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Pitt calls for more action on floods

Sir Michael Pitt has called the summer floods a 'wake up call' and suggested that flooding should be taken as seriously as terrorism in his interim report into the summer floods, published today.

The Government commissioned Pitt to report on the summer floods, and the final report which will be published in summer 2008, will inform Government policy. Today's 'interim' report gives a flavour of what Pitt has learned so far, and makes 15 recommendations to be implemented now, and a further 72 interim conclusions, which could develop into recommendations by the publication of the final report.

Pitt says that the threat of flooding will increase, not decrease, over time, and that the timescales to adapt infrastructure are long.

"Flood risk is here to stay. The Review recognises the findings of other reports, such as Stern and Foresight, which predict climatic change and state that this country can expect more extreme weather, with periods of intensive rainfall.

"The Review proposes that the country should confront these mounting challenges and adapt accordingly, recognising that this process of adaptation will take place over a generation," he said.

While Pitt had nothing but praise for the emergency services, and their dedicated reaction to the floods, he said that greater destruction was narrowly averted.

"The impact of the floods and the high level of risk involved could have been significantly reduced with stronger local leadership of flood risk management, clarification of roles, more effective cooperation between responsible organisations, better protection of infrastructure and wider and deeper public engagement."

Many of Pitt's proposals will please the Environment Agency, who published their own report into the summer floods earlier this month.

Pitt suggests that, "more frequent and systematic monitoring of groundwater levels at times of high risk should be undertaken by the Environment Agency, which should begin as soon as possible to predict and mitigate further serious groundwater flooding from this winter onwards."

He says the Environment Agency should also "identify areas at highest risk from surface water flooding where known, inform Local Resilience Forums and take steps to identify remaining high risk areas over the coming months."

Pitt also says that the government should use the Climate Change Bill to support adaptation to increasing impacts from flooding.

According to Pitt, "in contrast to the co-ordinated, systematic campaign led by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure to protect critical infrastructure against acts of terrorism, it is clear from evidence submitted to the Review that the approach taken to mitigating the risk from natural hazards has largely been uncoordinated and reactive."

Pitt says that PPS25 should be applied "rigorously" and that the 'exception rule' should not be used to build in inappropriate areas. Developers should, "make a full contribution to the costs both of building and maintaining any necessary defences."

Welcoming the report, Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn said: "The interim report confirms the extreme nature of the weather that gave rise to the floods and acknowledges the efforts that were made by everyone engaged in responding. It identifies a number of urgent steps which it recommends should be taken straight away.

"These relate particularly to monitoring of specific flood risks, better information sharing and the practicalities of emergency response. The Government agrees with all of the urgent recommendations and will work with all organisations involved in taking them forward as quickly as possible."

Mr Benn said that he was looking at whether flood prevention could be a Long Term Investment Strategy for the next twenty years.

Commenting on Pitt's work so far, shadow floods minister, Anne McIntosh said, "The summer floods were caused not so much by rivers overtopping, but from surface water flooding – drains not being able to cope with the sheer volume of rain. Currently there are nine different bodies responsible for surface water drainage, and this needs to change.

"Building on flood plains must be resisted, unless a particularly high level of flood protection can be achieved. Specific responsibility for surface water flooding must be allocated, most appropriately to the Environment Agency.What we need now is a clear vision of how to prevent flooding rather than dealing with the clean up, something that is absent at the moment," she said.

NCE will host a conference on flood management on16 January at Earls Court Conference Centre in London. Go to for details.

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