Flash floods are growing worse, and homeowners who pave over their front gardens need to take their share of the blame.
A tide of concrete is being poured over the nation’s front gardens, and all for the sake of parking cars, putting out wheelie bins or avoiding gardening. The trouble comes when heavy showers send rainwater running off the hard surfaces and cascading down drains that can’t cope until they burst out in a flood.
It’s easy to blame water companies for the hopeless state of the drains, and the government is a brilliant scapegoat for any shoddy flood defences. But every garden paved over is another nail in the coffin of flood control, and a study in Leeds found that the paving of gardens there over 33 years led to a 12 per cent increase in rainwater run-off.
We seriously underrate how ordinary, domestic gardens help to protect against flooding thanks to plants, trees or open soil soaking up rainwater like a sponge.
The vanishing front garden is now a national crisis. Some five million are completely paved over, that’s one in four of the total. The rate of loss is staggering — in ten years, there was a three-fold increase in the number of paved gardens, a total of 15 square miles of extra hard surface. At this rate, the humble front garden risks becoming a quaint piece of nostalgia.
To add to the threat of flooding, rainfall is growing more intense. In the 1960s and 1970s truly big downpours happened about once every 125 days on average, whereas they now strike roughly once every 85 days. That’s no great surprise, because as the climate grows warmer, it carries more moisture, which makes for heavier downpours of rain.
If homeowners really are hell-bent on paving over their front gardens there are better alternatives to the traditional, impermeable surfaces. These include well-drained gravel, porous block paving, permeable asphalt or even a new fast-draining concrete.
The latest regulations mean that planning permission is needed to pave over front gardens with impermeable surfaces or to drop kerbs to make driveways into front gardens. Those provisions don’t go anywhere near far enough. What’s needed is for council planners to refuse permission unless a permeable surface is used.
Or we could simply rip up the concrete and go back to proper gardens again.