2015/16 Floods: What does this mean for the future of the UK?

On the 12th November 2015 the UK was hit by the first of a series of storms. Storm Abigail hit with maximum wind gusts of 84mph and brought with it heavy rain. The immediate result was power cuts to nearly 20,000 homes in Scotland. In the following three months the UK was hit with a further eight storms. The costs of these consecutive storm events project an uncertain future for the UK.

Recently released data from the Met Office makes December 2015 the wettest calendar month on record (in a series from 1910). In December the storms that hit were Desmond, Eva and Frank. Record breaking rainfall of 341.4mm of rain in 24 hours (Honister Pass, Cumbria) was brought by Storm Desmond. The resulting floods flooded 5200 homes across Lancashire and Cumbria. 43,000 homes across north-east England were without power and on 5th December 61,000 homes in Lancaster lost power when an electrical substation was flooded. Since then there has been more homes flooded, with estimates reaching 16,000. The flooding of farmland and homes has cost the government, and thus the taxpayer, massive amounts of money.

In response to the flooding “the government mobilised a full national emergency response”, including 200 military personal and 50 high volume pumps.

“On flood defence spending, over the last Parliament we spent £1.7 billion in capital spending—a real-terms increase on the £1.5 billion spent between 2005 and 2010. Our next six-year programme is £2.3 billion, which again represents a real-terms increase” The Secretary of State

This is a statement from the Secretary of State. The government has now promised to increase spending on flood defences (after they initially reduced it) in light of recent flooding in Cumbria. They have promised to work in tandem with the Environment agency and have formulated a six year programme. This programme is their proposed attempt to protect the UK from flood events. However events such as the recent flooding are only likely to increase in number. Climate is changing. Sea levels are rising and this means we are likely to see more flood events in future years. Events like recent flooding was supposed to happen every 200 years-not every 5-10 years. Can the UK government really hope to effectively formulate an effective defence when all they are doing is repeating the same mistakes on a larger, more expensive scale?

Here is a little look at past UK weather events:

1998- Flooding in the Midlands (estimated £350 million cost)

2000- Record April rainfall

2002- October-December Heavy rainfall

2004- Flooding in Cornwall

2005- Flooding in Carlisle and North Yorkshire

2007- Record rainfall in summer and flooding

2008- Heavy rainfall and flooding in south Wales and north-east England

2009- Flooding in Lake District

2010- Heavy rain and Flooding in Cornwall

2012- Exceptionally wet. Record rainfall and Flooding

2013- Consecutive Winter Storms (Major disruption everywhere in the UK)

2014- More winter storms and Ex hurricane Bertha

We all know what happened in 2015.

Storm Desmond Flooding

The question asked now is; Are weather events like this something we should just expect from now on?

The answer is a yes and no. Yes, we are an island with prevailing winds coming across the Atlantic Ocean. We are going to get our unfair share of storms. However flooding is something we should be able to manage and prevent. With the amount of money spent on defence, it would be nice to see more successes. Of course there have been successes, but not enough to offset the cost of the failures. Going back to the government’s comment on flood defence spending we can see a lot of money is spent on defence (£2.3 billion promised soon…). However clearly it is not enough. Either more investment is needed or it needs to be better spent. Flood events are not going to stop happening unless major changes are made to the current system. Soon the Thames flood barrier will become ineffective and we must consider the possibility of London flooding. If London floods regularly the UK economy may never recover completely. The economic costs will only increase.

The recent flooding has cost the government an estimated £200 million (added to flood defence spending):

  • £51 million on Storm Desmond victims
  • £40 million on road repairs in Cumbria
  • £50 million for those effected by Storm Eva
  • £40 million for additional flood defences for Storm Eva

But these are only initial costs. The rainfall and flooding has inundated farmland. There has certainly been subsidence in the soil (evidenced by the presence of sinkholes recently). The flooded homes will add cost. Small businesses may likely be unable to stay open due to being flooded. Insurance companies will be severely stretched. And we haven’t even seen the end of the storms yet. All of these additional longer term costs will keep adding and growing, costing the government millions, which of course costs the taxpayer as well. The cost is likely to rise beyond £450 million.

These costs coupled with the fact that this will probably happen again soon shows a dark future. With rising costs and more storms, will the UK economy survive? How many more 2015’s can we take?

Contributed by Gurnam Grewal

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