OPINION: Look to the continent if we want to stop flash floods in Norwich

The roads close to Norwich Airport were flooded following the heavy rain on Saturday (June 2).

Flooding near Norwich Airport after heavy rain. Peter Offord says less concrete, more trees and better drainage systems, would potentially reduce the risk of this happening - Credit: Angus Bennett

Reader Peter Offord says we can do more to protect ourselves from the elements

I hadn’t spoken with my friend since the easing of lockdown last summer and our conversation was engaged, animated even, until I mentioned the C word and then her face fell and I steered away from the subject.

We were stewarding in an exhibition in which we both had work: sculpted heads.

She had been motivated to finish hers after what had been a long experimental journey and mine was a study completed in two short workshops.

Then her friend arrived and the topic came back again like an unwanted guest and her friend suggested brightly we could all shop less, cycle more and grow more vegetables, each person could do their little bit, rather like the war effort.

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What can we all do now when the current government appears to be doing little or nothing and previous governments of the same stripe had put forward policies that dis-incentivised energy saving technology and this subsidises the fossil fuel industry, whilst talking about sun-lit uplands and building back better for a green and prosperous future?

Sunlit uplands there may be but according to recent reports those uplands could well be 40C plus; not the sort of uplands I want to be in.

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Arriving home I searched YouTube and found a recently released documentary by German broadcaster DW called Can nature itself save us from the effects of climate change?

Through a mixture of thorough assessment, robust engineering, community action, forward planning and respect for nature, the negative impact of climate change was being addressed.

The three of us had made a start by discussing it but we are not climate scientists or civil engineers nor were we likely to be in line for the billionaires flight into space at $250,000 a shot.

In Dordrecht, Netherlands, engineers (state funded) had constructed houses as flood walls, with flood board fittings on the doors to maintain the water inside the buildings, preventing flooding properties on the opposite side of the street; the houses near the dykes were built on stilts with floating landings.

In flood prone Cologne in Germany, massive steel barriers were erected which could be raised a further three metres.

In France in the Loire Valley where building on the flood plain has been banned, homes were being demolished and the owners relocated and compensated by government whilst trees were being removed from the riverbank to expand the breadth of the floodplain and protect nearby towns.

In Germany, galvanised by previous flooding, the Feuerwehr are deployed, the firefighters warning householders to remove loose objects like timber, which may become weaponised during a flood.

Community groups were working to soften the landscape, creating and clearing ditches and planting reeds and trees, all of which lessen the impact of a deluge surge. Our continental cousins are well ahead in tackling the reality of climate induced impact on human lives.

In our neighbourhood in Norwich trees continue to be cut down to improve householders’ views and driveways are paved over with bricks and resin to save on weeding, which increases the run off onto our roads and into the outdated drainage system, inadequate for modern flash floods.

Plus the more hard surface created the greater the heat, the more moisture the air holds.

Collective action with the right guidance and leadership can do much to alleviate the damaging effects we will be experiencing.

But there is precious little but Greenwash and electric car promotion from the government and jokey remarks about joining the Green Party and not rinsing dishes prior to using a dishwasher.

Where is the commitment? Where is the organisation at national and local level to inform and organise communities which will be affected by this?

Where are the civil contingency plans in the event of this occurring? Not if, when.

COP26 in November has just 12 days to come up with a programme and a plan. What have the previous 25 achieved?

Peter Offord is an artist and former Norwich city councillor

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