We must accept that more needs to be done to protect communities from flooding. However, it is essential that as well as addressing the obvious need for increased investment in flood defences, and a need to stop building on flood plains, we acknowledge that these flooding events will continue unless we take long-term action on climate change.
The role climate change plays in these local flooding situations is down to how a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, this means more water evaporates in the air to fall as rain again.
The National Climate Information Centre says that extreme rainfall events are now a significant risk factor. We have all witnessed this at first hand – the flooding that used to be a once in a generation occurrence is now happening every five years.
Residents of Rother Valley are understandably concerned that these floods are likely to happen again in the near future, and the role climate change has played in increasing this danger ought to be recognised. So we must stop concreting over our precious green spaces.
Indeed, the fact that these extreme weather events are occurring more regularly means that flood defences must be built taking the natural environment and climate change into account.
But defences can only go so far, and severe floods like the ones we have been witnessing over the last 10 years will find a weak point to cause damage. The sequence of events is simple: water kept out of one area because of defences will move down stream to another unprotected area.
This means building sufficient defences for one town may only drive the problem onto a smaller, less well protected village further downstream. One report highlights how flood defences built for a ‘once in a hundred year event’ are unable to cope when such events become a more regular occurrence. Council planning must take into account flooding when proposing huge new developments.
While towns, villages and communities can always be better protected, the best defence is to not be where floods hit in the first place. Building on flood plains perfectly demonstrates this continuing failure by authorities to develop, and build, in a manner in keeping with the natural environment.
Here in Rother Valley 450 homes are planned to be built on Whiston in the very areas that were under water last year – local authorities, and those responsible for determining planning allocations, must realise that continuing to leave planning policy soft on the challenges of flooding will mean only ever greater numbers of homes flooded.
Reaching the UK’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is a key aim for ensuring we are taking action against the driving force of these extreme weather events.
Over the next four years this Government has the opportunity to make real positive changes to ensure that the UK leads on growing a greener economy and society whilst reaching this target. A YouGov poll found 64 per cent of respondents either support the Government’s current action to reach net-zero or support the Government going further.
That is action I, and my environmentally minded Parliamentary Conservative colleagues, support. With this sort of public mandate, myself and other MPs can support the Government in helping individuals and businesses to be greener while, at the same time, reducing energy bills through cost effective renewable energy.
Reducing harmful carbon emissions is therefore essential and given that in the UK the two main sources of emissions are transport and energy, much of the progress to be made has a local focus. From retrofitting houses, electric vehicles and public transport, to my opposition towards fracking and HS2; there is an enormous amount to be done with the appropriate investment of time and funds in Rother Valley.
We must see the recent devastating floods for what they are – a consequence of continuing to build against nature and also the continuing and growing impacts of climate change. This is not to say it is not important to ensure appropriate investment in UK flood defences, however we must also accept that unless innovative measures are taken to halt climate change, these flooding events will become uncontrollable.
We, therefore, must focus on making South Yorkshire more resilient to flooding through flood defence investment, improving our local planning approaches – and tackling the major driver of this trend: climate change.
Alexander Stafford is the Conservative MP for Rother Valley.