What Cameron must do to sort out the flooding mess

Dredging is no silver bullet. We need much more than that

Share

As residents, farmers and businesspeople continue to struggle just to get by across much of the South West of England and beyond, there’s a great deal of very distasteful debate and finger-pointing around the floods. 

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles is trying to blame the Environment Agency, a Somerset Level Tory launched an astonishing stream of playground-level invective at its head, and both Labour and Tory parties have tried to insist the fault lay with each other’s record in government.

The fact is, both parties have a very poor record. In 2007 the National Audit Office pointed out that the Labour government’s funding was £150 million a year short of what was needed to achieve its own target, a very modest target, to maintain 63 per cent of existing flood defences in good order. Since then, the government has cut spending on flood defences by 15 per cent. That’s in addition to overall funding cuts to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of 36 per cent, with further cuts planned that could see 550 staff who are now dealing with flooding being made redundant.

But past spending patterns are now history. We can’t go back in time and take actions that might have prevented damage today. What we need to do is move forward. David Cameron’s announcement of £100m for repairing damage and extra flood defences is a small step in the right direction, with the stress on 'small'.

What he should be doing is immediately announcing the reversal of all cuts in Defra – or at the very least to the cuts in staff dealing with flooding and climate change. As the Met Office’s chief scientist said on 10th February “all of the evidence points” to a link to climate change in the severity and length of the severe weather Britain has experienced in recent weeks.

And while Mr Cameron’s clinging to the restoration of dredging, as a simple, silver bullet answer – against much expert scientific advice – it’s clear that what is need is detailed whole catchment management planning right across England and Wales.

 

That means looking at tree planting across catchments and particularly in catchment areas, considering farming practices that reduce run-off, increasing soil organic matter, allowing rivers to return to natural meandering shapes, ending the building of new homes on floodplains and ensuring sustainable drainage systems that hold water are built on new estates, and, in some places, deliberately breaching sea walls to allow the restoration of wave-absorbing salt marsh … the list goes on, the answer will be detailed, and different for each catchment and local situation.

Sound catchment management planning requires staff, resources, expertise and cash. And sound, level-headed leadership. Almost as importantly, Mr Cameron should get rid of his Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

To have a man who clearly has no grasp of the reality of climate change (or indeed of science – just look at his approach to the badger cull) – is now, more clearly than ever, wildly inappropriate – and an insult to all of those suffering with the floods now.

Paterson in his rhetoric (telling a Tory Party fringe that there were positive sides to climate change and suggesting many were over-emotional about it) and his actions (since he took office, spending on climate change has almost halved) has demonstrated his extreme unsuitability for the role he occupies.

In 2015 voters will have the opportunity to restructure the Parliament – maybe elect enough Green MPs for a proper Environment Secretary – Green MP Caroline Lucas, for example. But, before then, Mr Cameron could make a start on improving infrastructure spending and resilience planning, particularly in transport - the lack of which has been all too clearly demonstrated by the cutting off of rail services to Cornwall. No major part of the country should be served by a single, highly vulnerable rail line, and retracking of two alternative routes should be urgently considered.

Over to you Mr Cameron…

Read more
Why we shouldn't transfer money from foreign aid to flood relief in this country
Who’s responsible for the hopeless response to the floods? In typical British fashion, it’s everyone and no one

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test