Posted by: waterworks | January 7, 2008

14. When TV causes floods

An Englishman’s home is his castle. And in poorly-drained parts of England, an Englishman’s neatly-paved garden – as popularised by ‘home makeover’ TV shows – often   becomes an over-flowing moat.     The trend to replace lawns (that can easily soak up rainfall or flood water) with paving and decking (which cannot) has undoubtedly raised property flood risk in urban areas.   In London, more than one fifth of the land area consists of private gardens. In previous decades, when the majority remained vegetated, these open spaces functioned as a vital valve during flood events (whether fluvial or pluvial).  Water would infiltrate the soil and drain away, rather than ponding in front of people’s houses and front doors.  According to the Royal Horticultural Society, an average suburban garden on a typical rainy day will absorb about 10 litres of rainwater a minute, representing around 10 per cent of the water that will fall in a storm.  The loss of this important water store in recent years now makes sewer failure far more likely.  

The social forces leading to loss of lawns are legion – ranging from household need for parking space to trends for minimalism in garden design, as popularised by TV broadcasters.  The recently-published Pitt Review (on the summer 2007 UK floods) described this fashion as a new form of “urban creep” and explained that: “The permitted development right is an aspect of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 which allows private individuals and property developers in certain circumstances to carry out works without planning permission. It covers small developments such as the paving of driveways or gardens and the erecting of garden sheds. The cumulative impact of permitted development on the drainage of surface water is significant and the Government has already announced its plans to look at this issue in its forthcoming Water Strategy. The Review welcomes this.”  The British public are, of course, rather less likely to welcome state intervention into the business of garden design and shed erection.



  1. […] of a popular fashion for paving and decking – thanks to a hydrologically disastrous decade of TV garden makeover shows championing all surfaces impermeable.  CFS is therefore promoting a fresh paradigm for landscape […]

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