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Letters: Learning to live with flooding

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Global lessons: Communities in South East Asia make provision for weather extremes

Antony Oliver (Comment, 29 November) raises the valid point that people who live in flood prone areas should take more personal responsibility for the protection of their property and belongings.

I have recently returned from a tour of Indo China visiting the countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In all these places I was impressed at the ways in which local people use their ingenuity to live in close proximity to the mighty Mekong river.

This river floods regularly, but it is viewed as a most important asset for industry, trade and communication. For most of its length there are no flood defences.

Hence, in desirable areas people have to be self-sufficient as they build on every available scrap of land close to the water, even on the riverbanks.

To protect against flooding their houses are built up on stilts; ramshackle structures are supported on timber poles whilst more substantial brick-built aff airs are set on a reinforced concrete frame supported on steel piles.

Away from the river, but still on the flood plain, more extensive villas can be found but again built on piled frames with their living quarters raised well above flood level.

So what should we do in the UK? Firstly, local authorities should not grant permission for houses to be built on flood plains unless the developers can demonstrate that the structures are designed with living quarters raised above an agreed statistical flood level.

Secondly, it should be possible to engineer some form of retrofit to render existing houses watertight. Householders should be encouraged to implement such measures with low interest government or local authority loans, and then gain the benefit of lower insurance premiums.

  • Richard Crowder (M), Grove Farm, Ibstone, High Wycombe, Bucks HP14 3XY

I often disagree with some of the points that Antony Oliver makes in his Comment but I must say that I cannot concur more with his observations regarding flooding (NCE 29 November).

With the government now meeting with insurance firms to ensure that properties located in flood risk areas can still be insured, it would make sense for all involved if a condition stipulated that some form of flood resistance is included.

Insurers would reduce the risk they take, the government would ensure that all properties can receive insurance and more importantly, occupants could go back to their abodes faster. It’s a shame to think that common sense like this will be ignored and the status quo maintained.

  • Greg Tasker gregtasker@hotmail.co.uk

Your Comment of 29 November is instructive and imperative. You bundle three items: the escalating problem of increasing rainfall; growing hardscaping in towns; and the impact of rainfall from industrial farming.

Perhaps the injury suff ered by some due to their neighbours might be viewed separately as ‘urban sourced flooding’. Perhaps such a flooded owner might be empowered to require the local community to buy his property if he so wished, thus relieving him of further threat, which he might otherwise live with for years.

On thus matter perhaps a tax might be generally levied on the impermeable area of each property.

  • J G Knibb (M), jgknibb@aol.com

Managers need to get out more

J Ward’s letter (NCE 29 November) in which he seeks the restoration of local authority engineering departments, causes me to write about something which has bothered me for some while.

In my village I watch in exasperation as contractors strim grass on the banks back to the roots resulting in mud patches rather than green verges, ride grass cutters over verges and footways with no attention to need or effect, scattering grass cuttings into drainage channels.

Along the roads in my region we watch leaves gathering at roadside drains, rotting and blocking drainage ready to cause unnecessary localised flooding. Roadsides are left with weeds growing out of kerbs, uneven manholes are left unattended and signs become invisible through mould and overgrowing vegetation.

In the commercial world my staff often acted at litigation hearings where road accidents occurred that were obviously preventable.

For example, the roadsweeper lorry driver was required to follow the kerb alignment. At T-junctions this practice allows the build-up of a triangular pile debris in the middle of the junction, which eventually will bring a cyclist ormotorcyclist off their machine.

What does all this have in common? Private contractors seem to follow the letter of the contract, the contract having been drawn up by local authority engineers, but neither party ever observing or acting on obvious problems. At extreme this can give rise to expensive litigation and injury. At best it adds to costs and decreases the life of unmaintained infrastructure.

I don’t advocate the restoration of public sector engineering, but I worry over the “blind avoidance” of the need to act for the public good. The answer I guess is that managers from both the client side and the contractor side need to get out more often and begin to understand why the contract has been drawn up and worry less on what it says.

  • Malcolm Noyce (F), mnoyce47@btinternet.com

Don’t worry about Heathrow

Why is it that transport planners always seem to plan future transport needs based on past transport usage, rather than accepting that modes of transport will change?

The UK is criss-crossed with a network of abandoned canals and disused railway lines, many built as these modes of transport were in their decline. Peak car usage in the UK was reached in 2002 and yet we are still building roads based on the false assumption that car usage will increase.

By the time a third runway is open at Heathrow, air travel will also be in decline and it will stand empty as testament to the planner’s lack of imagination and foresight.

  • Richard Barnes, Hampshire, ilhonore@talktalk.net

Trams, traffic and cyclists

NCE correspondents have identified some of the real problems in the UK between cyclists and trams.

This relates not only to tramway design standards and cycle training but also other issues such as lack of 20mph limits and courteous driver behaviour towards cyclists.

Tramway design guidance in UK requires full length boarding platforms unlike most European practice where passengers can alight at road level.

This entails tram tracks coming to within about 800mm of the 400mm high platforms, too narrow a width to comfortably cycle in without risking a wheel sticking in the track.

Cyclists therefore need to cross the track out into the traffic flow at tram stops, road junctions and other locations.

The requirement for platforms also creates problems of where to locate them, particularly in typical width urban streets where access to shops and side turnings is required.

The normal cycling conditions in the UK are poor with most traffic moving at 30mph or more and with generally poor driver behaviour, showing little concern for vulnerable road users in particular.

This makes the cyclists’ weaving manoeuvres to cross the track more onerous.

The above issues as well as the need to divert or substantially reduce motor traffic from the proposed routes can make tram provision on our congested roads too problematic.

  • John Lee, 316 Hemdean Road, Caversham, Reading RG4 7QS

In praise of Victorian track methods

I write to comment on a statement made in the special report on Insitu Engineering (NCE 1 November).

Joe Quirke, Britpave task group chairman, states that: “The UK’s rail network compares poorly with many other countries. It is based on the 19th century ballast track system that is unsuited to the performance demands and sustainability criteria of the 21st century.”

His assertion indicates a narrow understanding of what other countries have - which for conventional lines is predominantly ballasted track. It also belies the real truths in comparing ballasted track and slab track systems, which are too numerous and complex to record in a short letter.

But he should note that, had the Victorians had the capability and desire to set their new tracks in concrete, our railways would have died during the last century as huge changes in transport demand required the railway to upgrade its core network.

One of the reasons we have a reasonably successful rail system today is because the railway was able to adapt quickly to new business demands through its very flexible ballasted track layouts.

Concrete slab track has its place in special locations such as gauge-restricted tunnels and perhaps on high speed lines where the geology is right and long term demand is readily assessable.

For anything below “high speed” (200kph existing track/250kph new track), ballasted track retains the unique advantage of being quickly adaptable to market demands and as such it meets a key requirement for sustainability in business terms - that is relative flexibility.

  • Richard Brown (F), rhb54@hotmail.com

 

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