Friday, July 27, 2007

Think before you build

Guardian (Comment is Free): By definition, flood plains flood. Which is why it has never been a particularly good idea to build houses on them. But, when push comes to tidal shove, we do know how to build on or above water, or on land that at certain times of year is transformed into lakes by heavy rain.

…we know that building too many new homes on great tracts of land in an ever-increasing sprawl is a silly thing to do. And yet it seems we simply cannot stop ourselves, despite all the warnings from Yorkshire and Gloucestershire. Build, build, build is the mind-numbing political mantra of today. Three million new homes must be built by 2020, many of them in floodplains along the Thames and elsewhere in low-lying parts of southern England. Call them "eco-homes" (stick a wind turbine on the roof) designed for "eco-towns" (all traditional settlements used to be "eco-towns" without having to crow about the fact), trust that technology will keep floods at bay, and we will all sleep sound and dry.

I would, however, firmly advise anyone unfortunate enough to live in any of these new homes to invest in buckets, boats and thigh-high waders. Why? Because the evidence of our eyes alone tells us that new housing is being raced along contrary to every concern raised about long-term changes in our weather.

…In any case, sprawling new estates are a part of the very problem of global warming. Most are dormitory suburbs, offering few jobs within walking distance. Few are served with schools, nurseries, clinics or proper shops. Here the car is king. These gormless, supermarket-bound developments are gas guzzlers, contributors to global warming, yet useless when the floods invade their artless cul-de-sacs.

What we need to build are true eco-towns, in other words, modern versions of traditional settlements. Instead of seemingly inevitable sprawl, we could yet build just a very few new towns, preferably on high ground, each a compact and delightful cluster of homes, businesses, places of worship, areas to relax.

And, if we insist on building on flood plains, because these offer cheap land, then we must use our imagination to design new towns - just a few - that could stand happily with their foundations in water, but with homes well above it. We need to think before we build, build, build. More of the same sprawling junk that we have become accustomed to will lead only to floods. And tears.

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