As England faces more devastating floods, has the Scottish Government put its finger in the dyke, so to speak?
‘As many as 530 key infrastructure sites across England are still vulnerable to flooding, according to a government review.’ (BBC News, 8th September 2016)
‘£12.5m Flood Defence Plans No More Than ‘Elastoplast’’ (Sky News, 8th September)
A new review from the Environment Agency for England has attracted much critical press and TV broadcast, reaction. The review was commissioned after 16 000 houses, across northern England, were flooded during the wettest December in a century last year.
Most have described its plans to avoid a repeat of the devastating deluges as utterly inadequate. The Sky TV report put it very bluntly:
‘Plans to improve flood defences after the devastation caused by record high water levels last year have been dismissed as “Elastoplast”. A new Government report identifies up to 530 sites across England where key local infrastructure, such as water, electricity and telecoms sites, is still vulnerable to flooding.’
In the BBC Report, we hear from Dr Stephen Gibbs, chairman of the Carlisle Flood Action Group:
‘The issue is Government statutory powers to say ‘we will defeat flooding’. The Environment Agency [EA] has a pattern – they have a flood, they have a review, then they get out the [sticking plaster] and hope for the best until the next flood. Temporary flood defences are part of the filibustering that the EA is having to do. The Dutch defeated flooding because their senior politicians sat down and said ‘How can we defeat this?’ And they defeated flooding.’
Mention of the Dutch reminded me of the boy with his finger in the dyke and I wondered whether the Scottish Government and its agencies would be performing any better than that of their equivalents in England. I found this statement of intent on their website:
‘Historically Scotland has not faced the same degree of river and coastal flooding as England, due mainly to its different topography. However, climate change is expected to increase flood risk, potentially doubling it in some areas in Scotland before the end of the century. Through the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009, the Scottish Government has introduced a more sustainable and modern approach to flood risk management, suited to the needs of the 21st century and to the impact of climate change.
Of course, this is not hard evidence of superior performance and readers will not be surprised to be reminded of alleged failures in this area reporting in our mainstream media. Back in March 2016, Reporting Scotland was just coming to the end of serial visits (eight) to Ballater’s flooded streets:
‘After the floods, the recovery. We report from Ballater and three months on from Storm Frank, the town’s still getting back on its feet.’
On the 14th, I wrote, despairingly:
‘We report from Ballater!’ said as if it was ‘We report from Baltimore!’ Reporting Scotland headlined the ‘Ballatergate’ again. They’ve been on Deeside eight times now. I wonder if the Deeside Piper and Herald newspaper has got this scoop. No, quite the reverse, they’re ‘over it’ and moving on. In fact: ‘Floods won’t stop DYMT!’ they trumpet, mysteriously for those not on Deeside. Indeed, the Deeside Youth Musical Theatre youngsters have picked themselves up, dried themselves down and started all over again, with their version of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Raincoat! Jackie Bird opens by telling us ‘It’s almost three months since the flooding in Ballater.’ Yes I know, three months and you’re still going on about it! Why on earth are we still on this story? Does the reporter live there? Will it help to defeat the SNP in some way?’
As you know the SNP survived the BBC campaign but I doubt their interest in using future flooding to attack them again has receded (See what I did there?) much.
So, what convincing evidence is there that the Scottish Government does have its act together on this? Again, a previous piece for Newsnet, provides me with quite a lot which I hope you don’t mind me repeating much of it so that we’re ready for the next propaganda campaign. Store these facts away and until then, keep you powder dry (See what I did there, again?).
The December 30th 2015 piece titled ‘Despite the deluge, is flood protection stronger and better funded in Scotland?’ also covered benefits for home insurers and the comparative quality of environmental leadership in Scotland. They are well-worth checking out but would make this piece a bit too long. The url is at the bottom of this.
Comparing Storm and Flood Protection in Scotland and England
As far back as 2006, researchers at the English College of Estates Management, whose patron is HRH Prince of Wales, made a number of highly encouraging comments about the achievements of the Labour-run Scottish Executive, SEPA and the Local Authorities:
‘In 1993, storms over Scotland exceeded the severity of storms over the South-East of England, however little damage resulted. This is because the Building (Scotland) Act, 2003 has introduced tougher building standards, thus buildings in Scotland are constructed to reflect the harsher conditions: and thus damage and subsequent insurance claims are significantly reduced.
As far as flood protection is concerned, unlike in England, the 1 in 200 year standard of protection is ‘universal’ for all new buildings, with a 1,000 year standard for such vulnerable uses as old people’s homes, schools, hospitals etc.. In addition, construction in flood hazard areas has almost completely ended. Crichton (2003: 26) estimates that “the active flood management programme currently in progress will result in almost all high risk properties being protected against the 200-year flood within the next three years, taking climate change into account.” It is also interesting to note that the Scottish Executive grants for flood defences have never been refused on the grounds of budget restraints and there is no rationing of flood defence spending.
It is clear, however, that the more stringent building standards which are applied in Scotland ensure that severe storms result in much less property damage than comparable events in England. Also the level of flood protection and the commitment of funding to achieve flood protection are higher in Scotland than in England.’
More recently, with SNP leadership, the favourable comparison still seems to hold. Published research from the esteemed Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in 2012, seems to support my first impressions quite strongly:
‘Where English planning regulations permit building in flood plains where there is no alternative, Scottish Planning Policy does not permit building in areas in which ‘the flood risk exceeds the 200 year return period’, i.e. where in any year there is a greater than 0.5 per cent probability of flooding. Scotland has stronger regulations governing the capacity of sewage and drainage systems for new building. It also has stronger minimum standards for flood defences. Building regulations ensuring flood resilience in the housing stock are more developed. Scottish planners, through Flood Liaison and Advice Groups, are engaged with local communities, the emergency services, insurers and other interested parties in drawing up flood plans. The differences in regulatory regimes between England and Scotland are reflected in the number of households that are at risk of flooding, and the resilience of communities in responding to those risks.’
The level of investment will be one factor in these differences. In recent years, spending in England and Wales has declined seriously after significant increases under Labour in 1997 to 2010, as revealed in a UK Parliament Briefing Paper from 2015:
‘Central Government spending on flood defence in 2010-11 was cut soon after the Coalition Government was formed. Spending was reduced in one year by £30 million or 5%. In the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (2011-12 to 2014-15), a total of £2.17 billion in central government funding was provided for flood and coastal defence. This represented “a six percent fall in central government funding”, The Committee on Climate Change calculated that this represented a real term cut of around 20% compared to the previous spending period.’
In sharp contrast, for Scotland, we see in a Scottish Parliament Committee Paper for 2014-2015, evidence of increasing investment:
‘With regard to flood protection and alleviation, the Committee welcomes the cash terms increases in the funding available to SEPA, and to the Natural Assets and Flooding budget, both of which sit in the RAE portfolio. The Committee believes that, due to climate change, severe weather events will become increasingly likely in Scotland in years to come, and it is therefore essential that flood forecasting and warning systems be as accurate and robust as possible. The Committee welcomes the increased funding for flood forecasting and warning in the RAE portfolio and recommends that the Scottish Government continue to ensure sufficient funding is available to improve flood forecasting and warning systems, to ensure greater consistency across the whole of Scotland.’
I have to admit, I can’t find a great deal of more recent evidence of superiority in the Scottish system. I did find this at the Scottish government site and little (surprise, surprise) MSM coverage of it:
‘£42 million a year plan over the next decade.
More than 10,000 families are to benefit from a ten year strategy to protect homes in many of Scotland’s most flood-prone communities. The plan is the result of grant funding totalling £420 million and follows an agreement reached between the Scottish Government and COSLA. The cash will be used to deliver 40 new flood protection projects and support local flood risk management plans. More than 130 flood protection studies will be carried out to help find potential solutions for another 26,000 residential properties currently at risk. The announcement came as the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, fulfilled her pledge to return to Newton Stewart following an earlier visit in the aftermath of flooding at Hogmanay.’
So, unlike the UK Government, the Scottish Government has maintained or bettered the investment and the sophistication in flood prevention here. Had I been writing in 2006, the Labour-controlled Scottish Executive would have rightly claimed any credit for performance north of the border. In 2016, the SNP-controlled Scottish Parliament can do the same. Will BBC Scotland allow them to do it? They clearly didn’t in the run-up to General Election in 2016 so I doubt it.
There you have it, my attempt to shore up our defence plans against a flood of BBC bias (See what I did there, again, again?) as we approach the UK Monsoon season.
College of Estates Management at:https://www.cem.ac.uk/media/28193/flooding.pdf
Scottish Parliament Paper at:http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/70875.aspx
Scottish Act on Control of Flood water at:http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/1057/0094052.pdf
Professor Penning-Rowsell at: http://evidence.environment-agency.gov.uk/FCERM/Libraries/FCERM_Project_Documents/FD2602_7685_TRP_pdf.sflb.ashx