Posted by: waterworks | February 10, 2008

19. Environment Agency versus Newbuild

In the UK, newbuild (an Orwellian word meaning – not surprisingly – “new building”)  is urgently needed.   Reasons for the current housing shortfall are legion but key factors include a growing population of divorcees and students all requiring dedicated housing – not to mention the burgeoning stock of frail grannies waiting home alone for their telegraph from the Queen while still in single occupancy of large family homes.  New housing is needed in all towns and cities on account of the social changes now taking place in Britain – and not just in those areas where Polish migrants have recently arrived in large numbers (many of whom live in such criminally crowded conditions that it puts little pressure on the local housing market in any case).  As far back as 1996 – some eight years prior to Poland’s accession to the EU – the UK government forecast that 4.4 million new homes would be needed by 2016 to accommodate divorcees, students and grannies.

As a result local councils have for several years now been largely sympathetic to new planning applications that might help them meet their own local housing targets.  And plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: there is nothing people enjoy more than relocating to an active flood plain or the sea-side.  These remain the most favoured – and profitable – sites for developers.  Yet newbuild in such locations both faces and accentuates flood risk.  The UK Environment Agency (EA) is charged with identifying and objecting to any especially high-risk new building proposals – which seems eminently sensible in an era of potentially serious sea-level rises and increased storm severity.  What is less sensible is the fact that, under UK law, local councils are obliged to read EA planning objections but not to act on them.  As a result, several substantial developments that the EA has objected to in recent months are, in fact, now going ahead.  Will the insurance industry actually provide cover for such developments?  Will mortgage lenders really give money to potential buyers?  Time will be most telling.

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