The summer 2007 floods
1. England is accustomed to wet weather. But the
floods that occurred across several areas of the country in June
and then July 2007 shocked the nation. The geographical scope
of the floods, and the physical and economic damage they caused,
were on a scale not seen for sixty years. They occurred, unusually,
in the summer rather than the winter. Some of the places they
affected had not been thought to be at special risk from flooding
and were therefore not well prepared.
2. The human effect was very distressing: thirteen
people lost their lives; thousands of people lost their power,
their water supply or both; and 44,600 homes were flooded.
Nine months later, the misery continues for the thousands of people
who have still not been able to return to their homes. The economic
impact was also very severe: at least £3 billion worth of
damage was caused, and 7,100 businesses were flooded.
Those affected, and many others, now suffer the worry that such
damaging floods could happen again.
3. Two separate major flooding events occurred during
the summer: one in late June, the other in late July. The June
floods primarily affected parts of Yorkshire and the Humber, Derbyshire,
Lincolnshire and Worcestershire, after a deep and slow-moving
area of low pressure brought prolonged heavy rain on 24-25 June.
Up to 111mm (4½") of rainfall fell, with some places
receiving over four times the average monthly rainfall.
Urban northern cities Hull and Sheffield were particularly badly
affected. A 'one in 150 year' rainfall event in Hull overwhelmed
the city's pumped drainage and sewerage system, resulting in over
7,000 houses, 90 local schools, and dozens of businesses being
flooded. In the Sheffield
area, about 2,200 homes and businesses were flooded, and 40,000
people lost power in the South Yorkshire region after an electricity
sub-station was shut down.
Sheffield city was effectively divided in half by floodwater,
along a corridor some 23km in length.
4. The second flooding event occurred a month later
in central England, particularly the counties of Worcestershire,
Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire
and Berkshire. On 19-20 July, a slow-moving depression centred
over south-east England, and moved gradually northwards. Up to
157mm (6") of rain fell in 48 hours, with some places receiving
nearly six times the average monthly rainfall.
About 7,000 homes and businesses were flooded in Gloucestershire,
and a further 5,700 properties in the Thames Valley area.
350,000 people across the Gloucestershire area lost mains watersome
for up to 17 daysfollowing the flooding of the Mythe water
treatment works at Tewkesbury.
The local water company, assisted by the armed services, had to
provide water through bottles and bowsers to numerous locations
across the county. Several local electricity substations were
also affected: over 40,000 properties in the area lost power,
including at Castle Meads and Tewkesbury.
A major National Grid switching station at Walham, Gloucester,
was under threat, which could have resulted in 500,000 people
losing their supply.
The armed services were called in to prevent the station from
flooding by erecting a temporary barrier around the site.
5. The summer 2007 flooding was unusual because it
was predominantly caused by surface water flooding. Many major
English floods in the past have been river floods, such as in
1947, or coastal floods, such as in 1953.
About two thirds of the summer 2007 flooding was caused by surface
water flooding. In
northern England the situation was more extreme with 95% of the
flooding in Hull coming from surface water flooding, and Sheffield
experiencing a combination of river and surface water flooding.
6. Surface water flooding occurs when a high volume
of rainfall falls on an area in a short time but it is unable
to drain away effectively. It is a particular problem in urban
areas, where much of the land is impermeable. Surface water flooding
often happens quickly and is difficult to predict because it is
dependent on the particular features of certain streets, drains,
and the topography of urban areas. It is expected to become a
more common type of flooding event than we have seen in the pastpartly
because more land has been paved over with impermeable materials
and also because of the more intense rainfall expected as a result
of climate change.
7. After the first set of floods, the Secretary of
State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon Hilary
Benn MP, announced that an independent 'lessons learned' review
would be held to look at how the floods were managed and responded
to by the Environment Agency, local authorities, the emergency
services, and others.
The review also aimed to establish why the flooding was so extensive
and whether the scale and impact of the flooding could have been
predicted, prevented or mitigated. Sir Michael Pitt, chair of
the South West Strategic Health Authority, was appointed to head
8. In July 2007, we decided to hold an inquiry into
the 2007 floods and the Government's response to them. Our work
was intended to contribute to the recently-announced Pitt Review.
The inquiry sparked an unprecedented level of interest, with 187
written memoranda submitted from various interested parties, including
many members of the public and MPs whose constituencies had been
affected by the summer's flooding (see box below). Our Chairman,
the Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, also appeared on the radio programme
You & Yours on 22 January 2008 to discuss flooding-related
issues with callers to the show. The programme received 101 emails
and 79 calls and texts.