Climate change and the cuts

by Daphne Liddle

DAVID Cameron and the Con-Dem Coalition gambled when they came to power and decided to cut Treasury funding to the Environment Agency so that it could not carry out planned flood prevention work in Somerset, the Severn Valley, the Thames Valley and the Fenlands — and of course all around the coast.

But like so many of the Coalition’s other cuts this gamble turned out to be a false economy, costing the country much more dearly than if the work had been paid for and done.

Unfortunately it is the thousands of people whose homes have been flooded — with a high proportion of them still under water and likely to stay that way for at least another month — who are paying the price. And they include a lot of people who used to vote for the Tories who are not likely to repeat that mistake in 2015.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has got this one right when he declared the flooding — and growing threat of future flooding — a real national security crisis that must be dealt with using long-term strategic planning,

The effects of climate change are a much more real threat than any weapons of mass destruction alluded to in dodgy dossiers by his warmongering predecessor.

But half the Tory party are still in denial about climate change and human influence on it. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is still a climate change denier.

The effects of Il Nino on other parts of the world, huge tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific off Japan have not troubled his complacency.

But now the effects are on his own doorstep Paterson seems to have vanished from the scene, leaving Chris Smith, who chairs the Environment Agency (EA) and EA workers, to take the brunt of the anger of the people of Somerset.

They say that Somerset got its name because hundreds of years ago it was only “set” in summer; in winter it was liquid. The Somerset levels are below sea level, and like the marshes of the Fens and large parts of East Anglia, the farming land has been reclaimed over generations by much hard work in creating ditches, drains, dykes, broads, canals and high river banks.

The people who live in these areas know well that these man-made flood defences must be regularly maintained or the flood waters will inevitably return — this is even without taking climate change into consideration.

And the flood defences put in place by previous governments after the horrendous floods all down the east coast in 1953, in which over 300 people died, have played a vital role in preventing this winter’s floods being even worse.

This shows that planning and foresight can be effective but we need much more of it and proper funding and we need it now, not in a generation’s time.

The fat cats of the ruling class can no longer put this off as something for their grandchildren to worry about — the water is at their doorstep now, literally in some cases. Many millionaires’ mansions have been affected by the flooding in the Thames Valley.

And all those who have bought luxury homes along the banks of rivers as an investment may find the value of their properties crashing as they become unsaleable.

The Thames barrier is protecting a lot of this ultra-high end property now but water levels are expected to top it before long. When that happens, the Palace of Westminster will also be under water, along with most of the Tube network.

Cameron panicked when the Thames Valley flooded and promised “money is no object” in providing flood relief but soon back-tracked.

In 2009-10 total grants to the Environment Agency were £846.7 million. For 2010-11 there were cut to £799.6m, for 2011-12 they were cut to £749.5 million, in 2012-13 there were further cuts to £723 million. There was a further cut of £14 million for this year.

This is a reduction of 16 per cent and during this period inflation has increased by 11 per cent. In real terms the grant has been cut by more than a quarter. That is before the latest 10 per cent hack at the budget for 2014-15 announced by Osborne last summer.

David Cameron was asked three times by Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions if he would now reverse the job cuts at the Agency and three times he ducked the question.