Letters: Building on floodplains

When will we get real and stop building on floodplains?
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The Independent Online

Sir: Eight hundred and sixty-one homes and businesses in Lewes were devastated by flooding in October 2000. After the event the Environment Agency told us that "The devastating impact of the flood was because large numbers of properties have over the years been built on the floodplain." The Agency went on to say that we should be removing buildings from the floodplain rather than thinking about further development. Seven years on the last flood-damaged building has just been reoccupied. But outline planning permission has been given for 125 homes in the floodplain and applications for more than a thousand are in preparation.

Yvette Cooper appears to be encouraging this madness. Does she not appreciate the scale of the devastation in Yorkshire and the East Midlands? Her department's own statistics tell her that 9,650 houses were completed in two regions in the first quarter of 2007. Our experience in Lewes suggests that many of the 33,000 homes and businesses that are now rotting in a vile cocktail of water, silt and sewage will need virtual rebuilding. Repair and rebuilding is a vast task. Where will the builders come from to repair damage on this unprecedented scale?

Bricks and mortar are of course only start. For many property damage is a minor facet of tragedy. A health survey in Lewes indicated that adults exposed to flooding had a fourfold increase in psychological distress. Many people in our town are still traumatised when it rains.

Can we please get real about flooding? We do not know what the weather has in store. In the face of this ignorance it is folly beyond belief to put more people and assets in the floodplain. Yvette Cooper must act immediately to bring English regulations into line with those in Scotland and Wales, which allow regulators to ban development in the flood plain. Hilary Benn must give the Environment Agency teeth to use the new powers to prevent further disasters. Our liabilities are far too big already.



Sir: Most of the unfortunate people who suffered property losses during the floods will now be seeing the other face of their insurance companies. They will remember the friendly sales person who happily and helpfully set up their policies, making sure that they were "fully protected", only to now experience the more seedy claims half of the company which will do everything to wheedle its way out of paying for the stuff they thought was covered.



Today's population is not sustainable

Sir: Live Earth concerts may increase awareness but will not halt damage from climate change.

Populations expand, our consumer lifestyle is sought by emerging economies, it attracts mass migration and we who have it want more of it. Politicians want sacrifices and yet allow 600,000 people to leave houses in Poland to provide cheap hotel staff etc. in this country. Retailers and banks have more customers, more houses and schools are needed and car and air travel boom. But every new car, every new aircraft and every new building has a carbon footprint, and so does every migrant.

Politicians should accept that too many people is the problem. On 14 June you highlighted "A world without oil". It is obvious that without oil, lifestyles will change but more important is the level of population we can sustain as fossil fuels deplete. The last time we lived on biomass was 400 years ago when wood from forests ran out and coal use developed.

Scientists and engineers should be asked to determine the levels of population sustainable as oil and gas are depleted. Solar, wave and wind energy will allow higher population levels and lifestyles than 400 years ago but politicians should adopt policies now that anticipate present population levels will not be sustainable, perhaps in the lifetime of our children. The Micawber belief that "something will turn up" is not appropriate to this risk.



Sir: The equation of population increase with use of resources and global warming is simplistic (Letters, 2 July). The world is not overcrowded. Few places are as densely populated as the UK, which is green and verdant and can still take a much higher population density.

There is still an abhorrent tendency to want to eradicate the poor rather than poverty and need for population control becomes an excuse in this move toward a sort of genocide. In fact a person in the global north consumes tens or even hundreds of the amount of resources of someone from the global south.

The reduction of birth rates in the north is simple to explain. A child for the poor is an extra pair of hands and an increase in social security for parents in their old age. In richer countries availability of birth control and the increasing cost of providing for a child ensures birth rates fall even where, as in Italy, there is a strong religious pressure not to practice birth control.

If we want to help the planet we should be eradicating poverty. The global population will then look after itself.



Sir: I can only take so much sanctimonious misanthropic claptrap and today I think I may have reached my limit. If one more person tells me to turn off the lights or eat more organic asparagus I will throttle them.

The result of all this self-congratulatory secular penance will be to delay climate change by about half an hour. The only way we will face the challenges posed by climate change is through our own ingenuity and that means constantly moving forward, not yearning for some mythical golden age where we lived at one with nature. We didn't, we got horrible diseases or suffered from malnutrition and died young.

The tragedy is that this is still happening in many areas of the world, and that we have the means, but not the will ,to stop it right now. Still, at least it will cut down on their carbon footprints. We used to dream of space travel, of solving hunger and disease, now we feel guilty if we take the kids to school in the car. It's pathetic.



Sir: The article "A message from the melting slopes of Everest" (5 July) stated that ExxonMobil sent a memo to the White House regarding Dr Watson. This is not correct. We sent a fax in response to a US Government request for information. The memo referred to was written by a third party source, not associated with ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil never has had an official position on Dr Watson.

The many governments involved in IPCC voted in April 2002 by 76 to 49 for Dr Watson to be replaced by Dr Rajendra Pachauri as Chair of the IPCC. To suggest that ExxonMobil engineered the change is ridiculous.

ExxonMobil takes climate change very seriously and is taking action on many fronts to address the risks it poses



Sir: I want everyone to know I am doing my bit to fight global warming. Every time a Live Earth concert is announced I am turning off my TV.



Nothing dead about our charity shops

Sir: Virginia Ironside (Dilemmas, 2 July) thinks dead people wear clothes and charity shops smell of them, but she has never worked in a charity shop. She says she "gave up in despair" after encountering all the "endless hurdles" when applying for voluntary work - so, how dare she say that charity shops are dingy and smelly? If they were they wouldn't be raising thousands of pounds each year.

The work can be hard, carrying boxes and boxes of hardware, clothes, and books, sorting them (throwing away the rubbish people like her assume is the stuff of charity shops), but those of us who do volunteer, and thank goodness there are thousands of us, get great satisfaction knowing that every moment spent in the shop helps to raise money for our charities. We have spent hours behind the counter, not in a dingy place at all, for charities like to see themselves as typical high street shops, with wood-effect floors, music, and lots and lots of spotlights.

The clothes come from people who overbuy, clothes children have grown out of, clothes that were never "quite right" bought on impulse, clothes one is too fat or too thin for, and so far no dead people's clothes and none of them smell.




After the Olympics, the allotments

Sir: While Terence Blacker calls the claims of a green Olympics a "sham" (4 July), he appears to be unaware of the overall plans for the Olympic Park site. The 2012 Games are providing the impetus to clean up contaminated former industrial land and regenerate the Lower Lea Valley.

The Manor Gardens allotments are being moved - not simply "bulldozed" - to a temporary site near by, while a larger new allotment site will be built on a landscaped Olympic Park after 2012. This arrangement is backed by the Manor Gardens Allotment Society. Their members will also receive compensation.

After the Games, the legacy will include the largest new urban park in Western Europe for over a century, on which allotment holders will be able to grow vegetables in a vastly improved and clean environment.



The case for more electric rail lines

Sir: The Big Question asked on 3 July was "Why does rail travel in Britain seem so much worse than in the rest of Europe?" I suggest that this is the wrong big question. I would like to ask "Why have we stopped electrifying our railways?"

Electrification brings increased reliability, decreased costs, and easier diversification via the national grid into low-carbon sources of energy. The latest electric trains use regenerative braking to give electricity back to the grid when they slow down, saving about 20 per cent of power consumption.

Despite Sean O'Grady's allegation of "statist inefficiencies", British Rail managed to electrify main lines in the 1980s, plus a large number of commuter routes. In contrast to the recent west coast mainline modernisation, the private sector contractors delivered essentially on time and on budget.

Perhaps the real big question is "What on earth is going on at the Department for Transport?"



Sir: What has happened to European railways if it is taking a new initiative from them to create "one system to book international train fares" (3 July).

I recall 25 years ago making a long weekend visit to a friend in Berlin. I was living near Hull at the time, and the journey involved two changes of train in England, the ferry trip from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, and travelling through Holland, West Germany and communist East Germany.

British Rail's Hull Paragon station booking office had an international section which booked me one return ticket as casually and with as little fuss as was needed for a day return to Doncaster. What is more, at every stage joining and changing trains and the boat was a simple matter of walking on and off. Making a single journey by Eurostar alone is more complicated today.



Princess is unhappy, not mentally ill

Sir: I am astonished that the unhappiness of the Japanese Princess Masako is being diagnosed as mental illness (report, 7 July). It is well known that she had no desire to marry the prince. Which century are we living in? This poor girl has been trapped by everyone around her into a miserable arranged marriage, and is now being treated as mentally ill when in fact she is simply miserable.

As was ultimately seen with Diana Spencer, an unhappy person is likely to crumble psychologically if there is no escape route from prolonged stress and pressure to perform. When are we going to stop making up mental illnesses for people's natural reactions to unhappiness?



T-shirt politics

Sir: One wonders what response Peter Reilly (letter, 7 July) would have got had he arrived on, say, a university campus in the UK wearing a T-shirt questioning the legitimacy of suicide bombing children in pizza parlours in Jerusalem by Islamic Jihad and others?



Muscle power

Sir: In her Saturday column, Mary Dejevsky comments that "Rickshaw drivers are the lowest of the low, with nothing to sell but their muscle strength for a pittance." Until the second half of the last century I would guess that 70-80 per cent of the male British population had jobs that relied mainly on their muscle strength, and a bit of know-how. Is it really so menial to have a job relying on muscle power? Must everything be mechanised, leaving the whole population to go down the gym after work?



Smack of tyranny

Sir: Joan Bakewell calls in her column of 6 July for our legislators to make smacking your child a criminal offence. She cites two famous dictators in support of her argument. I am no advocate of smacking children, but I would have thought it plain that the stories of Stalin and Hitler are eloquent evidence against the incursion of state control into family life. A truly free society acknowledges that the state is the delegee of families, not families of the state.



Swearing in Esperanto

Sir: Chris Maume in Sport on TV (7 July) wrote: "Not that Esperanto would be any good, containing as it does no swear words, except perhaps pilkoj, or "balls". One might say that this statement is al la kato subvosten (up the cat's arse). Esperanto has a large repertoire of swear words. Mr Maume has obviously never come across the article "Talking dirty in Esperanto" (mindprod.com/esperanto/dirty) And by the way, pilkoj means "balls" and nothing more in Esperanto. "Testicles" are kojonoj or churovoj.



Smoke them out

Sir: Charles Kennedy might care to visit a pub in rural Herefordshire that I walked past yesterday. In its window it had a notice that proclaimed: "Due to the 1974 Violence in the Workplace Act, I am unable to enforce the smoking ban."