2007 saw the most damaging floods in decades
Thirteen people lost their lives and hundreds were stranded as a result of the floods that hit Tewkesbury in July 2007. It was some of the worst flooding ever recorded in Britain.
Tewkesbury is particularly vulnerable to flooding because of its geographical location at the meeting point of two sizeable rivers: the Severn and the Avon. Double the average rain fell between May and July, including 140mm in just a few hours in late July. Neither river was able to cope with this volume of water.
When the overflowing rivers met at Tewkesbury the outcome was inevitable. Nearly 50,000 homes were affected, many needing significant repairs. The floods cost local councils £140 million, and the total cost to the British economy was estimated at £3.2 billion.
Britain has always suffered flooding because it lies in the path of low pressure systems from the Atlantic. The 2007 floods were described as the biggest civil emergency since the Second World War. We have since seen major floods in winter 2014 in the south and west, and in July 2014 in eastern England, but neither was as damaging.
Weeks of rain from December 2013 to February 2014 left the soils saturated so the rain ran off the land into the rivers causing prolonged high flows and flooding from burst river banks. Storm surges in the North Sea made matters worse. In summer 2014 the flooding was different. The rain fell so intensely that the land could not absorb it quickly enough and it caused ‘flash floods’ in a matter of minutes.
In the UK as a whole, more than £250 billion of assets are at risk from flooding, including homes, businesses, public facilities and transport. According to the Environment Agency, in 2009 one in six homes in England and Wales was in danger of flooding from rivers or the sea.
Managing the risk requires not one, but many, approaches. Avoiding building on the floodplains would be a good start, as would making homes more resilient to flooding. We can educate people how to protect themselves better. Expenditure on flood protection has increased, especially between 2008 and 2010, and the flood warning system has been extended to cover most prone areas. In 2014 the government and insurance industry agreed a new approach to flood insurance to enable affordable insurance for most homes at risk.