It is now clear that the huge amount of house building on the countryside carries with it a heavy price. It has been a contributory factor to the risk of flooding. John Prescott's determination to force an acceleration of house building on green fields across the country can only make the problem worse. The time has come to stop building on our green fields and to concentrate on the major challenge of reviving our inner cities instead. Nature is telling us that enough is enough.
"The writing has been on the wall for two and a half years now - since the serious floods of Easter 1998. We have been too complacent for too long. Fundamental rethinking is needed on our planning and development policies and on flood defences. The Government can no longer assume that floods are just a once in a century event.
We need urgent measures to help deal with the increasingly variable weather patterns. Hence, we are outlining today a series of practical proposals to help ensure that the misery and suffering we are witnessing today is not repeated.
New Planning Guidance
"We will lend our cross-party support to new national planning guidance for development on flood plains (PPG25). Incredibly, it has been in draft consultation for two years - it is time for it to be issued. And the Government should look again at some of the green field developments it has encouraged in river valleys: for instance in Hertfordshire, the Nene Valley and Ashford, to ensure that if they have to proceed, adequate drainage is built into the development.
End the centralised planning system
"Green field development undermines the natural ability of land and rivers to absorb excess rainwater. The Government is using the centralised planning system to force local authorities, in the South East and South West, to build new houses; yet they are not needed for the local population, there is no provision for adequate flood infrastructure, and local councils and the Environment Agency have warned against some of it. We are therefore calling today on the Government to suspend its central and regional diktats on house building, whilst a full enquiry takes place on the effect on the environment and flood risk.
Clarify Accountability for Flood Prevention
"Many believe a much clearer line of responsibility for preventing floods is needed. The Agriculture Select Committee in 1998 noted that responsibility for flood prevention is currently too fragmented between local authorities, internal drainage boards, MAFF and the Environment Agency. Therefore we an immediate review is needed to clarify responsibilities and to provide the Environment Agency with the powers and resources it needs to achieve a step change in our level of preparedness.
"John Prescott has said that the floods should provide a wakeup call to the whole country. He is right - but that includes the Government as well. We have many excellent house building companies who can lead the process of reviving our inner cities. They need to be given the means to deliver.