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Author: Caroline Lockyer - Glenigan utilities sector expert

As the clear up operations, dredging and repairs get underway following the torrential rainfall that submerged much of the UK at the start of the year, the construction industry waits to hear how much public sector money is readily available for future flood protection.

Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a raft of measures to aid recovery of waterlogged areas in his Budget statement last month, including an extra £140million earmarked for storm victims, bringing the total committed on flood relief to £450 million.Newsletter Utilities April-14

But, while home owners, businesses and insurance companies count the cost of the water damage, how prepared is the government to back up Prime Minister David Cameron’s February pledge that money would be “no object” to dealing with the floods?

Output in the construction industry fell by 2.8% between January and March as the storms took a stranglehold on the nation, slowing recovery. However, as activity returns to healthy growth, an injection of government cash would provide a much needed boost to local and county councils.

It is not just rivers and waterways that would benefit from stronger defences, the UK’s coastline requires urgent protection as well – from seafronts and cliffs to promenades and beach huts. Prevention from another `battering’ is paramount and seafront defences are relatively easy to implement, with measures including rock armour, gabion walling and installing or enhancing the sea walling available.

The Environment Agency has proposed £256 million of engineering measures, to include three new flood diversion channels along the Thames between Datchet and Shepperton. This section has a large flat and wide floodplain with many open areas, making it suitable for this type of engineering works.

Further downstream, from Walton Bridge to Teddington, the floodplain becomes narrower and large diversion channels are not feasible. Here the strategy outlines how the impact of flooding can be managed better by community-based measures, which aim to protect individual properties or groups of properties.

Plans to increase the capacity of Sunbury, Molesey and Teddington weirs to transport water during a flood are also included within the draft strategy, alongside proposals to widen Desborough Cut by 3 to 4m on the southern bank between the river and the road. This would improve the flow of water, while still maintaining public access. A number of bridges, culverts and wiers would also be required to cross existing roads and railway lines.

The Environment Agency has enlisted the British Army to visually survey flood damaged areas and report back with findings. Areas of priority were shortlisted and works will, in due course, be carried out to this timetable, or by commonality to address the more needy areas. Dredging works have begun throughout the Home Counties to alleviate any further immediate risk to properties and river banks, with shoring up and reinforcement works also a priority.

Yet as the rainwater subsides, another costly issue has emerged.  The bill to repair roads damaged by the flooding is expected to run into the hundreds of millions, with councils to share in a £103.5 million fund to fix potholes and other dangers facing drivers. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin also announced a fund specifically targeting the worst hit areas would be raised by £36.5 million to £80 million.

With works set to continue well into the autumn and beyond, which funding areas are to increase in the Autumn Statement? Does the government have a contingency to cover the costs or will the taxpayer, once again, be expected to foot the bill?

However threatening the financial implications for the public sector, these storm clouds do have a silver lining. With the flooding subsiding and repair work spending increasing, it is expected to bring about a rise in monetary movement throughout the construction industry.

As the domestic and industrial-scale repairs pick up pace, money will continue to be redistributed across different sectors. The upshot, hopefully, will be an increase in economic stability for the whole industry.

For further information about environmental and energy issues within the construction industry, contact Caroline Lockyer, utilities sector expert at Glenigan, on 01202 786723.

What are your views on the government’s response to the flooding? Do you think enough has been done to protect communities from future bouts of extreme weather or are the promises simply a political smokescreen? Get involved with the debate on Glenigan’s social media channels via the icons at the top of the page.

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