A report has revealed a timebomb which could leave thousands of Midland homes at risk due to widespread building on flood plains.
The Government’s advisers on climate change adaptation revealed that in Birmingham alone 11 per cent of developments built in the last three years are at ‘‘serious risk’’ of a ‘‘significant’’ flood.
The Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change found that overall four times as many households and businesses could be hit unless more action is taken.
Big increases in building on flood plains to meet increasing demand for homes by the expanding population is one reason for the warning.
In the Midlands between 2008-11 some of the worst areas for using this land were Stratford-on-Avon District, where 22 per cent of new development was on flood plains, Wyre Forest District with 23 per cent, and Wychavon District with 18 per cent.
Last week the Birmingham Post revealed how the city council is considering building homes on green belt land around the city, prompting outrage from environmentalists.
And when the region was swept by significant rainfall this month, flooding struck across Birmingham and the Midlands, with some roads turned into temporary rivers.
But the climate change experts now say that because of homes and business development sites being built on flood plains – areas where traditionally huge amounts of excess water would have flowed – the risks of massive damage and disruption is now far greater.
As well as Birmingham, other areas at risk include Malvern Hills, where 11 per cent of developments are facing ‘‘significant’’ flood risk, Telford with 78 per cent, and Staffordshore Moorlands with 23 per cent.
Lord John Krebs, chair of the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “Extreme weather is likely to become more common in the future as a result of climate change.
‘‘Flooding and drought are two of the most significant climate risks. Flooding, as we have seen recently, can have a devastating impact. How we adapt to these risks will be critically important to our future resilience: whether it’s deciding not to pave over our gardens; or building in less exposed areas.”
Lord Krebs suggested the way to tackle the increase in hard surfaces, up from 28 per cent to 48 per cent of urban gardens in a decade, was to “get TV gardeners to tell people to stop putting down decking and paving and have lawns instead”.
“We must take adaptation more seriously if we are to manage the growing risks of floods and droughts. This can be done by investing more in flood defences, faster roll-out of water meters and giving serious consideration to where and how we build our housing and infrastructure. Without action by households and businesses to prepare for these inevitable weather extremes the country faces rising costs, unnecessary damage and future disruption.”
At the same time as building on flood plains is growing the amount being spent on defences is falling, the committee found. It is 12 per cent lower for the current spending period compared with the previous period after inflation.The Environment Agency estimates that funding needs to increase by £20 million a year on top of inflation to keep pace with climate change.
A funding gap of almost £1 billion is opening up between what is needed to keep properties protected in the face of climate change and what is being spent over the next few years.
Nationally, development in the flood plain increased by 12 per cent (210,000 properties), compared to seven per cent in the rest of England over the past ten years. One in five of these properties were built in areas of the floodplain at greatest risk of flooding.
The proportion of gardens that have been paved over increased from just over a quarter of total garden area in 2001 to nearly half in 2011.
The report also indicates that water scarcity is likely to become more common in some parts of the country in the future due to the combined effects of climate change and population growth and exacerbated by levels of household water consumption that are among the highest in Europe.
The committee is calling for more transparent and careful planning of new development in flood risk areas by local authorities, taking account of long-term costs of flooding, along with more investment in flood defences.
A spokesman for the Environment Department said: “The committee has acknowledged the work we have done to reduce flood risk for 182,000 homes over the last three years.
“We are spending more than £2.17 billion over four years to protect people from flooding and we now expect to exceed our target to better protect another 145,000 homes by 2015.”