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Bolster our defences

Comment

Stories such as those seen this week in the national media about failing or inadequate flood defences in the UK seem to be becoming alarmingly familiar.

Perhaps we can blame climate change. Perhaps we can blame long-term sea level rise. Or perhaps we can just blame the planning system for allowing so much development in the flood plain.

Whatever the reason, it certainly doesn't seem to take much rain to highlight the UK's increasingly inadequate ood defences.

More specically, it doesn't seem to take much rain to convert a relatively mild weather event into an incident that wreaks havoc on thousands of people's lives and businesses.

And of course from the engineer's perspective, and perhaps more worryingly, it doesn't take that much rain to highlight, once again, the failure of civil engineers to act as the true guardians of the built and natural environment. The fact is that to every one of those people caught up in the recent round of flooding, we are seen to have let them down.

OK, by any usual standards last week saw some pretty severe rainfall for June. Across the UK towns were lashed by sudden and torrential downpours.

And the record will show that the Environment Agency's newly installed automatic ood warning systems came through with ying colours. People were warned and yes, there were many areas that benefited from the massive and on-going multimillion pound programme of ood defence works already underway.

But while getting the warning out to people under the threat of flooding is good news and a big step forward, it is not enough.

The reality is that we still failed to keep the result of a late Spring rainstorm off the front pages, and surely our great problemsolving engineering minds can do better than that.

Of course they can but as the Environment Agency pointed out this week, having a ood defence policy is one thing, having a properly funded and resourced policy is quite another.

The government will certainly be quick to remind me that funding for flood defences has been steadily rising over the last decade or so to the current £600M.

This is good but in our changing world it is not enough.

It is not enough against the backdrop of rising sea levels, and climate change prompting heavier, more frequent rainfall.

And it is not enough against the increasing desire of developers and local authorities to build homes and businesses in the flood plain.

It is not enough if you consider that feeling safe in your own home is pretty much a fundamental human right.

So by failing to ensure that this happens we are letting down our public. And it follows, therefore, that by failing to listen to our professional opinion and make enough cash available, government is letting down our profession and the UK's people.

And we should not stand for that.

The cash needs to be there to enable engineers to do their jobs properly and to enable the Making Space for Water strategy to win public support.

As I said last week, to ensure that this happens civil engineers need to be at the centre of planning policy in the UK - we must have a major part in the government's proposed independent planning commission.

If you haven't done so already, go to http: //petitions. pm. gov. uk/ NCEplanning/ and sign our petition to help ensure that this happens. Only then will we be sure that good (engineering) sense prevails.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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