WARNING: This report is soggy with watery puns!
BBC UK News at 1pm today:
‘I’d like to know where the Environment Agency is. We’ve seen nobody at all today. Nobody’s been round.’
‘People are fed up.’
‘People are really angry.’
In Scotland, trains and ferries cancelled but no mention of failed flood defences. If there have been some, surely Reporting Scotland’s fearless reporters would be there up to their wellies in angry locals and door-stepping the SNP minister responsible. Readers may remember their flooding frenzy (😊) in 2016:
Over the winter of 2016/17, they were in their wellies, on Deeside 7 times, meeting the angry locals and trying to get Scottish Government officials to seem guilty. At the time, I wrote at length to insert a little truthiness into the debate. It turned out more than lengthy:
As large parts of England flood, the Scottish Government launches a new action plan to further improve the management of flood risk and I’m reminded of a 2016 report here in response to Reporting Scotland letting someone claim unchallenged that protection was better in England.
The new plan is here but there is a longer story to tell, below:
As far back as 2006, researchers at the English College of Estates Management, whose patron is HRH Prince of Wales, made a number of highly encouraging comments about the achievements of the Labour-run Scottish Executive, SEPA and the Local Authorities:
‘In 1993, storms over Scotland exceeded the severity of storms over the South-East of England, however little damage resulted. This is because the Building (Scotland) Act, 2003 has introduced tougher building standards, thus buildings in Scotland are constructed to reflect the harsher conditions: and thus damage and subsequent insurance claims are significantly reduced.
As far as flood protection is concerned, unlike in England, the 1 in 200 year standard of protection is ‘universal’ for all new buildings, with a 1,000 year standard for such vulnerable uses as old people’s homes, schools, hospitals etc.. In addition, construction in flood hazard areas has almost completely ended. Crichton (2003: 26) estimates that “the active flood management programme currently in progress will result in almost all high risk properties being protected against the 200-year flood within the next three years, taking climate change into account.” It is also interesting to note that the Scottish Executive grants for flood defences have never been refused on the grounds of budget restraints and there is no rationing of flood defence spending.
It is clear, however, that the more stringent building standards which are applied in Scotland ensure that severe storms result in much less property damage than comparable events in England. Also the level of flood protection and the commitment of funding to achieve flood protection are higher in Scotland than in England.’
More recently, with SNP leadership, the favourable comparison still seems to hold. Published research from the esteemed Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in 2012, seems to support my first impressions quite strongly:
‘Where English planning regulations permit building in flood plains where there is no alternative, Scottish Planning Policy does not permit building in areas in which ‘the flood risk exceeds the 200-year return period’, i.e. where in any year there is a greater than 0.5 per cent probability of flooding. Scotland has stronger regulations governing the capacity of sewage and drainage systems for new building. It also has stronger minimum standards for flood defences. Building regulations ensuring flood resilience in the housing stock are more developed. Scottish planners, through Flood Liaison and Advice Groups, are engaged with local communities, the emergency services, insurers and other interested parties in drawing up flood plans. The differences in regulatory regimes between England and Scotland are reflected in the number of households that are at risk of flooding, and the resilience of communities in responding to those risks.’
The level of investment will be one factor in these differences. In recent years, spending in England and Wales has declined seriously after significant increases under Labour in 1997 to 2010, as revealed in a UK Parliament Briefing Paper from 2015:
‘Central Government spending on flood defence in 2010-11 was cut soon after the Coalition Government was formed. Spending was reduced in one year by £30 million or 5%. In the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (2011-12 to 2014-15), a total of £2.17 billion in central government funding was provided for flood and coastal defence. This represented “a six percent fall in central government funding”, The Committee on Climate Change calculated that this represented a real term cut of around 20% compared to the previous spending period.’
In sharp contrast, for Scotland, we see in a Scottish Parliament Committee Paper for 2014-2015, evidence of increasing investment:
‘With regard to flood protection and alleviation, the Committee welcomes the cash terms increases in the funding available to SEPA, and to the Natural Assets and Flooding budget, both of which sit in the RAE portfolio. The Committee believes that, due to climate change, severe weather events will become increasingly likely in Scotland in years to come, and it is therefore essential that flood forecasting and warning systems be as accurate and robust as possible. The Committee welcomes the increased funding for flood forecasting and warning in the RAE portfolio and recommends that the Scottish Government continue to ensure sufficient funding is available to improve flood forecasting and warning systems, to ensure greater consistency across the whole of Scotland.’
As for more recent evidence of superiority in the Scottish system, see this at the Scottish government site and little (surprise, surprise) MSM coverage of it at the time:
‘£42 million a year plan over the next decade.
More than 10,000 families are to benefit from a ten year strategy to protect homes in many of Scotland’s most flood-prone communities. The plan is the result of grant funding totalling £420 million and follows an agreement reached between the Scottish Government and COSLA. The cash will be used to deliver 40 new flood protection projects and support local flood risk management plans. More than 130 flood protection studies will be carried out to help find potential solutions for another 26,000 residential properties currently at risk. The announcement came as the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, fulfilled her pledge to return to Newton Stewart following an earlier visit in the aftermath of flooding at Hogmanay.’
So, unlike the UK Government, the Scottish Government has maintained or bettered the investment and the sophistication in flood prevention here. Had I been writing in 2006, the Labour-controlled Scottish Executive would have rightly claimed any credit for performance north of the border. In 2016, the SNP-controlled Scottish Parliament can do the same. Will BBC Scotland allow them to do it? They clearly didn’t in the run-up to General Election in 2016 so I doubt it.
There you have it, my attempt to shore up our defence plans against a flood of BBC bias (See what I did there, again, again?) as we approach the UK Monsoon season.
College of Estates Management at:https://www.cem.ac.uk/media/28193/flooding.pdf
Scottish Parliament Paper at:http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/70875.aspx
Scottish Act on Control of Flood water at:http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/1057/0094052.pdf
Professor Penning-Rowsell at: http://evidence.environment-