Call for Blue Belt Land

Ringfence flood plains with blue belts, say environment professionals.

With severe flooding set to become an increasingly familiar fact of life around the UK, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management today wrote to Environment Minister Elliot Morley to demand that the issue be taken seriously with the creation of ‘blue belt’ land in flood plains where, as with the green belt, development is severely restricted or banned altogether for the good of people and the environment.

Blue Belt Land

Ten per cent of the population of England and Wales live with the risk of flooding. The economic value of homes and businesses at risk is over £220 billion. Following a conference of more than 200 experts and an extensive consultation, CIWEM, representing 12,000 environmental professionals, proposes that a new national agency be created with responsibility for flooding and coastal management and the power to designate blue belt land, with local authorities as the implementing bodies responsible for carrying out flood and erosion risk management works.

Nick Reeves, CIWEM’s Executive Director, said:

“Planning priorities and processes must be changed to reflect environmental reality. At present we’re seeing demand-driven development that will require ever-increasing flood defences and mean misery for millions of householders and businesses. What is needed is environmentally responsible and equitable development planning across the UK.

“It is entirely wrong that at present, if the Environment Agency’s objections to developing on a floodplain are ignored it is possible for construction to proceed, giving rise to properties that may become a threat to health and life, as well as uninsurable in the longer term,” he added.

According to CIWEM’s experts, most of our towns and cities have some flooding problems, but many have also preserved their floodplains. Good practice the Institution has identified includes the City Council of Worcester, which has made strenuous efforts to prevent or strictly control development in the floodplain. In Ashford, Kent, as part of the planning process the floodplain was highlighted on maps soliciting opinions on where new development should go: as a result, consultees proposed extremely limited development in the floodplain.

By contrast, much of the government’s ‘Sustainable Communities Plan’ for the south-east of England lies within flood plains. This puts the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and Treasury-driven project in direct conflict with the Environment Agency’s aim of avoiding development in high risk areas.

Nick Reeves added: “CIWEM is extremely concerned that ODPM may be trying to evade local democracy and environmental controls by shepherding plans through regional planning panels and urban development corporations with ‘special planning powers’.”

CIWEM points to opposite action in other countries: in the Republic of Ireland and Canada, for example, the government encourages relocation of settlements outside of flood risk areas with suitable compensation paid from the public purse, and the flood plain land is then protected by planning laws against future development.

CIWEM Press Office, January 2005

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