5 Sept 2005

How to build on a floodplain

Despite New Orleans currently being under eight foot of water, and sea levels predicted to rise, our dear joined-up government seems determined to press ahead with plans to build 120,000 new homes on the Thames floodplain. This is a key plank in their Sustainable Communities strategy. Another is that these homes should be built for less than £60,000 each. Do you think there is enough money in the kitty to fit each one with a lifeboat?

Never mind. I think I may have some help to proffer. 80 miles up the East coast, at the mouth of the Blyth Estuary in Suffolk, lies the artists-colony-cum-crabbing-centre that is Walberswick. It’s a beautiful spot and well worth a day out, if you are ever in the area. Incidentally, it is home to many fine properties that have been taken down and moved here from other parts of the country, so it’s already a global leader in the practice of off-site manufacturing.

I have been visiting Walberswick for the best part of thirty years and have oft looked at, with a slight feeling of envy, the two timber-clad beach houses, sandwiched between the car park and the River Blyth. They are just sheds, really, but two very cool sheds. I can sort of picture myself living in one of these, wearing not much more than a fisherman’s smock, a beard and a big smile.

But I must admit that, until this weekend, I had never noticed that they are both built on stilts, presumably to keep them up above the spring tides that must from time to time swamp the car park and the salt marshes behind. Stilts! Just the thing for the Thames Gateway Sustainable Communities, or whatever they are currently known as. I reckon a good bunch of chippies could knock one of those up in less than a month and have enough change from £60k for a month on the Costas. Or, being Walberswick, maybe six months in Goa.

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