Home » News/Views » Flooding – protection works

Flooding – protection works

23 January 2024

Army reservists helping Berkshire firefighters to dam a breach in the Kennet canal. But that’s no replacement for better flood defences and more firefighters. Photo Cpl Richard Cave LBPPA © Crown copyright 2014.

More than 2,000 homes across Britain have been flooded this winter. Vital road and rail links were severed after a succession of storms brought very heavy and prolonged rainfall. And many places lost power too.

But while rainfall at the end of 2023 was greater than average in places, government mismanagement of flood protection is an avoidable problem. The prime minister Rishi Sunak and his ministers seem to be ignoring a recent National Audit Office report that the government is failing to deliver better flood protection.

Not maintained

The government does not have the data necessary to determine whether or not it is making Britain more resilient to flooding, and existing flood defences are not being adequately maintained.

There was very serious flooding in the East Midlands this month. Nottinghamshire County Council declared a major incident after the River Trent reached record levels and several villages were cut off.


A relatively dry winter last year may have brought about complacency, but the problem of poor flood protection goes back a long way, as the NAO has pointed out. The tendency to blame global climate change, with the implication that nothing can be done, also leads to inaction.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have been campaigning for years for adequate resources to deal with floods. They know what a difference this would make. And they have called for urgent resources for the fire service in the wake of the recent flooding, where firefighters carried out numerous rescues and evacuations.


Citing more than a decade of cuts to fire services with one in five firefighter jobs lost since 2010, the FBU demanded that the government adequately fund the fire service for flood response, so that firefighters have the resources they need to keep the public safe.

Fire services in the East Midlands were said by the FBU to be “stretched dangerously thin…piling immense pressure on our dedicated firefighters to respond without adequate resources.” Firefighters and resources from the West Midlands had to be brought in to supplement local crews.


Flooding may be a fact of life. But how flood defences and water resources are managed makes a significant difference to the degree of damage inflicted on homes and workplaces. And that takes political decisions and committed funding, so far lacking.

On 22 January Labour leader and would-be prime minister Keir Starmer declared that a Labour government would “get ahead of the storm and put resilience in place first.” Although this does at least recognise the need for flood preparation, typically it lacks detail. The FBU and their Firefighters Manifesto launched in November would be able to help him with that.