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Abandon homes to floodplains, says expert

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ABANDONING FLOOD defence in many parts of the UK is the only realistic strategy to control urban and rural flooding in the future, say government experts.

According to Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs chief flooding engineer Reg Purnell, residents of areas most at risk from river and coastal flooding must be persuaded to leave their homes so that natural floodplains can be recreated.

Speaking at the Royal Society conference 'Flood risk in a changing climate' last week, Purnell said that defending every property against flooding was uneconomic and impractical. Local councils, he added, had to accept that vital floodplains, lost through years of development, had to be recreated.

Purnell said many local authorities had already been forced into abandoning property and infrastructure due to coastal erosion. 'We've already lost 16 or 17 villages in the area around Hull to the sea, ' he said.

Such managed retreat from the shoreline, he pointed out, had allowed land and property to be lost when it was not economically viable to defend it.

However, according to a spokesman for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, many home owners do not get compensated for such managed coastal retreat. 'Nationally, there has never been a scheme of compensation for this issue, ' he said.

However, it is unclear whether floodplain recreation would be best achieved as managed retreat or through compulsory purchase orders. Clearly areas that flood during wet winters are often dry during summer and, unlike eroding coastline land, could still be used for leisure activities.

Environment Agency flood engineer Gary Lane supported recreating floodplains and added that it was inevitable certain homes would be abandoned as they would become uneconomic to protect.

However, a policy of displacing whole communities to recreate the floodplain was likely to be very unpopular with residents and politically impossible, he said.

Nina Lovelace See page 14

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