Last Saturday, I saw yet again the destruction in Hastings town centre caused by flooding, and witnessed the emotional and financial devastation the flooding has caused to residents and businesses when for most, things have only just returned to normal following the floods on 16th January this year.
I was in Hastings on Saturday helping co-ordinate efforts, speaking to residents and owners and managers of businesses, as well as the leaders of Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council (the Local Lead Flood Authority), Southern Water, and the Environment Agency. The emergency services, particularly East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, did a remarkable job in securing the area and clearing the water from the town centre, shops, houses and basements and I extend my wholehearted thanks to them on behalf of residents and businesses.
Following the flooding in the town centre in January, I called for an investigation. I felt it was important to not only find out what caused it, but also to look at what measures can be taken to reduce the risk of such flooding in the future. This report was published on 13th October, and before the incident last Saturday, I had already spoken to the relevant agencies to voice my concerns that the report did not go far enough; there needs to be a catchment-wide assessment looking at housing, roads, geology, gradient and so on, to determine what measures could be implemented to permanently and radically reduce the risk of flooding in the future.
We have seen unprecedented amounts of rainfall falling in a short space of time, and it is not productive to take the easy way out and place the blame solely on Southern Water. Climate change has triggered extreme weather conditions which have proved challenging for our water infrastructure and a long-term, permanent fix is needed. I believe that urgent flood attenuation works need to be carried out in the wider Hastings catchment, and the Environment Agency and Southern Water concur with this view. Attenuation measures reduce the risk of flooding by storing the storm water, slowing the flow into the water infrastructure, and reducing the peak flow of water.
Short-term action is required until a long-term, permanent solution is found. I met with representatives of Southern Water on Sunday to discuss short-term measures in anticipation of storm Ciaran. As of writing, Southern Water has confirmed to me that it is on track to install a major temporary 1,000l/s over-pumping operation. All relevant agencies must work together to ensure that emergency pumps are in the right place and will come onto operation if and when needed, as well as tankering where necessary. Business owners and residents may want to consider putting in place flood defence measures, such as flood barriers, for their properties, the costs of which are typically the responsibility of the property owner. Some insurance companies offer incentives to property owners who install flood resilient or flood-resistant measures in their properties. Whilst the Government has been investing £2.6 billion in flood and coastal defence schemes since 2015 (including the flood defence scheme along the River Rother in Rye), there is arguably more to be done to help with the costs for individuals and local businesses in flood prone areas.
A permanent long-term solution must be found, and this requires joint action by the Environment Agency, Hastings Borough Council, East Sussex County Council and Southern Water. The Government has recently set out that future local flood risk management plans should support a catchment-based approach, considering all sources of flood risk and the potential for action across the whole of an area, upstream and downstream, by the relevant bodies. Natural flood management measures give the greatest flood reduction when they are used across a catchment using a variety of different techniques to increase the cumulative impact. I have long campaigned for more investment in nature-based solutions to climate change because they are the most effective and cost efficient, whilst also providing benefits to people and wildlife.
By investing in long-term prevention measures we will avoid the emotional and financial costs associated with flood damage. I am calling for all the relevant agencies to work together on a long-term, permanent solution as a matter of urgency.