Risk to life in Spalding if flood defences fail

Image from the EA showing the flood risk in our area - dark blue is the most serious threat.
Image from the EA showing the flood risk in our area - dark blue is the most serious threat.
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A planning application for a new house to be built in the garden of a property in Spalding’s Halmer Gate is a pointer to the heightened future flood risk in the town.

The Environment Agency (EA) insists “ground” floor living space of that new house must be 1.8m (5ft 10in) above the level of the land outside.

We checked the Spalding Guardian’s address in The Crescent on an EA, long-term flood risk map and our offices, like most of the town, have a “medium” risk of being flooded by river or seawater.

Across South Holland there are pockets where the risk is “very low”, such as in the centre of Holbeach or around the crossroads at Quadring.

But South Holland District Council planning chairman Roger Gambba-Jones says the flood risk assessed by the EA varies from one street to another and from one end of a street to the other.

EA advice to residents is “sign up for flood warnings” by visiting https://www.gov.uk/sign-up-for-flood-warnings – a free service that gives warnings by phone, email or text.

On that website, you can check flood maps for England and Wales to get the long term flood risk for where you live by entering your postcode.

The EA points out it is maintaining flood defences which reduce the likelihood of flooding but says “there is always a chance these defences can be overwhelmed” with potential flood depths near the coastline and tidal rivers posing a risk to life”.

One implication of a heightened flood risk could see it become more difficult for the disabled and elderly to find somewhere to live because many need bungalows with ground level ease of access.

The flood risk could also make some housing sites uneconomic to develop and pose questions over getting insurance or mortgages.

The most obvious question is ‘how soon could Spalding flood?’

An EA spokesman told us: “It’s not possible to predict how soon we could see flooding in Spalding – there are so many factors at play. The context we’d want to get across to people is that nearly half of Lincolnshire is situated in a flood plain and the next century will bring further challenges in terms of flood defences as climate change increases sea and river levels, although of course it’s impossible to be specific about when flooding will occur.

“To mitigate the risk, we take these factors into account when providing strategic flood risk advice regarding new developments, and account for them when we invest in new flood defences or improve existing ones. In the unlikely but possible event that flood defences failed, depths of water in Spalding could pose a risk to life so we must do what we can to reduce this risk.”

Our front page story (continued right) the EA refers to Spalding being at risk from the River Welland and the sea, with typical land levels between the Welland and the Coronation Channel three to four metres above datum (sea level) while predicted tidal levels in the Welland are around seven metres above datum by the end of this century.

The EA says its advice is “based on the consequence of a failure of the defences”.

A spokesman for Bourne builders Larkfleet said: “Planning conditions requiring raised floor levels are increasingly common because of increasing flood risks. So, too, are outright refusals of planning consent where the risk of flooding is considered to be high.

“In principle we support this approach provided that the risks have been properly assessed and the measures which house builders are required to put in place are reasonable and proportionate to the risk. It is clearly not in anyone’s interest to build homes that are liable to flooding.

“From our own business perspective, homes that are at risk of flooding will be difficult or impossible to insure. Would-be customers for our homes would therefore be unable to obtain a mortgage because banks and building societies will not lend against an uninsurable property.

“Having to put in place measures such as raised floor levels – and many other things such as enhanced drainage – clearly adds to the cost of development. So even in places where we might perhaps be able to obtain planning consent by adopting these measures it may not be economic to do so – the cost of the houses would simply be too great.

“This is one reason why we have developed the idea of a house that can rise on jacks when threatened with flooding. We believe this may be built more economically than homes using more conventional flood risk reduction measures.”

Larkfleet will build a prototype at Weston this year.

The spokesman said: “Testing of the house – including, of course, frequent raising and lowering of the jacks – will then take a couple of years before we are confident that the system works reliably. If the tests are successful, however, we can foresee this type of house making it possible to build economically in many areas where the flood risk currently makes building uneconomic.”

• You can also register for flood alerts or get advice by calling the EA floodline on 0345 988 1188.