The George Eustace interview last week was a salutary reminder of the lack of ambition that this government has for dealing with the nitty gritty of Government. As the tories took power in 2010 their very first cuts were to the Environment Agency and they totalled hundreds of millions over several years. Since then the EA has had further cuts, many highly skilled experts have left the service and they are reduced to coming up with sticking plasters like temporary metal flood barriers as a visible signifier of their willingness to do something.
Areas around the big rivers are still the most likely places for floods to inundate homes and poison farmland but this does not deter the government from positively encouraging the building of new homes on river flood plains. In my area of Runnymede the tory council are happy to approve new homes on sites that have flooded before and that also receive additional polluted water from sources such as run off from the M25, the increase in tarmac and concrete is not helping our flood soak away.
The government currently plan 35,000 new homes on flood plains, this is transparently a mistake. The stress that flooding places on the individual, the community, public services and long term health far outweighs the costs of proper preventative work. Jeremy Corbyn made a point of listening to flood victims this week and heard the horror of dealing with the aftermath with no help from the risk averse insurance industry. His pledge is for a further £5.6 Billion but I believe we need to go a lot further in terms of proper prevention.
We need the new farming strategies, the new tree plantations, the protection of peat bogs and even beavers. However we also need to look again at systems that worked very well in the past; one of those was dredging. Please don’t think that the stopping of dredging rivers was due simply to the EU or to a real risk to endangered species. Many of the rare species first identified have now been found to be thriving around the country. The main reason for not dredging is the expense as all dredged material is polluted so it is expensive to dispose of. A mix of slowing water upstream but carefully allowing some lower levels to empty more quickly would be very welcome to those of us living close to big rivers like the Thames.