Liz Townsend and Richard Bryant had a high level meeting on Thursday 19 February with Royal Sun Alliance (RSA) in Horsham, who were aware of pressure from developers to build on sites with high flood risk.

We discussed the remit of the Environment Agency (EA), which covers flooding from rivers and seas (fluvial) and the fact that the EA, as statutory consultee, can only object to applications on these grounds. In the case of the Cranleigh sites, the EA had strongly recommended that flood risk from surface and ground water should be investigated by Waverley Borough Council. The EA themselves have acknowledged the limitations of their flood maps for agricultural land, as they rely on instances of reported flooding to shape these and reports are invariably not made when green fields suffer a flood event.

Environment Agency Statistics for fluvial and surface water flooding

RSA confirmed that their own flood modelling is based on many tools and data sources and that they have no appetite for insuring new properties built on flood plains and would consider ruling out entire estates if this was the case. This was an area that insurance companies were already discussing at government level in light of the FloodRe scheme, which only covers houses built prior to 1 Jan 2009.  In applying this cut-off date the insurance industry as a whole is avoiding incentivising unwise building in known high flood risk areas.

RSA also echoed our concerns about the lack of inspection, maintenance and adoption of sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) such as those planned for the sites in Cranleigh. We both welcomed Eric Pickles’s statement on 18 December confirming that local planning authorities should consult the relevant lead local flood authority, in our case Surrey County Council, on the management of surface water with effect from 6 April 2015. However we recognised that 1,000s of new homes will have already been built, have had planning approved or applied for, where the SuDS have not been inspected, where no maintenance plans exist and without which the SuDS  could become an additional source of flood risk for communities in the future.  Planning for SuDS failure, as demonstrated at the Crest Nicholson site in Leverstock Green, is extremely important.

RSA  also stressed the human aspect of flooding and the misery this causes.  Not only is it an extremely frightening situation at the time, after flood water enters people’s homes, which inevitably also contains raw sewage, it is not unusual for people to be out of their homes for a year or more.  In this time they may have to be housed away from their community, in a house or flat where there may be restrictions for pets, is situated far away from their childrens’ schools and also parents’ places of work.  It is an extremely unsettling situation for the entire family and the nightmare of flooding in a high risk area is ever present.

It was an extremely productive meeting and our efforts in informing our community about the very real risk of unmaintained SuDS, together with the fact that new residents will not automatically get flood insurance cover were applauded by RSA.

This is an area that more and more people will unfortunately become familiar with in the forthcoming years.