My 9-point plan to deal with future London flooding

Green Party Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has come up with a nine-point plan for dealing with present and future London flooding.

Jenny Jones AM is leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly and Green Party Mayoral candidate for 2012

If this year’s floods are the ‘new normal’, then what can we do to cope?

Hopefully, these extreme and widespread weather events are the wake-up call that is needed to jolt some of our complacent decision makers and budget holders into action.

I think George Monbiot’s call to rethink farming practices is valuable input to the process – let’s hope they read it.

The government certainly has to reconsider how it plans for the future, for example, allowing the building of new homes on flood plains was crass stupidity. I want to illustrate the need for large scale action by showing what the Mayor of London could do on a regional level.

Residents living in a flooded nightmare in parts of West London or most recently in Croydon where 5,000 homes and a water treatment works serving 47,000 were at serious risk, will rightly demand urgent solutions.

We should be on an emergency footing.

However my fear is that Boris Johnson will keep his head down and retreat into his default position of complacency, foot dragging and climate scepticism.

If the Mayor does want to take action, then here is the plan:

1. Call an emergency climate summit that represents mainstream scientific consensus, to look at the current and future risks and solutions to how London can cope with extreme weather events.

This should include the impacts on London’s economy which could be completely derailed. A major flooding episode could cost our economy billions. Overheating, already a problem in central London and could further dent central London’s desirability as a place to do business.

2. Lobby for the fire and rescue services to have a statutory duty to respond to major flooding.

3. Expand the London Resilience Forum’s emergency risk focus to actions that reduce the impacts of extreme weather, for example:

4. On River flooding – 24,000 London homes at risk

Take a leading role in helping to secure the £100m funding required to deliver existing flood prevention plans for the 10,000 properties at risk from river flooding.

Identify opportunities for river restoration along the hundreds of kilometres of London river tributaries feeding into the River Thames. This cuts the risk of local and downstream flooding by increasing the flood storage capacity by opening rivers (de-culveting) and using adjoining green spaces for temporary flood storage.

Lobby the government to reverse staff cuts at the Environment Agency and increase spending on flood defence to a level in line with expert recommendations from the EA and the Independent Committee on Climate Change.

5. On Surface Water flooding – 680,000 London homes at risk

Work with Local Authorities to urgently bring forward their surface water flood risk management strategies before the 2015 deadlines.

Target action at households at risk with advice and incentives to remove hard paving and impermeable surfaces that contribute to surface water run-off, as part of a wider programme to reverse the trend that has seen two thirds of front gardens paved over a ten year period upto 2008, the hard surfacing of London back gardens increasing by a quarter, or the equivalent of 18 Hyde Parks.

Ensure that all new developments include the incorporation of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems

Call for a suspension of Eric Pickles’s relaxation of permitted development rights that allow the doubling of the size of conservatories and extension in gardens and the inevitable loss of garden space.

6. On Mayor’s target to plant two million more trees by 2025

To clarify how the Mayor expects to meet his tree planting target that is needed to cope with climate change and intense rainfall. There appears to be no coherent plan or reliable tree felling data. The risk is that London could end up with less tree canopy cover as tree diseases take effect; large canopy trees continue to be felled using spurious subsidence claims or by developers, or damaged by overzealous pollarding or pruning. Water soaks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it soaks into the soil under grass.

To copy New York’s scale of tree planting of 100,000 a year, compared to the Mayor’s programme of 10,000 trees over four years.

7. On the Thames Barrier

Work with the Environment Agency to review the recent extreme weather events and consider whether there is now a case for bringing forward plans from 2050 for a replacement/additional Thames Barrier, particularly as it took 30 years to build, from conception to delivery. The Barrier currently protects 1.2million people and about £200 billion worth of assets and it increasingly plays an important role in preventing upstream river flooding.

8. On Climate mitigation

Publicly acknowledge the Inter-govermental Panel on Climate Change report that cites 95 percent confidence that humans are the main cause of global warming

Work with the government to urgently improve their failing home insulation retrofit Green Deal and Energy Company Obligation programmes that the Mayor is dependent on to deliver his carbon reduction targets.

Drop plans for aviation expansion and the Thames Estuary Airport which is estimated to cost £112 billion. It is completely at odds with cutting carbon emissions and curbing global warming.

Drop support for fracking, a fossil fuel that is incompatible with meeting carbon reduction targets.

Lobby the government to redirect the billions of UK fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks into developing non-nuclear renewable energy sources.

9. On support for further nuclear expansion

Call for moratorium on nuclear expansion, particularly as their coastal locations are vulnerable to unpredictable and ongoing extreme weather events that could compromise and overwhelm back up plans. A London Mayor should be concerned about what is going on down the road at Dungeness.

In conclusion, the time for complacency is over. It’s time for our leaders to take responsibility and know that they will be held accountable for their failures, because those failures will be catastrophic for us, and for the future needs or our children and grandchildren.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.