Prompted by various tweets, not least this one:
Erm, you chose to buy house on flood plains and its the Governments fault?
— Billy Bowden (@Ontablets) February 11, 2014
I’ve been thinking about the floods that have blighted many parts of the south and south-west of England.
Whose fault it it? Well, I think it’s the government’s fault. A combination of incompetence and misdirected funding seems to be at the bottom of it all.
But what about the householders? As Billy points out above, these people moved into a flood plain, so what do they expect?
Well there are a number of things here, particularly with respect to the floods in Berkshire, along the Thames.
1) There is massive pressure on housing in the south*. The ratio of earnings to house-prices has gone utterly crazy due to various factors, but not least planning laws. Successive governments – with their stranglehold on planning, and the revenue benefits they gained from an overheated property market – failed to enable sufficient levels of house-building. While some may claim that the government did everything they could, they actually tied developers up in masses of costly red-tape relating to a chimera of sustainability, environmentalism, conservation and allocations of ‘affordable’ and ‘key worker’ properties. The fall out of the banking crisis (unwittingly architected by the government) caused credit problems for buyers and builders alike, which also stalled things.
2) Where a property is on a flood plain, there clearly is some risk from flooding, and it’s reasonable to suppose that information is priced in. I.e. an equivalent property in a place not at risk of floods would be more expensive. This prices those people not at the top-end of the salary scale out of the market for ‘safe’ properties, and makes the riskier propositions their only option. While it’s true that some buyers may not consider the risk, or may ignore it, the fact is the information is in the price, and the price is the indicator to which the buyer responds.
3) There are many activities that are no business of the state. Nevertheless, the state in the UK sticks its nose into many of them. Equally, if the state is to exist at all, its core obligations are those are national defence, and protection of common property and infrastructure. As above, the state circumscribes the places where property can be built. It therefore mandatorily relieves individuals and businesses of the right to make those decisions freely and therefore from taking responsibility for the consequences. Ultimately, it is the state who has granted planning permission to build on flood plains so the obligation on the state is to do everything reasonable to ensure those pieces of land are fit for purpose now and in the future.
So in effect, while the state cannot be held responsible for the weather, it can be responsible for creating a situation where thousands of homes are on flood plains, and the inhabitants have little choice but to live where they can best afford to, considering income and the need to be proximate to employment, services, transport links, family etc. It can also be held responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to protect those compelled to live is places at risk from flooding.
Tempting as it is for the lazy intellect, it’s decidedly unfair to reduce the problem to one of “you moved to a flood plain, WTF did you expect? *no sympathy*”
It is FAR more reasonable to reduce the problem to one of “The government should have done more to provide suitable infrastructure and maintenance to protect the land it zoned for development, and importantly the money should have come from not doing something else that is a lower priority (or none of its damned business).”
It is, again, the state that has failed here. No point blaming the rats trapped in the sinking ship.
*I’m not touching on immigration here, but population density and demand for property are clearly influenced by this as well.