Floods Scrutiny: Canvey Island the Special Case, complacency, and the Pitt Review, lessons Not Learned!

Flooding came under the focus last night at the Castle Point Scrutiny meeting set up to consider the July 2014 rain storm.
The second meeting gave residents the opportunity to inform the committee the problems they faced and their issues in the aftermath.
Floods 2014 eastways
Residents gave heartfelt and harrowing accounts of losses and damage to belongings and property.
Accounts of residents’ first contact with Insurance companies on the whole appeared reasonably positive, however we also heard from residents that future flood insurance cover may be declined, premiums would rise dramatically or the excess sum on future claims would be prohibitive.

Castle Point Council must shoulder some blame for the flooding.
They have responsibilities to ensure that housing development was proportionate to the drainage system capacity.

There was an extraordinary amount of rainfall that fell on the day of the flooding, as did just 11 months earlier in August 2013, however the complex nature of the Island’s drainage system should have rung alarm bells earlier.
Whilst we have been reassured of the pumping capacity the neglect of the maintenance of the drainage system should have been challenged long ago.

Flood events do not occur on calm days. Whether during heavy rainfall, or stormy weather the likelihood of debris finding its way into the drainage system is highly probable.
The cost cutting by our Flood Authority, Essex County Council, has meant gulleys have not received an adequate clearing regime.

Over development has seen the loss of green fields. These green fields were supposed to alleviate flooding.
Canvey Island is at or below sea level with a high water table, however being generally flat this will allow water to disperse over a great area. With the continued high density development approved by Castle Point Council the value of this safeguard is now questionable.

The Environment Agency were cautious towards allowing development on Canvey Island until they were convinced that Canvey was a “special case” and were persuaded to allow CPBC take responsibility for housing development matters despite being a Flood Risk Zone.

The new Local Plan indicates an intention to develop 1,450 more properties in the next 20 years.

Previously, CPBC allowed the belief that the Environment Agency had imposed a moratorium on housing development at Canvey Island, whilst this was disproved there can be no doubt that a moratorium should be in place while this whole debacle is sorted out.
ECC have applied for £115,000 grant towards their responsibilities to prevent flooding on Canvey. Be assured this will go nowhere near addressing the inherent problems facing the drainage system.

The Environment Agency have responded to one of the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group enquiries. We were concerned that applications for two block of flats, one in a area affected by the recent flood, received no comment by the EA on the subject of potential surface water flooding.
They wrote:

“ The reason why we have not referred to surface water for the 2 examples you have provided (Flats at Canvey High Street and Leige Avenue) is not to do with their location on Canvey Island, but because both these sites are well under one hectare in size.

We are only a statutory consultee for applications for development sites over one hectare in size. For sites under this size, we provide advice and best practice for surface water management on our website as part of our Flood Risk Standing Advice for Local Councils. In both instances, in line with the NPPF, it should be ensured that new development does not increase flood risk either on or off site.”

Clearly the responsibility falls squarely on CPBC and the Development Committee’s shoulders whether these proposals were suitable. And yet hardly a word on surface water issues was included in the officer’s guidance notes.

Housing development built since 2009 will not be included in the Insurance flood guarantee scheme being draw up between the Government and the Insurance industry. And yet this is not a reason for refusal for housing development.

Once again the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group have made enquiries directly to the Association of British Insurers.
The Director General responded:

“The ABI strongly believes that unwise development in flood risk areas should not take place, and has made it clear that such developments may struggle to access property insurance.” O.Thoreson

And also:

“Flood Re will exclude developments since 2009 – just as the Statement of Principles did. This is because we do not want Flood Re to become an incentive for inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding.” Aidan Kerr ABI Head of Property.

Castle Point Council have commissioned and adopted a Surface Water Management Plan document to use as evidence towards the new Local Plan.
This flawed document was produced with input from the Environment Agency, Scott Wilson, with Castle Point Council providing the “local knowledge.”
The “local knowledge” informed Scott Wilson that there was literally but one or two records of historic events of surface water flooding on Canvey Island.
The reason for this was not that there had been no previous flooding but that CPBC had failed to keep proper records as was their responsibility. This responsibility now falling upon Essex County Council as the lead Flood Authority.
The final misleading document, being adopted by Castle Point Cabinet during 2012 as it gave the green light to the amount of housing development on the Island that they desired.

The next Scrutiny meeting, date to be announced will see the various Agencies involved hopefully give some explanation as to what plans are now in place to prevent future flooding of properties following rainstorm.

In the meantime cllr Howard told the scrutiny committee and residents that “things are progressing” in the background with an imminent announcement due.

The involvement of the Government Scientist, at MP Rebecca Harris’ request, is paramount.
He / she must be made aware of previous “local issues” affecting decision making in the Borough and be free of these influences so as to examine the issues facing the drainage system on Canvey Island.

There is a view, which the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group do not disagree with, that the Environment Agency and the Planning Inspectorate have failed Canvey Island residents. Both appear unwilling to take strong decisive action where development in a flood risk area is concerned.
Essex County Council and Anglian Water have also hardly covered themselves in glory!

It is truly disappointing that the work and effort spent in producing the Pitt Review into the summer floods of 2007 has not seen an effective scheme developed in Castle Point.
I have reproduced comment from the BBC’s Roger Harrabin for consideration:

Scrap the Sand Bag.
The simplest unlearned lesson from Pitt: don’t put a sandbag in your doorway. Pitt recommended people to block doorways with a close-fitting flood board instead. But most flood victims haven’t. Did the government fail to get the message across or were homeowners complacent?
The Cash.
The Pitt report recommended above-inflation spending on flood defences
Historically, there seems to be a cycle of increased spending after a flooding event but it tends to taper off as the flood waters recede. (this is not conducive to a maintenance led policy, which Canvey’s drainage system appears reliant on).
Before the floods in 2007, funding had increased to £500m, but was still below the recommended level.
In the wake of 2007, there was another surge of spending that brought cash allocated up to a high point of £670m in 2010-11.
It has since dipped back below £600m.
As well as the amounts, questions have been raised about how the money is now spent.
A hard rain’s gonna fall
Pitt strongly recommended that people should be stopped from smothering gardens with hard surfaces that create run-off water. Rules have been implemented but enforcement is lax, and gardens are still being paved.

And I will finish with three of Roger Harribin’s points that appear most relevant to Canvey Island:

Sustainable drainage solutions
(“Unsuitable for Canvey Island” Scott Wilson).
Stop making it worse
Pitt said it was impractical to stop all building on floodplains but advised a strong presumption against it. He insisted that buildings should avoid creating flood problems for themselves or their neighbours.
Science Solutions
One of Pitt’s successes. The Environment Agency and the Met Office have worked together to produce five-day flood warnings, giving planners an extra 24 hours’ notice of floods.

Where the hell was the warning from the EA ahead of the July flood given the advance weather warning?
Hopefully all will be revealed at the next CPBC Scrutiny Meeting.

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3 responses to “Floods Scrutiny: Canvey Island the Special Case, complacency, and the Pitt Review, lessons Not Learned!

  1. Thanks once again for this informative account of last nights meeting accompanied by some of the realities of the situation that the community of Canvey Island are now faced with.
    The following Governmental Guidance should have been considered before the past relentless development of Canvey was undertaken. If the situation continues to be ignored to allow for the proposed further development to progress via the New Local Plan, it stands to reason that there will be consequences

    R&D OUTPUTS: FRA GUIDANCE FOR NEW DEVELOPMENT: PHASE 2 FD2320/TR1

    7.5.2 S3.2 Risk to People behind Defences
    Flood defences reduce the risk of flooding, but do not eliminate flood risk completely.
    The reduction in flood risk that the defence provides depends on the standard of protection and the performance and reliability of the defence. Flooding may still occur in defended areas if the defence is overtopped or breached, or if flooding occurs as a result of non-fluvial sources such as groundwater flooding or poor drainage.
    Development behind defences should, therefore, be planned with due regard to the flood risk in the defended area.
    Guidance Note S3.2 presents methods for assessing flood risk to people in defended areas that can be applied at the sub-regional, local and site-specific scales (i.e. as part of a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment or site-specific FRA). It provides the Environment Agency with a simple means of communicating to Local Planning Authorities and Developers the likely flood risk to people associated with developing behind defences, given the potential flood hazard and the condition of the defences. It has been designed to be complementary to a separate EA guidance document that provides specific guidance to EA staff regarding the EA’s policies and
    principles for development behind defences.

    There seems to be an oversight with this guidance with regards to Canvey Island. Perhaps we will never know what advice if any has been given or what if any has been taken in this process.

  2. >
    > As a Local Councillor in Castle Point and I attended the Scrutiny Meeting and also attend the Castle Point Flood Liaison meetings, I would again offer my support to those people flooded this August and I will push to get changes made to try and prevent this happening again. I will not comment on the above statements but I would like to point out that it was not just Canvey that suffered.
    >
    > I would like to find solutions to prevent this flooding happening again we have experienced 3 one in a hundred year flood events in a year and that means we must take precautions to that level not the 1 in 30 years as some systems are designed for.
    > In the August 2014 flooding I was contacted by a resident some 500 yards South of my property warning of flooding where I had just normal rainfall at my house, the explanation on BBC Look East that night was that the Rain clouds that day covered a great area in height and contained a lot of water with little wind they moved very very slowly if at all across Castle Point and seemed to stop before reaching my house, but affected most of Castle Point.
    > From the Scrutiny meeting I got the impression that the pumps where off for far to long ( We need to produce a list of pump outage times from residents evidence ) and the gravity fed solution was a failure and needs replacing with a pump solution, if the pumps had worked 100% and a pump replaces the gravity system how many houses would have been flooded ?
    >
    > These flood meetings over the past year of flood events has identified drainage issues with in Castle Point, ECC Highways have discovered more road gullies and drains than they thought they had and has high lighted the lack of maintenance to the road drainage system for the whole Castle Point area.
    >
    > The same could be said for the Environment Agency as maintenance of open water courses has declined throughout the Borough these are essential to take water away from residential areas and if they become over grown they trap debris and prevent available flow of waste surface water.

    • Happy to publish your comments Simon. I fully appreciate that mainland property was and has been affected on this and previous occasions.
      However on this and the August 2013 events Canvey was badly affected and this blog is a Canvey orientated vehicle.
      The previous regime successfully appealed to the Environment Agency to have Canvey treated as a “special case” as far as planning issues are concerned, and along with cost cutting measures across the various responsible agencies, we are now reaping what has been sown!

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