Greenwich Underwater?

Jonny asks an interesting question. I’m no expert on this, and I would appreciate chippings-in…

He says:

I am thinking of buying a house off the Woolwich Road in East Greenwich – but it is said to be located within 250 metres of a flood plain. While this is no great surprise given the proximity of the river…it has made me slightly worried given concerns over the current state of the flood defences and the perceived need to upgrade the Thames flood barrier. I understand the barrier is regularly in use these days, more than ever before. The devastation caused by the summer floods in other parts of the country has also given me pause for thought! On the other hand, I understand there haven’t been any floods in London since 1953 – but I believe the Blackwall tunnel and parts of Greenwich were affected by historic floods. Am I worrying unduly? Are there any parts of Greenwich not within a flood plain? Would appreciate any advice you may have.

The Phantom replies:

Have you been watching Flood by any chance? Or perhaps just been walking along the Thames Path outside Trinity Hospital and been a bit alarmed by the measure-markings on the wall…

I think we’re pretty much all “within 250 metres of a flood plain,” even if we’re uphill, here in Greenwich – though I stand to be corrected by residents of Royal or Crooms Hills. I suspect it’s a bit of a catch-all phrase that the Environment Agency uses to cover itself. But this is something worth considering even if only for insurance purposes. Let’s face it, there are flats in Woolwich already being built on stilts – though, of course, they are the other side of the barrier.

You don’t say which side of Woolwich Road you are considering. Pretty much all the roads south of it are uphill, so obviously the further up you are, the less likely you are to be drownded, though it may feel a bit close for comfort and you may not want to keep your dried-flower collection in your cellar if you’re near the bottom. Even north of the road, the land is on a slight gradient. And remember – if we’re underwater, the chances are that The Houses of Parliament will be as well – and by that point I suspect a national emergency will have been announced and Robert Carlyle will have to get heroic.

It would be interesting to know what kind of ground floor the new flats in Lovell’s Wharf will be getting – and perhaps indicative of what the developers are expecting (unless they’re going for the quick-sale option and don’t give a damn, in which case the government should…) Certainly I don’t see much panic in the streets around – a couple of years ago I noticed a planning application to dig out a basement in Ballast Quay – understandable, given the size of the buildings there, but a brave move IMHO. I have no idea whether it was ever allowed – but they must have been pretty confident they could keep water under control to have made such a leap of faith.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Blackwall Tunnel having had the occasional inundation – it’s underneath the Thames even at low tide. ;-)

It’s true that the Thames Barrier sees quite a bit of action these days, and yes, it does need updating at some point in the future. But it’s still doing a great job – if the barrier fails, it won’t be because it’s broken. I would guess the water is far more likely to flood the poor folk downstream – newly moved into John Prescott’s brainwave of an idea, the Thames Corridor, or as I prefer to call it, The Thames Ghetto. Did his geography teacher not explain why marsh land is, well, marsh land? Given that the Peninsula used to be called Bugsby’s Marshes, we might worry a little about that area too, but I’ve not heard much about it being a potential blackspot (though I guess they wouldn’t go on about it, given the amount of building they plan on doing there…)

If you’re really worried, why not try making a few trial applications for insurance? My guess is they’ll be far more worried about fire and theft than flood…

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