Will politicians ever put their constituents’ interests first?
By 5pm on Sunday there were 271 flood warnings for England, landslides in Wales, hundreds evacuated from their homes, tens of thousands without electricity. many town centres heavily flooded and hundreds of train, plane and ferry services cancelled.
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said, “The reality of the climate crisis is that more extreme weather will happen more often and with devastating consequences.
MP Craig Whittaker’s constituency includes a string of communities along the River Calder that have been repeatedly devastated by floods. Among them are the villages and small towns of Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Luddendenfoot and Sowerby Bridge. But after the 2015 floods the Commons debated a motion calling for annual spending on defences to be increased from £695.3 million to £800m, Mr Whittaker was amongst those who voted against the motion, which was defeated.
Some whose homes and businesses were affected have had enough and are going to move away: “We don’t want to become a ghost town.”
In November 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was vigorously heckled by local people when belatedly visiting flooded Stainforth in South Yorkshire, after expressing little concern about the floods.
After intense lobbying £33m.was granted for work in Mytholmroyd which began in June 2018 and is due to be finished in July or August 2020
Workers constructing flood defences in Mytholmroyd in the Upper Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, building walls to contain the River Calder
Peter Lazenby points out that while this scheme struggled to get funding, the government was subsidising landowners who are increasing run-off in rainstorms by clearing Pennine moorland above the Calder Valley for grouse shooting, burning off moorland which removes mosses and other plants that absorb and store water.
In some places, water flows are controlled by bodies called Internal Drainage Boards, independent locally funded and operated statutory public bodies. Many members of these boards are landowners and seem interested only in speeding water off farmland: they dredge, straighten and embank rivers, rushing water towards cities lower in the catchment. a recent National Audit Office report revealed significant issues with their governance, transparency and accountability.
MP Philip Davies branded it “completely unacceptable” that many of his constituents in Shipley, West Yorkshire, which was also flooded during Storm Ciara, had also been victims of the 2015 floods.
Towns in the Calder Valley, such as Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd (above) have been flooded repeatedly, partly, local people argue, because the upper catchment is unable to hold back most of the rain that falls on it.
A paper published in the Journal of Hydrology X reported experiments conducted in another part of the Pennines, the range in which Calderdale is located. It found that when peat bogs are restored, deep vegetation is allowed to recover and erosion gullies are blocked, water is held back for longer in the hills, and peak flows in the streams draining them are reduced. There has been a major shift in awareness, in and out of government, that impeding the flow of water off the land and slowing a river’s pace can reduce flooding downstream, saving lives, homes and infrastructure.
One paper suggests that reforesting between 20 and 40% of a catchment can reduce the height of floods by 19% and recommends:
- leaky wooden dams embedded in streams,
- building no more houses on floodplains,
- using new engineering techniques to defend those already there,
- planting shelter belts of trees along the contours: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass and
- building ponds to catch the water instead of draining the wettest ground
In Japan, England, the Netherlands, and other low-lying countries, architects and civil engineers have developed technologies for flood control barriers, weirs and floodgates When the water rises, the computerized walls close and water fills tanks along the barrier. The weight of the water pushes the walls firmly down and keeps water from passing through. Hydraulic motors don’t need electricity to run, so they aren’t affected by power failures that can occur during storms.
Flood-affected urban areas often face a different set of problems, related to housebuilding in floodplains and damaged sewage systems. Whilst the housebuilding problem persists it is good to read about progress made in places like Stirchley.
In due course we hope to hear the residents in places like Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd echoing the cautious 2020 accolade of Peter Walker – Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum
“I think that the defence work that has been done so far is having some success”.
How many realise that the government’s much-vaunted & welcomed 2013 flood insurance agreement has not yet been implemented?
Britain is still building nearly 10,000 new homes a year on floodplains despite growing warnings over episodes of extreme flooding. The FT reports that one new home in every 14 that was built in 2013-14 — the most recent year for which data is available — was constructed on land that has a significant chance of flooding, either from a river or the sea, according to an FT analysis of official figures.
A report by the Environment Select Committee has warned, on page 27, that “the large number of properties at significant and in some cases increasing risk of flooding means that prioritising spending on flood defences is essential if the UK is to minimise potentially huge costs of future flood events”. It called on the environment department to set out its detailed budget for maintaining flood defences within the next three months.
In 2013, reports following government negotiations with the Association of British Insurers, announced the capping of flood insurance premiums.
Smaller businesses were to be excluded from the programme, which guarantees affordable insurance to domestic properties, except for rentals; landlords are not eligible, so tenants in flooded properties face the prospect of being removed. Yesterday the Financial Times reported the FSB’s estimate that about 75,000 smaller businesses at risk of flooding had found it difficult to find flood insurance and 50,000 had been refused cover nationally.
Accountants – KPMG [Press Reader], PwC [BBC] – have warned that thousands of businesses will face financial ruin because they will have to bear a fifth of the estimated £5bn national cost of flood damage, with inadequate or non-existent insurance cover.
John Allan, the FSB’s National Chairman, said: “Ministers should look again at the availability of affordable and comprehensive flood insurance for small businesses, potentially through a dedicated Flood Re style agreement. The financial cost to small businesses following the 2012 flooding was £200 million.
“We can’t hope to create a buoyant economy . . . if vulnerable small businesses can’t sufficiently protect themselves from increasingly unpredictable and severe weather that in the worst cases can close a business.”