I hope that when you read this the worst of the floods will be over. Bad as they were they could have been much worse. The much-maligned Environment Agency, local authorities, civil engineers and conservation bodies have had enormous success in alleviating flooding in many parts of the country. This seemed to be almost entirely overlooked in the waves of sympathy, anger and political mischief which flooded the country soon after the water. In summer 2007 well over 50,000 properties were flooded, in 2014, in the wettest winter for 250 years, that figure was down to about 6,500.
Although it is at a much smaller scale than the Thames and the Severn we have local evidence for this success. Thirty years of work on the river Tame, which drains much of the Black Country and north-east Birmingham, seems to have been successful. It is now Tame by name and tamer by nature. Once frequently inundated places now seem virtually free of floods. These include the centre of Walsall, once subject to flooding by the combined tributaries of the Tame, the Ford, Hol and Walsall Brooks, the road under the railway bridge by Sandwell and Dudley Station, the riverside meadows in the Sandwell Valley, and the streets of Witton and Aston.
What changed? The implementation of a long-term plan based on science and evidence, properly funded and expertly executed. The work included washlands set aside at Bescot, a new lake in the Sandwell Valley, reprofiling the river in Perry Hall Park, channel improvements, and flood defences in Hamstead. This process was driven by the Environment Agency, who really do know what they are doing, and the local authorities. The scheme was a combination of hard and soft works, dredging, and making space for water. No single answer but a strategic and integrated approach in both densely developed areas and open spaces.
The problems elsewhere were not caused by European regulations or apathy, but rather by financial constraints, and obstruction by those who think, mistakenly, that they know better. Even the now notorious 'bird reserve' in Somerset has a parallel here - the RSPB Reserve in the Sandwell Valley. Both places are incidental benefits of flood management work, examples of win-win situations amidst a sea (albeit temporary) of lose-lose misery.