It’s difficult to believe that, whatever the investment, flooding could have totally been avoided when record amounts of rain hit the UK during December.
However, it is almost certainly the case that many thousands of homes and businesses would not have been left under water, many schools would not have had to close or hospitals stop operating, nor bridges washed away if investment had not been cut.
I thought that everyone had learned some big lessons from the floods of 2007 when parts of NE Derbyshire, Rotherham and Sheffield were so badly hit. A national political consensus was built around the need for a flood prevention investment strategy, which was then implemented. Unfortunately, that consensus didn’t last long.
As soon as Cameron and Clegg took control, their warm words of re-assurance were not matched by their deeds. They cut £115m from the flood defence budget in 2011/12 and cut again 2012/13. Cuts planned for the next year were temporarily halted by the 2013/14 floods, but were quickly resumed.
It has now emerged that, in October, Conservative Ministers rejected the advice of the Committee on Climate Change to develop a strategy to address the increasing number of homes at risk of flooding.
In last month’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne announced £2.3 billion capital funding for a 6-year flood programme. Superficially, this longer term approach is welcome. However, this will protect just 300,000 homes when the Environment Agency estimates that 2.4 million properties are in areas at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea and a further 2.8 million properties are at risk of surface water flooding.
Close examination of the figures reveals that, this year, Cameron and Osborne are once again slashing funding with a 14% real terms cut of £115 million. Despite the increasing flood risk, spending this year will be lower in real terms than it was in 2009/10.
Given the weather forecasts of increasing extremities – temperatures, droughts, rainfall, wind speeds – many communities must expect to find themselves drowning and not waving for the foreseeable future.