Canute style Planning and the evidence patterns that warn of foolhardy development!

A report in yesterday’s New Scientist suggests that the weather patterns that have brought the UK the recent storms may indicate that we should expect to suffer more flooding and extreme weather incidents.

Climate Change theorists and alternately, as one local representative puts it, “those of us that live in the Real World” will agree on one thing, the costs of repairing the damage left by floods may become unsustainable.

Insurance will only absorb a certain level of losses before premiums are set at unaffordable levels and be withheld from new builds.

And, as recent weeks have shown, this wavy jet can easily become jammed in place, firing storm after storm at the same locations. “Ocean temperature anomalies tend to persist for months to years, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the UK dealing with stormy conditions for a few years”

The folly of seeking to develop in flood threatened areas should form no part of Plan making.

That local authorities allow development in vulnerable areas, so as to fulfil housing targets in the knowledge that future residents may in turn suffer the consequences raises a question mark as to the compliance with the National Planning Policy Framework’s golden thread of sustainable development.


“How dare you!” Canute shouted. “Ocean, turn back now! I have ordered you to retreat before me, and now you must obey! Go back!” And in answer another wave swept forward and curled around the king’s feet. The tide came in, just as it always did. “Well, my friends,” Canute said, “it seems I do not have quite so much power as you would have me believe.

Too often in Castle Point officers point out in bold type to development committee members “the Environment Agency raise no objection” in the knowledge that Canvey Island is now treated, in effect, as a special case at the request of a CPBC initiative!

The fact that the EA expect stringent conditions to be included and CPBC to take responsibility for the effects of such development goes unregistered. The important thing is that the Borough achieves more housing numbers.

The New Scientist report reads;

In streets that would normally be bustling with shoppers, the only sound is the thrum of helicopters overhead and the surreal lapping of water against walls. There is an air of awe and disbelief amongst the other locals I meet, as we gawp at cars submerged in dirty brown water, and watch as residents wearing waders attempt to rescue belongings.

York is used to floods – the river Ouse usually bursts its banks once or twice a year – but this is well beyond our normal experience. Huge chunks of the city centre have become islands, and large swathes are cut off from each other by fierce new rivers, pouring down residential streets. People have been stoic and calm in the face of this disaster, but there is also anger, and a sense of feeling that these floods were not just down to bad luck.

“Rhododendrons flowering in December and a flooded house – any correlation do you think?” asks Selena Whitehead, whose house was inundated by the river Ouse on Sunday. And of course it is not just York that has suffered.

First Desmond, then Eva and now Frank: three major storms have slammed into northern England, dumping record amounts of rainfall and causing flooding misery, all within the space of just one month.

Special combination

Now climate scientists are saying this isn’t simply bad luck; it’s driven by a combination of global warming and unusual ocean conditions. Worse still, this intense stormy pattern could have a few years to run.

Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has previously shown that the rapid warming in the Arctic is making the jet stream – the high-level river of air that snakes around the northern hemisphere – more wavy. The warmer Arctic has made the north-south air temperature contrast smaller, which weakens the jet stream, and makes it more prone to being deflected by obstacles in its path, such as mountains or anomalies in ocean temperatures.

Now the UK is starting to feel the full impact of this wavy jet stream, thanks to an unusual cool patch of water in the North Atlantic, probably created by excess melting of the Greenland ice sheet. This winter, the jet stream has been skirting around the bottom of this cold North Atlantic blob and then aligning itself in a south-west to north-east direction, placing northern England right in the crosshairs.


And, as recent weeks have shown, this wavy jet can easily become jammed in place, firing storm after storm at the same locations. “Ocean temperature anomalies tend to persist for months to years, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the UK dealing with stormy conditions for a few years,” says Francis.

Add to this the powerful effect of another ocean anomaly – the El Niño, which is causing weather havoc all over the world – and it is easy to see why the weather is so out of kilter this year.

Across the pond

Over on the other side of the North Atlantic, people have also been dealing with the fallout from a wavy jet stream. An unusually warm patch of ocean off the west coast of the US has added an extra kink to this high-level wind. The north-west of the country has been caught under freezing polar air to the north of the jet stream, while the south and east coast has been sweltering in unseasonably warm tropical air, to the south of the jet stream. And where the two air masses meet, powerful tornadoes have been spinning up, flattening houses and flinging cars into the air, killing scores of people.

Meanwhile, rising global temperatures, which lead to the atmosphere holding more moisture, are only making matters worse. “The additional atmospheric moisture causes deluges to become even more intense,” says Richard Allan, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, UK.

This is backed up by preliminary results from thousands of computer simulations of storm Desmond’s flooding event, carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), suggesting that such heavy rainfall is now 40 per cent more likely to happen than in the past because of global warming.

“I don’t think there has been a combination of conditions similar to the one we’re seeing now because Arctic sea ice loss along with the very warm Arctic are the ‘new game in town’, caused by high greenhouse gas concentrations,” says Francis. “It’s safe to say we’re in uncharted territory.”


2 responses to “Canute style Planning and the evidence patterns that warn of foolhardy development!

  1. The New Local Plan Evidence Base for Canvey Island identifies amongst other issues the following.

    “17.25 The SFRA undertook modelling of the risk of flooding to Canvey Island. Currently, the sea defences are effective in preventing Canvey Island from being flooded but there remains a very small probability they could be overtopped or breached. However, when the future impacts of climate change are taken into account, it is possible that on an extremely high tide the defences in some locations around the Island would over-top. This means that there is a requirement over the next 50 years to invest in improving these defences in order protect future population .

    TheTE2100Plan, prepared by the Environment Agency,sets out a policy for the maintenance and improvement of the sea defences on Canvey Island. It will be necessary to work with the Environment Agency to secure the necessary funding to deliver the necessary improvements that will benefit both the existing development and also additional development that occurs”

    The New Local Plan has committed to increased development on the flood plain of Canvey Island without securing the necessary funding to maintain its sea defences in doing so leaves its population in a fragile and unsustainable position. Despite leading political leaders best efforts there is no Government Commitment to the funding that is required to alleviate the surface water issues on Canvey Island. This does not bode well for the securing of the huge funding that will be needed to protect Canvey from the fret emanating via our challenged sea defence.
    The TE2100 Plan when examined is clearly aspirational, much like the New Local Plan in regards to SUSTAINABILITY.

  2. Thanks for your input Steve.
    You raise an interesting point when you refer to the TE2100 plan.
    As I understand it, one of the options to prevent London from flooding involves “making space for water” by allocating suitable areas along the Thames to be allowed to store water by means of allowing these areas to act as flood plains.
    At Canvey, according to the TE2100 initiative, this would involve installing a new length of sea wall along Canvey Way and Canvey Road.
    The problem arising from this would be that the overall area of land within the sea defence would be greatly reduced. Should the sea defences be breached or over-topped, bear in mind there is no commitment for their improvement, the space for water would be greatly reduced, therefore any flood water would rise considerably than if the sea defences were left in situ.
    Alongside the outstanding work required to bring Canvey’s drainage system up to an acceptable standard, the funding commitment in sea defence improvement weighed against the existing benefits, leads our local decision makers to support their wishes to increase the population of Canvey Island.
    Government usually do not allocate infrastructure improvement without development benefits. Then again, infrastructure usually follows on from, rather than precedes, development.
    So we can expect to see more proposed development with the continued necessary drainage and sea defence improvements, once finances become available and are not required elsewhere, remaining an aspiration.

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