Floods show planning and investment needed

26th February 2014

id125-upld20140226-x600-14319.jpg Kate Jones, Socialist Party Wales

Britain has just had its wettest winter ever recorded. A couple of years ago it had one of its coldest.

The weather is ever more unpredictable, and extreme weather seems to come more often and to last longer.

A year ago, farmers were digging their livestock out of the snow. Now many of their fields are under water.

Floods are nothing new - remember Cumbria 2005 and 2009, Hull 2007 and 2013, York 2000 and 2010, North Wales 2012, the Severn Valley year after year? But this year's floods in the Thames Valley have really hit the headlines, and seeing Tory heartlands under water has kicked the government into promising action. But what action?

Tory clown Eric Pickles tried to blame the Environment Agency (EA) for the floods, but in reality the EA has seen its flood prevention strategies abandoned, and £100 million a year cut from flood defence budgets since the last election.

At the same time millions are spent every year on agricultural subsidies that actually make flooding worse, encouraging upland farmers to replace trees with grazing for livestock.

Planting of trees in the uplands could actually reduce downstream flooding by nearly 30%.

But we are unlikely to see any such sensible policies from Environment Minister Owen Paterson - a climate change 'sceptic' who refuses to accept that man-made global warming is the root cause of Britain's increasingly extreme weather patterns. But as this is the man who famously said badgers "have moved the goalposts" when his cull failed to kill enough of them, it's hardly a surprise!

"Money is no object" according to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Not only is this a sick joke to people suffering the effects of public spending cuts while reeling from a recession which has seen their living standards in freefall; it is a meaningless soundbite unless it leads to real action being taken to mitigate the effects of extreme weather, including an end to cuts in the Environment Agency and investment in real flood prevention.

It isn't even true. On a visit to West Wales last week, Cameron made it clear that there would be no extra money to help areas hit by the heavy rains and storm surges which have devastated Welsh coastal towns and infrastructure.

What's the betting that resources and help in England will be focussed on the Home Counties - yet again forgetting the North and the South West, where people have learned that support will come from local appeals quicker than from government funds?

Real Action

A letter in the Daily Telegraph from 17 heads of institutes of environmental management, forestry, landscape architecture, agriculture, hydrology and others, called on the government to take real action on floods, as emergency measures are not enough.

They argue for long term management of water. This means planning forestry and land management schemes to hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, and enforcing sustainable drainage systems for both old and new buildings, especially those on flood plains.

They call for cooperation between the water companies, local authorities, the EA and Natural Resources Wales, landowners and communities.

Far from blaming the Environment Agency for the floods, these experts call for more resources - a demand we would support.

The Environment Agency (and its Welsh equivalent Natural Resources Wales) need the staffing and the physical resources to address the real causes of the flooding, as well as to deal with its immediate effects.

This call for coordinated planning and more resources is what socialists have long argued for. But to secure this planned investment over the longer term, the blockage of the profit system needs removing through the socialist transformation of society - the only way to provide for the needs of the majority and of the wider environment.
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