Steve Richards: Summer washout? Something must be done

We need a new approach to public policy for an island that doesn’t get summers, but acts as if it does

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This rotten, rainy, grey, sodden summer demands a response. It must be more than impotent groans of despair or annoyingly defiant calls to carry on as if the sun were shining. It must take the form of a radical, new approach to public policy for a stormy island that does not get summers, yet acts as if it does.

This season is not a one-off. The persistence of the rain and elusiveness of the sun are a little more extreme than usual. However, most UK summers are a wash-out. The last I recall with reliably sunny weather was in 1995, when May and most of June hosted the usual wet eruption, but, magically, the skies turned an uplifting blue for July and August. That was 17 years ago. If we live to 80, we will get four such summers. Normally from May to the end of August, it is wet, wet, wet.

The circuitous sequence is pathetically familiar. Once the anti-climactic summer passes, we soon forget and, in the midst of a frozen January, our hopes turn to the supposedly sunny season ahead, only for them to be dampened with the same inevitability as England's football team losing without flair and Murray not winning Wimbledon. The memory is conditioned to forget. "Never again!" millions declare after a dire, claustrophobic Christmas. By the following October, they are excitedly preparing to host exactly the same dismal gathering again. The same applies to wet summers.

So let us not forget this non-summer, and reflect on what can be done about it. Obviously, we cannot change the weather. But the recognition should inform policy. Instead of denigrating low-cost flights, we should celebrate them and governments should lower taxes on them. Cheap flights mean some on low incomes can enjoy a couple of weeks of reliable sun away from these soaking shores.

I am a convert to increasing airport capacity in London, too. The case is overwhelming, economically and as a means for sending people away for some sunshine. Heathrow is even more unbearable than usual in August. Give it another runway. For purists who disapprove of flying, the EU could do itself a PR favour by negotiating cheap train fares across Europe for member countries. Try winning a referendum in the UK on leaving Europe if cheap trains fares can take a rain-soaked people to sunnier climes.

As part of the new seasonal awareness, British governments should cease to host events that are partly or wholly dependent on the weather in our non-summers. Contrary to mythology, the Jubilee was a PR disaster. I was abroad immediately after the absurd event and witnessed a British tourist with pride asking a dignified Austrian whether he had watched the coverage: "Oh, my God, the rain!" came the reply. Now the Mayor of London reports grim forecasts for the Olympics, including the strong possibility of a major thunderstorm in the middle of the opening ceremony. Across the world, the cry will go up: "Oh, my God, the rain." We should not have tried to stage it. The weather rather than the terrorist is the threat.

Wimbledon finally adapted by putting a roof on the Centre Court otherwise this year's tournament would still be playing. Roofs are not always feasible. At the very least, adverts for roofless summer festivals should come with a compulsory health warning, like those on cigarette packets. I went to Latitude last weekend. Admittedly, I am not used to camping, but it took us three hours to put up a tent in pouring rain. At one point, I headed awkwardly through an acre of mud to the disabled campsite to use the power points reserved for re-charging wheel chairs. I needed to blow up a mattress with an electric pump. By the time I got the enlarged mattress back to our field, it was soaking and smothered in mud. The festival was thrilling and capable of delivering a high, but so can 20 cigarettes. Some of us need health warnings.

With recognition of our fate comes a form of liberation. Seaside resorts should not pretend glorious sun-kissed holidays await holiday-makers. Instead, they should accept the inevitable and lay on what Britain is good at – art galleries, classy coffee places, good restaurants, theatres, modern cinemas, alternative comedy. Scarborough has the Stephen Joseph Theatre. St Ives has a Tate Gallery. Margate has its new Turner Gallery. They are less dependent on the weather. Governments should invest in all these creative indoor activities, offer tax breaks to companies that develop the most effective waterproof clothing, as well as spending more on flood protection.

In order that some sunshine is enjoyed in the UK, school holidays should be moved to September which is often sunnier than August. The darkly comic August Bank Holiday – where it reliably rains even more than usual – should also be moved.

From security for the Olympics to the banking crisis, we are discovering that life is too important to be left to wild, unconstrained free markets. The wild weather is a cause for intervention, too. When the Government appointed a Minister for Droughts in 1976, it started to rain. It is time we had a Minister for Rain.

s.richards@independent.co.uk Twitter: @steverichards14

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