One Hundred Thousand Homes at Risk: England Brought to Its Knees by Floods

Storm Henk has damaged large infrastructures such as railways, bridges, roads, and numerous farms

Approximately 110,000 new homes built in England in the last decade are now affected by floods. The latest assessment of the dramatic effects of heavy rains in recent weeks reveals the infrastructural vulnerability of the United Kingdom, not only concerning old constructions but also in relation to recent developments.

From 2014 to the present, 1.4 million new homes have been built in England. Of these, one in 13 (about 110,000) is damaged by floods. This data offers a dual interpretation: on one hand, the violence with which disturbances resulting from climate change have struck the island in recent weeks, and on the other hand, the fragility of the building and infrastructural heritage, starting from the most recent constructions.

The analysis was conducted by the insurance giant Aviva, which states that in many areas of the country, there is at least a one in a hundred chance of river or even sea water flooding each year. Jason Storah, CEO of Aviva for the UK and Ireland, commented to the English press, “In the last decade, 110,000 new homes have been built in flood-prone areas, exposing hundreds of thousands of owners to real risk.”

“It’s concerning that almost 110,000 new homes have been built in the last decade in a flood zone, leaving thousands of homeowners and tenants at risk.”

This news has reopened the debate in England, where, even in these days, rains are severely affecting various regions of the island, prompting the government to consider new investments to secure the country’s infrastructure.

Effects of Storm Henk: the English government takes action

Not only homes are affected. In the last month, Storm Henk (as it was named) has hit England hard, damaging large infrastructures such as railways, bridges, roads, and numerous farms. The fact that many English regions were at risk is not new: in 2021, the Environment Agency had developed a plan to safeguard infrastructure and homes from flood risks. That plan was supposed to cover a timeframe until 2027, but it is now evident that there is a need for further intervention with investments and projects. The UK government has allocated £5.2 billion to strengthen the country’s infrastructural defenses against the impact of floods.

New interventions will particularly focus on protecting farms, homes in risk areas, and strategic infrastructure such as railways.

The key issue is the construction of water barriers capable of protecting both homes and strategic infrastructure. According to the Public Accounts Committee, at least 203,000 homes are at risk due to the inadequacy of infrastructural barriers. Hence the need to build new infrastructure, as was done several years ago on the Thames outside London. The Thames Barrier was completed in 1982, securing both ends of the Thames, north in the Newham district and south in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Before the construction of this infrastructure, London was historically prone to floods, with the last major one occurring in 1953, causing severe damage to the city. The construction of the Thames Barrier has permanently secured the capital.

Impact on railway transport

One of the infrastructures most affected by recent floods is the railway system. On December 30th, the image of Paris‘s Gare du Nord crowded due to Eurostar train cancellations that were supposed to cross the Channel to reach London made headlines worldwide. The issue was in England, where a tunnel near London was closed due to floods, forcing the cancellation of over a dozen trains.

As a result, construction sites have been activated in recent months in various parts of the country to protect railway infrastructure. For example, construction is underway on the Leeds to Shipley and Bradford line, severely affected by floods, where a 1.4-kilometer flood defense system is being built to prevent river overflow near the railway.

Significant damage and service disruptions have also been recorded on lines serving other major cities in the UK, such as Newcastle and Edinburgh. Hence, the government’s decision to formulate an immediate response to the effects of climate change. This response aims to protect both the country’s infrastructure and the English citizens, who in many regions have developed a profound sense of insecurity.