Mon. Oct 18th, 2021

Isle of Wight Observer News

The Island's Free Newspaper

Holmsey

3 min read

Noah built the ark.
Who will save us?

Events like last week’s devastating floods should be entirely preventable – provided you combine engineering solutions with behavioural change. Water and sewage disasters, such as those are usually followed by lame excuses such as: ‘We had a months’ worth of rainfall in just a few hours’ or ‘This was a once-in-100 years event’. Perhaps it’s legalese, designed to protect the guilty from the justifiable fury felt by those affected, who believe the damage caused to their homes and businesses was avoidable.

The problem with so-called ‘rare’ flooding events is that they don’t seem anywhere near as rare as the authorities claim. Last week’s scenes from Colwell Common were disgusting, but for decades on some local beaches, I’ve seen raw sewage at low water. So it was no real surprise to read about Southern Water’s recent record pollution fine. The floods in Binstead have occurred several times before, so either Southern Water, the Environment Agency, the IW Council or Island Roads must be responsible for it happening again? I can’t think of any other possible contenders responsible for the Islands’ planning and water infrastructure. The near-biblical floods also appear to provide evidence that too much new building has been permitted and, if so when flooding occurs again, the local homeowners’ fury is totally justified.
I’ve mentioned before that I built some new homes on the fringes of Ryde, and one of the numerous planning conditions stated that before anything happened, we first had to design a plan to prevent future flooding. Ours was a green field site, the homes, roads and pavements we proposed would be replacing lush green grass. Obviously fields and lawns absorb water fairly easily, while hard landscaping does not. Our building consent said nothing could be built, until and unless we satisfied the planning officers (surely now ‘staff’? Ed), that whatever we built wouldn’t make things worse for the properties downhill from ours.

As far as I know, this sensible policy still exists, and our solution began with paying an expert in Winchester to design something called a water attenuation scheme. Visualize two giant articulated lorries parked side by side. Our plan included the construction of an underground box almost exactly that size. This was acceptable to the planning staff, so we built it, and when it pours, all the surface water from the new homes, rooftops, drives, pavements and roads is neatly routed through pipework into that giant underground water tank. In any storm event, once the water has gushed in there, a tiny pipe at the bottom allows just a trickle to drain off at its lowest point, thus ensuring the volume of water leaving the development is no greater than the volume that previously drained away when the site was just an empty field.

If you want to build something new, the various authorities are supposed to check the capacity of the water supply and wastewater pipe diameters in the proposed location; the same applies to the electricity supply. If any of this capacity is insufficient for new homes, the developer pays to increase it: quite right too. I’m not complaining, even if my water attenuation scheme cost many thousands to build, and we paid another £60,000 for a new electricity substation. When we see flooding, something has evidently gone catastrophically wrong, and the blame game that follows helps no-one. What’s urgently needed now is a joint plan to ensure it never happens again.
Regardless of your views on climate change, we know it will definitely rain again, heavily, because it always does!