How do you solve a problem like London?

Tim Young, Partner at John Rowan and Partners thinks he may have the solution… The past month has seen billions wiped off the value of the UK’s largest house builders and property funds. This is not only bad for the UK economy but calls into question just how we will continue to tackle London’s housing shortage. On top of this, London has been badly affected by flooding, with only just last month, thousands of commuters trying to vote in the EU referendum affected by severe transport delays caused by torrential rain and flooding in London.

In fact, a recent report commissioned after Hurricane Sandy swamped the metro in New York City in 2012, has shown that eighty-five sites on the London Underground are at a high risk of flooding. The report says it is “only a matter of time” before serious flooding strikes – with the most threatened some of the capital’s busiest stations, including Waterloo, King’s Cross and London Bridge.

So is it time to think differently?
It is worth noting that a single good idea is good, linking two good ideas is great, but when three ideas can be linked the benefit is expediential.

The Thames barrier has London covered from tidal flooding downstream – but in order to solve the issue of London’s future flooding issues we also need to look upstream. Successful ‘upstream’ flood defence projects, such as the natural flood management scheme delivered in Pickering, North Yorkshire, show that the reduction of flow upstream can greatly alleviate flooding downstream. To this extent, reducing the flow of the Thames’ tributary valleys by using them as temporary reservoirs could allow billions of cubic metres of water to be stored and London to be saved.

How do you achieve this in an environmentally sensitive way?
This could only be achieved through major investment in green infrastructure. One idea could be the creation of a sympathetically designed railway line. The line would follow the Thames and create cuttings through the tributary valley ridges and embankments in the valleys, which would incorporate the ability to hold back the flow in peak weather events and temporarily retain the flood water.

But how would this be paid for?
Major infrastructure requires major funding. However, the Government could look to purchase the land at arable land values and legislate a relaxation to the planning rules. This would allow residential developments to be created on the tributary ridges and the higher surrounding ground. The Government could then receive the benefit of securing planning – potentially a 100 times increase. Not only could this approach alleviate London’s flood risk but it could also create a new rail link to London, while solving the housing crisis in the South!

Admittedly the above would best be achieved by a benevolent dictator, but in the absence of one, May this be the time for a new approach?