Flood risk Croydon


By - Tuesday 27th September, 2016

Sean Creighton is unimpressed with the council’s flood plans, and feels a new government review means they must be urgently re-examined


Croydon is one of many local planning authorities which is not taking seriously the growing problems of flooding. Nor is it taking into account issues of surface water drainage when approving planning applications.

Croydon is obsessed with accepting outline instead of full applications, and approving conditions which are dealt with by the officers and never open to public scrutiny through the Planning Committee.

This has been the case with the Devine Homes application to build houses on the top of the hill on the site of 18 Pollards Hill West. Several owners around the bottom of the hill are already unable to get building insurance because of water damage to their foundations, which has been further aggravated by the cutting down of several trees on the site. Devine is supposed to submit details of its flooding and drainage measures. In spite of it not even owning the site, it is trying to sell it on to the other developers through Barnard Marcus.

According to an Environment Agency study in 2013 Norbury tops the Borough table for the number of homes (78) with significant risk of flooding, and of those at moderate risk (58), with 312 at low risk. Most are in the area of Norbury Brook south of the railway line. These figures do not include surface water drainage problems.

There is a lack of an integrated approach

Because of its concerns about this, and garden flooding problems in Norbury, I attended a recent half-day conference on flooding and surface water drainage problems in Manchester on behalf of the Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee.

The speakers were from the Environment Agency, Royal HasoningDHV, CEMEX, the NFU, Public Health England, and Flood Re (the specialist insurance body set up by parliament).

It was clear that there is a lack of an integrated approach and not enough attention to individual property protection solutions and recovery and creating resilience in areas subject to frequent flooding. The government National Flood Resilience Review came out the next day, having been held up with the change of prime minister, so the speakers were unable to discuss its details.

Many public flood defences will fail in extreme conditions

Many insurance companies are refusing cover or making it very expensive. Some are moving towards funding protection measures to individual properties. There is confusion between agencies over responsibilities. A low level of house buyers check for flood risk. There are differential social and health impacts of flooding. There are blockages to market penetration of flood defence products. Many public flood defences will fail in extreme conditions. There are risks if health service premises are flooded and medical supplies are disrupted.

The presentation from Fola Ogunyoye, the Technical Director of Rivers Deltas and Coasts at Royal HaskoningDHV, was an impressive introduction to the innovative but practical and sustainable solutions his firm are engaged in. These include designing water storage facilities into the development of sites, and re-landscaping areas to create water storage facilities. It raise a question in my mind as to whether this is being down in the town centre and on the Cane Hill development.

Mary Dhonau, CEO of the Know Your Risk campaign and Chair of the Flood Protection Group iof the Property Care Association, who got involved because of her own experiences with being flooded, confirmed that flooding and drainage issues were a problem in planning all over the country.

It’s important for communities affected by flooding to themselves engage in exploring flood risks

Having had its Humberside cement and concrete works severely flooded in 2013 knocking out 8% of UK capacity, CEMEX has developed a number of products to help with flood protection, for example the ready aqua wall, Uni-Ecoloc permeable paving, and permeable concrete and asphalt. A question for Croydon Council is it insisting on permeable surfaces and it is policing that they are being installed?

What can residents do?

Mary Dhonau, who did visit Purley to give advice, suggests:

  • When buying a house buyers should have a flood risk assessment carried out.
  • Owners should have flood risk action plan.
  • Install measures such as passive front doors and air brick covers.
  • Read the homeowners guide on the Know Your Flood Risk website.
  • Have a look at her MDA Community Flood Consultants blog.
  • Set up Flood Groups in neighbourhoods affected.

Purley has a flood group. The Purley Flood Plan can be seen on the Croydon Council website.

The government review contains useful sections on the need to protect infrastructure including water and utility supplies, the need to better understand how flooding is influenced by human–environment interactions, and on the need for an improved integrated flood risk modelling approach. It highlights the value of historical information and stresses the importance of enabling communities affected by flooding to themselves engage in exploring flood risks by making rainfall and flow gauge data publically available, facilitate their becoming ‘citizen scientists’ and collecting data helpful to future flood risk estimation and planning.’ I wonder if this is something that could become a cross curricular project in secondary schools?

As shown in the Guardian report about the review, it has been criticised for ignoring surface water flooding even though it poses a threat to more properties than coastal and river flooding.

Although the council’s Local Flood Risk Management Strategy 2015-2020 was only approved by the cabinet in November and forms a support document for the Local Plan, it is essential that it be re-looked at in the light of the review.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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