The extent of the damage from last week’s ‘biblical style’ flooding
that swept through parts of northern England
, north-west Wales
and western Scotland
, is now very apparent to all.
It will undoubtedly cause millions of pounds worth of damage to businesses
and unmeasurable emotional stress to business owners, staff and customers, with many businesses forced to close temporarily or permanently if damage has made them structurally unsound and they are not insured.
With Cumbria the worst-affected region, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced Monday the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) has pledged up to £1 million for small businesses affected by the flooding.
Businesses will have to deal with juggling the double clean-up involved with the homes of staff and the business property. Staff may be unable to come to work because of the need to make safe their own properties, coordinate insurance claims on and find alternative accommodation. Some will have to look after children as many schools are closed.
In Cumbria – where 317mm of rain fell in Seathwaite, the highest daily rainfall since records began – Cumbria County Council structural engineers and the military have been assessing damage to key bridges in the county in an attempt to keep roads open. But some bridges also carry water and power services and, with several severe flood warnings
still in place, there are fears that these could go down with any further bridge failures.
With cars, roads and bridges damaged in the floods
, mobility for everyone is restricted and people are struggling to return to work.
In Cumbria, those who were able to travel to work at the start of the week after the floods, found that with 25 bridges closed and several roads unusable their usual journeys of just a few minutes were extended by hours. But many businesses have been so devastated by the force of the floods that they will not be back in business for months, if not longer.
Michael Dunn, manager of the Bitter End pub in Cockermouth, where flood defences built only four years ago were destroyed, told The Telegraph: "This is a tourist town as well so it will hit very hard. It has devastated the town. There are a lot of properties in Main Street, private shops, that have had their windows smashed in by the force of the water and by debris in the water.”
Residents in Workington, which was cut in two by the collapse of Northside bridge and the Calva bridge being closed, spoke of being unable to buy essentials such as milk, bread and baby food. “I could see Marks and Spencer on the other side of the river, but I can only get there now by a 40-mile round trip,” said one.
Suppliers are also finding it hard to reach many businesses
which means that trade is further curtailed, and essentials such as food and domestic supplies for some shops and supermarkets can’t be delivered, with the consequent stress on communities.
Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, who visited Cockermouth last Friday, referred to the floods as “a once in a thousand year event”, although many locals and experts have questioned the accuracy of this claim. As the impacts of climate change become more frequent, it is likely that dramatic disturbances in weather like this will become common. “It’s not once in a thousand years is it?” said one local engineer on Radio 4 at the peak of the downpour. “It happened in 2007 and I bet we’re going to see flooding happen again here in less than 1000 years.”
David Balmforth, a flooding expert at the Institution of Civil Engineers, says deluges on a similar scale will become more frequent as a result of climate change. “The events of the last few days yet again illustrates that flooding remains a very real risk across the UK. Climate change means that is only going to get worse. We cannot hope to defend ourselves from flooding on this scale. Instead we need to make our communities much more resilient to flooding and this must be placed at the heart of the way we plan, design and build our towns and villages.”
In a strange quirk of timeliness, the Queen announced new flood protection legislation
in her Queen’s Speech in parliament on Thursday as the extent of the floods was becoming apparent. Her Majesty stated that: "Legislation will be introduced to protect communities from flooding and to ensure the security of water suppliers,” and referring to the new Flood and Water Management Bill, which is designed to improve the UK's resilience to floods.
Specialists in environmental management, engineering and the insurance sector all welcomed the legislation. Granville Davies, principal engineer at Royal Haskoning, says the bill will enable local authorities to take the lead in local flood risk management in the UK and brings an essential EU directive into UK legislative frameworks.
“With 3.8 million properties in England alone at risk of surface water flooding, the bill will also facilitate essential surface water management planning activity,” says Mr Davies. “This will enable greater understanding of surface water flood risks, the identification of flood risk management assets, and improved collaboration between stakeholder groups to implement preventative measures.”
Meanwhile, flood claims are expected to be in the region of £50-100 million, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said. The ABI’s recent study ‘The Financial Risks of Climate Change’ reveals that average annual insured losses from river flooding and flash floods could rise by 14 per cent to £633 million if temperatures rise by four degrees C, which could happen as early as 2060.
Insurance companies are increasingly taking a leading role with research into strengthening flood defences. Leading international insurer RSA Insurance Group is working with WWF (WorldWide Fund for Nature) on developing a Thames River Restoration site to demonstrate how simple measures can decrease flood risk in an urban area. It is also working with the Government and construction industry looking at how flood protection can be incorporated into property design and where and how new properties should be built.
“All insurance companies are concerned about the impacts of climate change and want to minimise any impact,” says James Wallace, group head of Corporate Responsibility at RSA. “We felt it was important to do something on the ground and convey the importance of it. We are in no doubt of the impact of climate change due to the various models of predictions from the Met Office, the increased frequency of claims and the freak weather.”
Businesses that prepare for flooding will definitely be best placed for recovery. Preparation can save 20 to 90 per cent of the cost of lost stock and moveable equipment as well as making your insurance claim easier.
Business Link, the ABI and the Environment Agency all provide useful guidelines for businesses on how to prepare for and deal with flooding. The main messages are: make sure you have replacement contents insurance and building insurance that is for full re-building cost and includes a ‘business interruption policy’ to cover against loss of profit. Keeping your property well maintained all year round is also essential, and if you are flooded, make contact with your insurer as soon as possible, take photos of all the damage and don’t start making non-essential repairs until the damage is assessed. Useful links:
Business Link: www.businesslink.gov.uk
(and search for ‘floods’)
Business Link Northwest 0845 00 66 888
Business Link North Cornwall 0845 6009966 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Environment Agency www.environment-agency.gov.uk
The Association of British Insurers www.abi.org.uk