According to recent opinion polls, a large majority of the British public thinks the Prime Minister has managed the flood crisis badly or very badly.
Regular visitors to this website over the past few weeks of dreadful weather will have read how we have exposed the way in which the LibDem/Conservative government has let down British citizens fighting to stay safe and dry. [see http://wp.me/p3nrSW-2Ym http://wp.me/p3nrSW-33a http://wp.me/p3nrSW-3qm http://wp.me/p3nrSW-3SN%5D
In particular we have shown how the Coalition:
1. has cut flood defence spending since it came into power;
2. has been exposed over lying to the British public about the cuts;
3. ignored advice given by the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee in December 2010 on the need to increase spending because of the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events and to take into account inflation. It warned the government that cuts to the UK’s flood defence budgets would leave the country’s five million at-risk homes less protected.
4. has committed itself to yet more cuts to the Environmental Agency’s budget for 2014 that would lead to a loss of 1600 Agency, 557 of which were directly concerned with flood defence.
So when the floods on the Somerset Levels and in the Thames and Severn valleys and the associated public anger engulfed his government what did the Prime Minister do?
In the absence of Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through illness, Mr Cameron sent the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles around the TV studios to blame the Environment Agency. The Agency’s Chair, Chris Smith, defended his team brilliantly and Pickles was forced to retreat.
Cameron then tried to take control himself – but appeared to be out of his depth. Pressed on spending money to deal with the crisis, Cameron initially said that money was no object – before being forced to say he really didn’t mean it!
Mr Cameron, ex-public relations executive, surely must understand that going around the country in gumboots saying, ‘I’m in charge’ is not the same as actually being in charge.
Water always finds its own level – so does this government’s idiocy.
When the Government formed in May 2010 it did two things that directly impacted on the country’s ability to cope with heavy and persistent rain.
Firstly, it said it wanted to get rid of ‘unnecessary quangos’. Two of the quangos ditched were the British Waterways Corporation and Inland Waterways Advisory Council. These organisations had more accumulated experience and knowledge of water management than any other body outside of the Environment Agency itself.
Second, the government appointed a task force to investigate farming rules and to advise it on getting rid of all ‘unnecessary regulations’ constraining the industry. The task force’s chairman was a former director general of the National Farmers’ Union who recommended “an entirely new approach to and culture of regulation … Government must trust industry”? The government unsurprisingly accepted the recommendation.
Why is this important?
One of the regulations introduced by the previous Labour government, but subsequently cut by the present administration, concerned the problems of soil erosion and water run-off.
Intensive agricultural practices can lead to a loss of soil fertility and erosion. If the wrong plants are grown in the wrong places and at the wrong time and without the application of mitigating measures then trouble ensues. Water will run off the land which can lead to sediment deposition in watercourses and to flood hazard. The Labour government introduced regulations to cope with this and drew particular attention to problems associated with growing maize, pointing out that it should not be grown in areas of high and very high erosion risk.
The environmental activist, Dr George Monbiot has recently written about this.
“Six weeks before the floods arrived, a scientific journal called Soil Use and Management published a paper warning that disaster was brewing. Surface water run-off in south-west England, where the Somerset Levels are situated, was reaching a critical point. Thanks to a wholesale change in the way the land is cultivated, at 38% of the sites the researchers investigated, the water – instead of percolating into the ground – is now pouring off the fields”
“In three quarters of the maize fields in the south-west (of England), the soil structure has broken down to the extent that they now contribute to flooding. In many of these fields, soil, fertilisers and pesticides are sloshing away with the water. And nothing of substance, the paper warned, is being done to stop it.”
So here we have it:
1. The new Coalition government cuts back useful public bodies and, thanks to its own appointed farmers representative’s recommendations, cuts significant good practice regulations;
2. One of these regulations concerns maize, which is grown for animal feed. The regulation points out that if maize is harvested in such a way as to remove the stubble and weeds then soil erosion will follow.
3. Following the removal of the regulation, feed maize becomes an important crop on the Somerset Levels;
4. The soil erodes and run-off is enabled;
5. It rains hard and floods follow;
6. Thousands of people, farmers and non-farmers alike, are upset and angry.
Clearly there is far more to the continuing flood crisis than this. But our account does present a startling example of the way in which our present incompetent and ideologically driven government operates.
What should be done?
In the short term the Environment Agency, local authorities and services will work to help people move back into their homes and businesses.
And of course, as Ed Miliband has said, the insurance companies must deal with claims with the utmost speed. Many people will not be able to move back into their homes for months perhaps years and they need help. Typically, the insurance companies claimed that Mr Miliband was being irresponsible for suggesting that insurance companies should act quickly. However, it is not the insurance companies who have been forced out of their homes and have lost their businesses. Perhaps, the insurers should look at their own track records. They might like to explain why, for example, three years after the Tottenham ‘riots’ many insurance claims have not been settled.
But what of the long term?
On 21st February, specialists in water management wrote to the Telegraph to offer advice and assistance to the government. The Telegraph published the letter in full on its front page.
Here it is:
“SIR – As landscape architects, architects, engineers, hydrologists, ecologists and other specialists with the experience necessary to tackle flooding, we would like the Government to be aware that the expertise of our professions is available and, we believe, urgently required.
“While we are pleased to hear that the Prime Minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years.
“Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.
“We need to look at how forestry, land management and soft-engineered flood alleviation schemes can hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and how dredging may assist in the lower reaches.
“We need to fit sustainable drainage systems comprehensively for existing buildings and all new buildings. Buildings and land that cannot be properly protected should be made resilient to withstand flooding. All new housing on flood plains must be resilient when built.
“Co-operation is needed between the professions, the water companies, internal drainage boards, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales. They must all work with landowners and residents to be effective.
“In the Environment Agency are people experienced in addressing these problems, as there are among the members of all our organisations. We need to mobilise that joint expertise.
“We are asking David Cameron to convene without delay a cross-departmental conference, including the professions, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Communities, the Environment Agency and National Resources Wales, similar to the one convened to address the problem of ash dieback.”
We should not hold our breath in anticipation of a positive response to this suggestion. This Coalition government does not have a good history of listening to impartial advice, preferring instead to ask their friends, such as those in the NFU, to make recommendations. It is time for the government to listen, learn and act.
And what of our local MP?
Mr Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds NW, never knowingly allows a bandwagon to pass without climbing on it. So it was no surprise to read on his website that he was advising his constituents to keep safe during bad weather. He writes, “As many parts of the UK are experiencing power cuts at the moment due to the storms and flooding; it is important to be prepared for emergencies.”
We are happy to agree with him.
But we have some further advice.
At the next general election kick Greg Mulholland out of Parliament. It is his government, after all, that has put British citizens at risk.
Britain Can Be Better Than This
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