When the flood waters have receded some images will linger, Lord Smith of the Environment Agency, standing in muddy water, hanging his head after a haranguing from an angry farmer, the tenacious Mr Notaro’s £1,000,000 house guarded by a five foot high earth bank and an array of diggers, the rail line at Dawlish dangling in mid air, while above the houses clung to the rock face above the line. Also, there are the sad stories, Somerset farmers forced to sell their cattle to move them away from flooded farms and who are surely facing financial ruin, the Dawlish father in tears saying that the force of the sea was like an earthquake. There has been criticism of the Environment Agency for not dredging the rivers in the Levels, for failing to bring help quickly enough, or simply for ‘letting it happen’. In the Commons the politicians have been playing the blame game and scoring party political points, promises made to make money available, and many MPs seen wading through water to show they care.
Anyone arriving from outer space might conclude that we were ill prepared for these floods, that we need someone to blame, to sack, and all would be well afterwards. But it is worth remembering that after the unprecedented 2007 floods (now surpassed!) that the Pitt Report – ‘learning the lessons from the 2007 floods’ spawned new agencies, initiatives, planning policies and reports, Defra issued the National Flood Emergency Framework for England, the National Audit Office published a report on flood risk management in England in 2011 and as recently as October 2013, the Framework was revised. The weather has just got worse, although not unprecedented, 145 years ago the same thing happened to the rail line at Dawlish.
To help clients buying property, we recommend flood searches, even where the property is away from coasts and rivers, to check for surface water flooding and if in doubt, reports should be reviewed by a surveyor specialising in flood risk, insurance should be sought well before exchange, because the insurers’ attitude to flood risk can be very informative as part of the legal investigation for the property. In commercial leases we are amending leases so that tenants are not obliged to undertake repairs due to flood (and other uninsured risks) and enabling tenant’s to determine leases which are not back in use within a reasonable time after a flood.
One very relieved client called me while I had my feet up watching a re-run of the fabulously funny Ever Decreasing Circles, ‘thank goodness I didn’t get that property at Torcross, she said, it was inundated by the sea, she paused -‘but I’d still pay £100,000 for it – as a beach hut’ so the lure of the waterside property is still alive and well despite everything – but the price much reduced!
Partner, Head of Business Services
Tel: 01752 292354