From the very first proposals back in June 2018, the EA appears to have considered only heavy engineering options, i.e. a combination of deep-foundation walls and embankments and, later, the addition of a wide channel through the southern parts of Christchurch Meadow and Hills Meadow. Natural flood management combined with property-level resilience has never been seriously explored as a possible alternative. CABFAS questions this one-dimensional approach and is concerned that the scheme as proposed would cause significant damage to the local environment and a likely increase in the risk of flooding for communities outside and downstream of the scheme (which in itself would mean the project cannot go ahead, under the EA’s own rules – quite apart from the fact that the proposals are not currently fully funded).
Property-level resilience in combination with other methods of managing flood risk may be more cost-effective and less environmentally damaging. The head of the EA has said that ‘more natural methods will be needed to manage flood water like planting trees to retain water when it rains, restoring artificially straightened rivers to their natural curves to slow the flow of water, making space on land for water to collect there rather than flood communities, creating wetland habitats that hold water and enhance biodiversity’ (https://tinyurl.com/uo5u4a7). This may or may not be feasible in and around Reading but, at the very least, the EA should demonstrate that it has seriously investigated and costed these options.
From the outset, CABFAS has also challenged the EA to provide more and much clearer information on what they’re proposing so the local community can make an informed decision on whether they support the scheme or not. We’ve had an ongoing dialogue with the EA, and more localised groups (e.g. Heron Island Residents Association, Mill Green Residents and others) have also had separate meetings with EA representatives about issues specific to their locality.
We sympathise with concerns about flooding and recognise that some form of protection will sooner or later become necessary for many properties in this area. Most of those of us involved in cabfas would be directly affected by a bigger flood if nothing is put in place to alleviate flooding in some way or increase property resilience.
While CABFAS has not outlined ‘pro-active measures’ (after all, most of us are not technical experts in flood management), we do raise what we believe to be relevant questions and concerns about the scheme as proposed, and challenge the EA to consider other options. We feel it is up to the EA to demonstrate convincingly that a heavy-engineering scheme is the only way to protect Caversham, doesn’t pose a risk downstream and is both supported by the local community and fully funded.