THOUSANDS of families could see their homes flooded because the Government is failing to carry out proper risk assessments, a country group has claimed.
The Countryside Alliance is warning of a “ticking timebomb” of uninsurable homes because of houses built in areas that are likely to flood. Figures obtained by the Alliance show that thousands of new homes in the North East are planned for construction on flood plains or in places where there is a risk of flood.
The Alliance claims that of the region’s planned new homes, at least 5,213 are to be built in flood risk areas.
The districts with homes planned in flood risk areas include Blyth Valley, with 1,492 at risk, Gateshead, with 2,221 at risk, and Sunderland with 1,500 at risk.
The Government changed planning policy rules in 2006 to make sure that flood risk is taken into account at all stages in the planning process.
But there are still thousands of planned developments from before the change that could be built in risk areas, the Alliance says. Richard Dodd, Northern regional director of the Countryside Alliance, said: “There is no point addressing the problem of affordable housing by building houses that are unsustainable because of flooding.
“Climate change and the increasing frequency of major flooding incidents have led the Government to address the risk of flooding for new development through the planning process.
“This does not, however, address the legacy of development proposed before the new policy. The Government needs to carry out a full audit of housing proposed for flood risk areas and assess the plans with the new policy.
“Allowing inappropriate development in flood risk areas is wrong whenever the decision was made.
“The alternative is a time-bomb of thousands of uninsurable homes in the North East under constant risk of flooding.”
The Alliance obtained figures from local authorities in the region under the Freedom of Information Act.
All the other councils showed no planned homes at risk, although Berwick Borough Council and Castle Morpeth Council did not respond to the request, while Alnwick District Council said it did not know how many planned homes were at risk. A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said last night: “It is councils which take decisions on individual developments but we have put in place the toughest ever planning rules.
“For the first time all councils must now consult the Environment Agency (EA) on their housing plans to ensure all new homes are safe from flooding and properly sustainable for the future.
“We have also made it clear the Government is prepared to take over decisions if any councils persist with plans against the Environment Agency’s advice.” Stuart Timmiss, head of planning and environmental strategy at Gateshead Council, said: “All the sites in Gateshead have been allocated through the Unitary Development Plan process which considers all aspects, including flood risk.
“All are previously developed sites. There are also sites included which have not been promoted by Gateshead Council and which have only been won through the appeal process. The figure for Gateshead identifies the numbers of houses to be built on sites which are within the flood plain – but in most cases only part of the site is actually affected and therefore the total of houses is much smaller than reported.”
LAST summer saw some of the worst flooding the region has ever seen, with many families having to leave their homes as a result of heavy rain.
In one incident several elderly people had to be rescued from homes in sheltered accommodation in The Mart, Haltwhistle, after it flooded following torrential rain.
Residents spoke of water coming into houses like a "tidal wave".
The Journal also reported how families in Ongar Way, Longbenton North Tyneside were hit by thousands of pounds worth of damage to their homes and cars by flash floods. Damage was also caused to dozens of other homes across Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear.
Numbers at risk
TABLE of councils in the region contacted by Countryside Alliance and the numbers they returned:
Berwick Council: Did not respond to request for figures
Castle Morpeth Council: Did not respond
Blyth Valley: 1,492 at risk
Tynedale: 0 at risk
North Tyneside: 0 at risk
South Tyneside: 0 at risk
Gateshead: 2,221 at risk
Alnwick: Did not know how many were at risk
Easington: 0 at risk
Chester Le Street: 0 at risk
Sunderland: 1,500 at risk
Wear Valley: 0 at risk
A COUNTRYSIDE campaign group said the exodus of young families from the cities to find housing they can afford was putting "immense pressure" on more rural areas.
A report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) suggests that more and more people are moving from the cities into areas where housing is cheaper. Steve Whitbread from the CPRE said: "This puts even greater strain on the countryside for new housing, on transport infrastructure, with so many having to commute into towns to work, and on family life." The report recommends provision of high quality, reasonably priced housing, with the possibility of shared ownership, in urban areas.