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Is the ODPM burying its head in the flood plains over Thames Gateway?

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For an industry that purports to take its environmental and public responsibilities seriously, the construction world is remarkably sanguine about the fact that a substantial proportion of Prescott's Thames Gateway housing is to be built on a flood plain (AJenda, p18).Among the very few words of warning that have been uttered, perhaps the most telling are those of civil engineer Sarah Lavery, who has stated that 'it seems to us that in the future it is going to be impossible to protect these houses'. Lavery is not a maverick alarmist but the Environment Agency civil engineer heading up the team charged with designing the next generation of Thames flood defences. It's her job to protect those houses. And she doesn't think it can be done.

The ODPM's response to such fears is a sketchy damage limitation strategy, including placing power outlets above the flood line and avoiding the use of carpets - both of which are recommended in PPG 25.

(The independent National Flood Forum offers additional tips for those at risk, such as 'make plans for family pets'and 'in the same way as expectant mothers are encouraged to 'pack a bag'consider packing a 'flood bag' including a torch, a battery operated radio, etc'. ) The psychological effect of being permanently prepared for flight is, presumably, an acceptable price to pay for living in a spanking new home.

Clearly, the ODPM has little time for the views of its sister organisation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which aims to 'reduce risks to people, property and the environment from floodingà through discouragement of further development of the flood plain'. It has, however, issued an explicit invitation for the views of the construction industry by establishing a Sustainable Housing Task Group to establish targets and performance indicators to ensure that the new Thames Gateway houses have ecological credentials appropriate to the 21st century (People, p22-23). It will be interesting to see whether the group will have sufficient independence, and courage, to point out the most obvious and dangerous of ecological blunders - that much of the proposed development is simply in the wrong place.

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