So far this winter we have avoided the horrors of the flooding we saw in Kent and other parts of the country in 2013/14. (I am touching every nearby piece of wood as I type this!) But it is important that we heed the lessons of last winter, and make proper provision for the future.
This is why Kent CPRE were absolutely right to hold a conference on the subject of lessons learned at County Hall in Maidstone last week. I was there to draw lessons from Ashford’s experience as a place where housing growth has been high for a number of decades, and which has avoided the worst of the effects of flooding.
The underlying lesson learned is that you can take effective mitigation measures even if there are houses in the flood plain. The Aldington and Hothfield projects meant that there was minimal disruption last winter, although on one anxious Friday night we were only inches away from real problems as the waters rose.
The scale of potential problems is large. According to the Environment Agency there are 358 residential properties in Ashford at high risk of flooding, 307 at medium risk, and 1,409 at low risk. As for businesses, there are 352 non-residential properties at high risk, 273 at medium risk, and 441 at low risk. Medium risk represents a 1 in 100 or greater chance of flooding from rivers or sea in any one year.
Clearly, with big developments such as Finberry already started, and with plans such as Chilmington Green a few years away from starting, it is important that we keep using the right techniques to keep our homes safe. Some of this, as we have seen in other parts of Kent, involve traditional flood defences, including barriers which can be quickly erected at times of danger.
Other techniques available are more subtle, including minimising the ratio of concrete to grass to allow water that falls to soak into the ground at a natural rate rather than being bounced straight into the sewers. Front and back lawns are important in this. It is also possible to use permeable rather than impermeable concrete, which means again that there is a more gradual flow of water.
There is more money being spent by national Government on flood defence, and Kent County Council is working hard as well to improve our defences. This is an issue which will be with us for a long time to come