2019 ended with a final month of excessive rainfall which resulted in another flood event on 21.12.19 bringing the total for the year to five. An analysis of the years rainfall data at local gauging stations in Daventry, Dodford, Towcester, Pitsford and Nether Heyford showed many similar trends, namely Jan-May below average whilst every month from June to December significantly exceeded the monthly averages. In particular June and October witnessed twice their monthly averages and although there were local variations, Nether Heyford recorded the highest yearly level of 826 mm, ie.18.8% above average. In spite of this Northamptonshire remains one of the lowest rainfall Counties in the Country, possibly due to its central location and surrounding elevated terrain.
These seasonal and now annual variations in weather patterns can clearly be attributed to the erratic behaviour of the jet stream and the effect of global warming. The warming in the polar regions have effected both the northern and southern hemisphere jet streams which coupled with increased El Nino activity have contributed to extreme variations across the UK. 2019 saw record July temperature of 38.7 degrees centigrade in Cambridge whilst Scotland recorded 18.7 degrees centigrade in December. Further evidence of global warming was seen in extreme levels of flooding, forest and bush fires, hurricanes and volcanic activity.
Already January 2020 has started with moderately warm weather interrupted by cold winds from storm Brendon and local flooding on 15.1.20 due to moderate rainfall on 14.1.20 falling on an already saturated catchment area. However the longer term forecast for the remainder of January is generally dry and sunny with overnight frosts. Day time temperatures will be nearer to the January average.
In spite of this let’s hope the World’s 2020 weather settles down!
PS: My thanks to Tony Clewett for Nether Heyford rainfall data.
What a difference a year makes is clearly shown in local plots of monthly rainfall and accumulated rainfall. A single flood in March/April 2018 has been superceded by four in 2019, all occurring within one month period,namely 15.10.19, 27.10.19, 10.11.19 and 14/15.11.19. The latter saw extensive coverage of the floodplain and recorded the highest gauge reading of 71.9m.
Prolonged and heavy rainfall has seen extensive flooding across the UK with Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the East Midlands witnessing flooding of 100’s of homes. Comments from communities effected again highlighted serious problems with the management of flooding in general, namely
(a) E/A warnings too late, clearly a failure of AVM.
(b) delays in activating emergency services.
(c) new flood defences in upstream areas enhancing downstream flooding,creating
(d) E/A misleading residents with claims of “it won’t happen again in your lifetime”.
(e) residents unable to insure properties even though Flood-Re promised affordable cover by adding a levy to everybodies insurance policies.
In this era of high technology it remains incomprehensible why advanced warnings cannot be given well in advance as there is an extensive network of real time rainfall and river level gauges. In addition satellite and ground radar provide forecasters with the ability to make 10 day forecasts and provide updates every 5 minutes.
All of this reminds me of the Bye investigations following the Northampton flooding of 1998 :-
(1) improvements in forecasting and warning systems with the use of local media and sirens to alert communities. Flood wardens with their local knowledge must form a vital link.
(2) improved communication between E/A and emergency services.
(3) in the light of the ever present risk of flooding the E/A recognised the imprudence of inappropriate development in flood risk areas and agreed to defend rigorously their advice to LPA’s to prevent such developments adding to the problems of flooding. It was agreed that the impact of climate change should be factored into any flood defences.
Currently it is forecast that over 10,000 new homes are to be built on the flood plains largely with E/A approval, contrary to their own principles in “Living on Edge”.
Building bigger flood defences is not the answer and more cost effective upstream storage and bypass diverts should be used to ensure the rivers natural capacity is never exceeded.
Clearly lessons have not been learnt, not helped by reductions in staffing levels within the E/A and emergency services.
A flooding event is defined as any occasion in which river water encroaches onto the adjacent floodplain. In the case of Nether Heyford this occurs when the monitoring gauge reads 71.55m which has not occurred since March/April 2018. However with the recent changes in the weather pattern as a result of the jet stream being centered to the south of the UK, 2019 has seen increased rainfall totals per month since June .This has resulted in saturated ground and increased run off in the catchment area. This culminated in flooding on 15th October when Broad Meadow opposite Crow Lane and the fields downstream of the Bridge were flooded.
Since Easter floods of 1998 such events have occurred on average 2.5 times a year. Tracing events back to 1947 the trend has been increasing until the latest changes in weather pattern over the last 2 years. Clearly climate change is taking place with weather becoming more unpredictable as evident when comparing rainfall in June 2018 of 1mm to June 2019 of 97mm.
George Clarke’s recent Channel 4 documentary “Council House Scandal” celebrated 100 years since the Addison Act of 1919 kick started Council Estate building. Sadly since the Right to Buy was introduced properties have not been replaced, hence the current shortage of Council properties for rent. GC has launched a National campaign to encourage Government to build more Council homes and has secured land in Manchester to demonstrate how to build good standard homes at reasonable cost. The programme highlighted a problem with commercial properties being converted to rentable homes under “permitted development” which fail to meet minimum acceptable standards for room sizes. Unfortunately this type of development introduced by Government reduced the power of local Planning Offices to enforce standards and bypass the formal planning processes.
The growth in permitted development could potentially lead to problems during conveyancing on house sale/purchase when the status of each building on site is investigated whether these are new build or change of use. Ideally a Lawful Development Certificate should be produced. To avoid risk to the seller/purchaser the seller can purchase an Indemnity Policy in the name of the purchaser. Not until permitted development is scrapped and the planning process returned to conventional planning application/building control will standards return to normal.
June/July/ August weather has continued to be untypical for this time of the year with short periods of high temperature near 37 centigrade and prolonged periods of heavy rainfall. Surprisingly total annual rainfall to the end of August is only 82% of average resulting from the extremely low rainfall earlier in the year.
Anyone interested in participating in discussions with the E/A over future flood defence requirements and contributing with their own local knowledge of flooding are again invited to contact me directly.
Flooding issues have hit the headlines with major incidents in Lincolnshire and Tewksbury in a year when climate change has surfaced as a major issue. The E/A’s Emma Howard Boyd and Sir James Bevan have initiated the launch of a review of Flood and Coastal Management Strategy in May 2019 which will form the basis of the Government Statement in October 2019 setting out their long term goals. They claim over 500,000 homes are at risk of regular flooding requiring families to relocate their homes.
Locally 2019 started the year up to the end of May with only 52% of the average rainfall which compares with 106% for 2018. However June has seen almost continuous rainfall currently at 64% above the June average at 88mm compared with 1mm for 2018. The River has coped well rising only 1.1m at its peak on 12/13th May largely as a result of limited run off due to excessively dry land in the catchment area and the effect of the E/A work on the River and Horestone Brook.
In May the Government extended “permitted development” to allow further increase in the size of extensions to properties as part of their policy to improve /increase housing. Many Councils have expressed concerns describing the PD Policy as a planning disaster often causing conflict between neighbours resulting in unsuitable developments over which the Councils have little control. Even more concerning is the lack of protection for the individual through any suitable complaints procedure. Recent experience shows that any so called “Complaints Processes” are ineffective and biased and can only assess following of procedures not change of decisions.
I have recently held several meetings with the E/A to discuss implementation of refusal for permitted development rights under Article 4 to ensure compliance with the legal responsibility of landowners not to impede the flow of flood water as this is a criminal offence under Common Law. Unless this is implemented then building on the floodplain will continue unabated.
As a result of conflict of interest I proposed to close down CFG. However the E/A wished to continue working together especially as a new submission for flood defence funding for the Village is proposed for August/September 2019. Having spent 21 years campaigning for improvements in Nether Heyford I feel its time to step back and invite anyone interested in flooding issues to contact me so that the future of the Village can be secured.