longer act as rivers at all. Before the creation of the agency the main rivers were regularly dredged by the old river boards, because rivers on low-lying land silt up if they are not dredged. One of the benefits of regular dredging is that the riverbanks are built up at the same time.

Dutch assistance needed

dredging resident's appealMr Liddell-Grainger continued: “In Holland they dredge, they prepare and they protect. They plan for the worst and rarely suffer a problem.

“There is a wonderful machine used in East Anglia which has been brilliant, and I am going to go to see it in action—I am arranging to see Dutch engineers to support the task, and I will speak to my Somerset colleagues about it. The task is not difficult or impossible . . .

“I am meeting members of the Dutch Parliament in Strasbourg next week at the Council of Europe to talk about what they can do to help us to get the Environment Agency to change its mind.

Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, said that if the money paid by internal drainage boards to the Environment Agency is given back to the internal drainage boards (IDBs) along with some responsibility, then contractors with expertise and knowledge of the local area can actually carry out work to prevent flooding in future.

If only it were so simple; but there is a hidden quango-led agenda, not unrelated to the tourist lobby and the rewilding policies of environmental quangos and charities which work to reintroduce predator birds and animals.


Bad decisions by government – 8: abandoning flood protection in some rural areas

On one hand the Environment Agency [EA] proposes to stop maintaining some pumping stations in rural areas but on the other it is upgrading them to ‘enhance flood protection’ in urban areas where – a cynic would add – there are more voters. 

On its website it offers a ‘Photo/Film Opportunity’ of an upgrade for “Lake 4 Pumping Station”, which is located next to the Thames tidal defences in Thamesmead and will help to protect 700 homes in South East London. The new control system ‘will restore the standard of protection’ for hundreds of homes and businesses from flooding.

Environment Agency: we are no longer responsible for land drainage 

But the land and property of those who produce food – the most valuable human undertaking – will have no such protection. An EA spokeswoman said: “In the past we had land drainage responsibilities . . . but that is no longer the case.  

One example is the pumping station at Lessonhall in Cumbria which is close to homes in the village; residents are worried that surface water and foul water from septic tanks will flood the place.  

Will productive land be lost? 

Resident Duncan Stuart said: “I am concerned. The station broke down two years ago and the whole area was awash within days. When I look out of my bedroom window I see cows and productive land. It will soon be a pool of water that will never produce anything again.” 

Last week, the EA met landowners and residents at the White Heather Hotel, near Wigton, to discuss the proposals. Local farmer John Dixon, whose family have farmed at Lessonhall for generations, said: “This has devastating implications. We have been here all of our lives and we’ve handled the land to the best of our ability. We are proud of what we’ve achieved. It is hurtful to think it will be let go.”

Farmers face large bills to keep their land in use 

Seven farmers and landowners in the area face a bill of more than £18,000 each year to run it if they are to keep their fields in use. Mr Dixon added: “They say it will cost £18,000 now, but energy costs are rising. Farmers are struggling even without this.” 

Suzanne Greenhill, writing in the Farmers Guardian [30.7.10] points out that the EA has on its website “Living on the Edge – a guide to the rights and responsibilities of riverside occupation”: 

The section about Your Rights says amongst other things that: “You have the right to protect your property from flooding and your land from erosion”.   In the Responsibilities section it explains: “You have the responsibility to pass on flow without obstruction, pollution or diversion affecting the rights of others” and “You must maintain the bed and banks of the watercourse and also the trees and shrubs growing on the banks”.  Also “You must clear any debris, even if it did not originate from your land.” 

“But to carry out any river work, the riparian owner/occupier must get permission from EA which is costly requiring a £50 Application for Consent and a land survey (£500 is average fee charged).  There is no guarantee that permission for work will be given. Flooded farmers have incurred losses of crops and livestock and now they are expected to find more money they can ill afford.” 

A false economy? 

If even more food producers are forced out of business and more land is lost to agriculture, the protected urban population will suffer as food prices rise and the country becomes increasingly dependent on imported food and vulnerable to the vagaries of the world market.

PCU appreciates Suzanne Greenhill’s lead into this subject which deserves wider coverage – so much more important than the latest celebrity peccadillo.