Despite living in the area, I had never quite appreciated the dramatic impact that flooding has on so many people locally, including those living very near to me. Old Coulsdon and Caterham on the Hill have been badly affected by flooding in recent years and yet it seems not many people realise that they or their neighbours could be at risk, what is causing the flooding and what can be done about it. The last major storm, on 7th June 2016, caused significant flooding which devastated 121 local homes.
Climate change is already affecting the weather in the UK. The atmosphere is becoming warmer, there is more frequent stormy weather and in turn intense rain storms. The Met Office has just announced that it has been the wettest February ever recorded across the UK. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen storm Ciara, Dennis and Jorge and, most likely, there will be more to come.
Flooding in Caterham and Old Coulsdon is caused by surface water. A storm deposits a huge amount of water in a short time. If the rain water is not absorbed into the ground, taken away by drainage or collected and stored by, for example, water butts and ponds it has nowhere to go apart from to run downhill. The homes and buildings in the way of the water are likely to get flooded and the rain water can quickly overload sewers that are not designed to cope with such large quantities of water. The result is that water, mixed with raw sewage, shoots out of street drains and it is this horrible mix that enters people’s homes. The destruction that flooding brings to homes takes many months to put right and people who have already flooded live in fear of the next heavy rainfall.
With more residential and commercial development the rainwater has fewer places where it can be absorbed into the ground. Equally, existing houses that have built extensions or paved over driveways add to the problem if drainage is not considered properly. More hard surfaces mean more water moving faster, heading down hill and, in storms, causing flooding.
Positive things are happening though; members of the community came together following the flooding in June 2016, to form the Caterham Flood Action Group (FLAG). The action group is working with all the organisations who are involved in managing water locally with the aim of finding long term solutions to flooding. Local knowledge and know how is combined with the professional expertise of flood and water management teams in Surrey County Council, Tandridge District Council, the London Borough of Croydon, Thames Water and the Environment Agency. All these organisations meet regularly with FLAG to discuss, plan and approve measures that will help manage water to reduce the likelihood of flooding.
Last year FLAG and all these partner organisations applied to take part in a national Environment Agency project called ‘Working together to adapt to a changing climate’. Caterham and Old Coulsdon were selected as one of only two pilots nationally. Being selected for this project brings over two years of support from a specialist community engagement organisation, resources from the Environment Agency and access to high quality research and information. Over the last few months all the project partners have been working together to consider how the whole community can get involved in planning and decision making about climate change and flood risk management. They are now ready to invite the wider community to participate in these ‘community conversations’. Discussions will be wide ranging but will focus on the needs and responsibilities of different parts of the community, the local authorities and other support agencies. This could include discussions about planning decisions, development pressures, the capacity of drains and sewers, slowing the flow of water, emergency responses, individual property protection, how we share responsibility for action and the increasing challenge of climate change. The project hopes to develop a community that is more aware of the causes of flooding and more able to work together to take action.
Tor Peebles, Flood Risk Management Strategy and Partnerships Team Leader at Surrey County Council said:
“We’re delighted that Caterham on the Hill has been selected as a pilot catchment for this project. To manage flood risk in the area requires everyone involved to work together and will need substantial commitment both from the council and communities. My aspiration is we use the lessons we learn in Caterham across Surrey.”
Julie Blackburn, Chair of Caterham Flood Action Group said:
“We formed the Caterham Flood Action Group following the devastating floods of June 2016 with the help of the National Flood Forum.
“We represent local flood victims and for the last three years we’ve been working with the authorities to find a long term solution. We’re incredibly grateful for their support and eagerly await a long term solution, but climate change isn’t helping.
“Being chosen for the Environment Agency project is a fabulous opportunity for us and we hope that, out of tragedy here, lessons can be learned and adopted to ensure other communities are supported accordingly.”
If you would like to get involved and take part in the ‘community conversations’ about flooding and climate change you can register your interest. These will take place during June and July this year. The project is keen to hear from community groups, clubs, schools, businesses and individuals who could make time for a two hour ‘conversation’. These sessions will be professionally run and facilitated; all you need is a little curiosity. There’s no need to know anything about flooding or climate change to take part. If you are interested you can contact FLAG’s coordinator Julie Blackburn or the project lead Steve Smith. They can be contacted at:
Chris Philp MP has been extremely supportive over recent years and FLAG await support from Claire Coutinho (newly appointed Surrey MP). FLAG also have the support of the Environment Agency project, being delivered by engagement consultants Icarus (www.icarus.uk.net). The project will be rolled out nationally and could help other communities at risk. Its aim is to explain to communities about the importance of flood risk and what can be done to alleviate this.
Moving forward what is there that we can do to protect our community?
• Report blocked surface water road drains directly to your local council via their website. Get a reference number
• Report blocked foul sewers to Thames Water.
• We’re encouraged to recycle as much as possible as opposed to throwing water down the drain.
Installing Waterbutts is a win-win situation.
Are you watering your garden or cleaning your car with metered drinking water? Disconnecting your surface water run-off from the drainage infrastructure, saves you money and removes rain from the sewers, thus reducing foul flooding downstream.
SAVE WATER, it’s not a renewable resource – The South East is predicted to run out of water in 25 years… it would be a dreadful irony to be flooded, whilst on a hose pipe ban.
• When applying for planning permission, include Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to manage your surface water on site. We need water in the ground to replenish the water table, not in the drains.
• Don’t concrete/tarmac over your garden, consider using permeable hardstanding. Think about lifting a few paving slabs to help drain you land to avoid run-off onto the street.
• Don’t sweep/blow your garden rubbish into the roads to block the drains.
• Try to avoid parking over gullies, the council can’t clean them if your car is on top of it.
With these measures in place and by working together we can start to become a community which is more flood aware and consequently a community which can reduce the impact of flooding on each other by understanding the effects of climate change both locally and nationally.