Gloucestershire flood fears need revisiting - Jeremy Chamberlayne
Maisemore farmer Jeremy Chamberlayne gives his opinion on flood protection in the county:
THE good burghers of Gloucester appear to be sleep-walking towards a man-made catastrophe that could cripple the city for many years, without any apparent intention of taking any measures to reduce or mitigate the risk.
The Environment Agency will concentrate on issuing flood warnings, but will implement no steps at all to reduce that risk. A minimal understanding of geography will tell you that Gloucester stands at the downstream end of Britain's largest river system and flood plain and history will tell you that it has flooded many times before. What is not so well understood is the dramatic effect that human development has had on the potential for flooding.
For centuries, we have spanned the river with bridges, but, starting with the Victorians, we have built many more and linked them to higher land with causeways, spanning the whole flood plain, particularly at Gloucester. At the same time, development between Birmingham and Gloucester and between Warwick and central Wales, has covered a large part of our landscape with impermeable surfacing, (housing, business parks, motorways), creating faster run-off and removing water retention capacity.
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This effect is enhanced by the need to protect the development itself from flooding, so evacuating water even faster. All of this water has to pass between the city and Over and a little way downstream, it has to pass between the "flood protection" banks, on either side of the river, between Minsterworth and Elmore Back, a span of 150 yards.
The flood of July 2007 was thought to be extreme – perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, the weather that gave rise to it was not all that remarkable. The majority of flooding normally comes out of central Wales but, on that occasion, it was not much more than average, while torrential storms in the Avon catchment were the main contributor. The river at Gloucester rose to a similar level to the Great Flood of March 1947, which followed record snowfalls in January, deep frost throughout February and a sudden thaw, together with heavy rain in March.
At that time there were no motorways, trading estates or business parks to speed the flow, so, if those conditions occurred today, we can be sure that flooding at Gloucester would be far more dramatic than that experienced in 1947 and even more so than in 2007.
As if that were not bad enough, 30 years ago, city, county and environmental authorities saw fit to occupy a strategic flood relief part of the flood plain, (the Hempsted Meadows) with one of the country's largest landfill sites. This is immediately downstream of the city and was the primary route for flood water, leaving Gloucester.
However, a narrow strip of floodplain did remain, between Hempsted Lane and the tip, running downstream from Sudmeadow Road, towards the lower Hempsted Meadows, offering the potential for a flood relief channel. Clearly, the good burgers of Gloucester decided they had not done enough to imperil the city because, 10 years later, they approved the development of the Pressweld factory, spanning that strip of lowland and raising ground levels by four metres, thus ending any possibility of improving flood flows past Gloucester.