Storm battered Britain leaks £500m

The estimated cost of Storm Desmond, which brought record levels of rainfall that caused bridges to collapse, flooded an estimated 5,000 houses across Cumbria and left around 55,000 homes without power, is rising fast. Accountants PwC has put the total insurance costs at £325m, of a total economic cost of £500m, says The Independent.

With more rain on the way, those figures will only rise. In the longer term, climate change is likely to make such events more likely, meaning we need to alter our definition of “freak” weather events. The last severe floods in Carlisle, in 2005, were billed as a 1-in-200-year event – the rainfall this time exceeded that level by 50cm.

The government announced an unprecedented six-year £2.3bn flood defence programme in 2014, but there has been a 10% fall in spending on flood defences since 2010, says Gill Plimmer in the FT. But the issue is now rising up the agenda. The cost of repairing flood damage already stands at around £1.1bn a year. A National Audit Office report suggests it could rise to £27bn a year by 2080. Some 5.2 million properties are at risk. Ironically, after 2005, Carlisle benefited from a £38m scheme, including 10km of raised defences and 30 new flood gates.

There’s the financial plight of residents to consider too, says Victoria Ward in The Daily Telegraph. Delays in implementing Flood Re, a government flood insurance scheme, may have left some Cumbrian residents in “dire financial straits”. Premiums have soared by up to £2,000 a year with £20,000 excesses, leaving hundreds of homeowners uninsured. Flood Re, now set to be implemented next April, is expected to be used for around 500,000 of the highest-risk houses.

The modelling used to plan new flood defences needs updating too, says The Times, and there will be justifiable demands for more to be spent, more effectively. But we “cannot write a blank cheque”. At a time of pressure on every area of public spending, such an increase should be incremental. We must strike a balance between the “false economy of inadequate defences and colossal public works projects at unjustifiable  cost”.

Homeowners and town planners should do their bit too. “It makes no sense to build on flood plains.” Those at risk could take small steps to protect their homes. “Government has a role in defending this island nation from the rain that so often defines it, but flood victims can help themselves as well.”

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