COLUMN: Donnachadh McCarthy

News Desk (14 January, 2016) Columnists

Stop Southwark flooding!

The greatest threat to Southwark is not a major terrorist attack but the threat from flooding as the climate crisis gets worse.

The threat is threefold.  Some areas  e.g. Herne Hill and east Camberwell  are subject to surface flooding, as pipes were not able to handle the new extra heavy downpours, as happened in Herne Hill a few years ago.  Flood protection measures have now been installed at Herne Hill by Southwark and are being investigated in Camberwell.

Secondly, the Thames Barrier protects us from flooding by sea-surges and rising sea-levels.  Raised only four times in the ‘80s, it was raised over fifty times in 2014!

The third problem is the Thames itself. If the Thames basin received the huge torrents of rain dumped on Cumbria, a wall of water could head towards London and potentially overwhelm flood-protections and flood northern parts of Southwark.  One reason the water could head here so fast is because the government pays hill farmers to keep hills free of the natural woodlands that formerly covered them.  This is crazy, as trees absorb over sixty times more water than bare hills. 87% of the woods in the Thames River Basin have been removed. The National Trust even boasts about keeping their uplands vegetation-free. Also beavers, whose upriver dams would help slow the flow, have been eliminated from our countryside.

The Thames needs a powerful river-basin authority with legal powers to ensure we work with nature to protect London and to stop paying farmers to worsen flooding. However, the Thames has nearly a hundred separate local authorities like Southwark, responsible for flood prevention.  Making matters worse, the government has removed Environment Agency oversight of upland land-owners drainage works.  These farmers have a financial vested interest in getting the water off their land as fast as possible and so endangering Southwark.

The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn rightfully raised this issue in relation to the floods in York. When we contacted the council for their views, worryingly they had no comment to make other than suggesting we contact the Environment Agency. Cllr Merrill, responsible for Southwark’s flood protections needs to urgently address what is the council’s position on this threat to the borough?

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Donnachadh McCarthy