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Our Politicians are failing us over flooding, but this is nothing new. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is simply the method they use to prioritise everything they do

November 14, 2019 Leave a comment

 

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Tewkesbury in Flood. Image thanks to http://www.theguardian.com

It’s now 12 years since the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods.

The people living and working in Villages and Towns around mid and Northern Gloucestershire and South Worcestershire experienced the worst that inland flooding can throw at us – and for a great many even more, when critical infrastructure was affected and the drinking water supply dried up as result.

Nobody could argue that the impact of the event did not come to the attention and supposed scrutiny of Westminster Politicians at the time. Pictures of RAF Rescue Helicopters winching stranded people to safety whilst hovering against the backdrop of the Cotswold Hills quickly caught international attention. I stood outside the Local Council Offices when then newly appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived.

At the time, within the immediacy of the flooding event itself, it felt like the powers that be simply couldn’t do enough.

But the moment that the floodwaters receded, the RAF had returned their big yellow flying machines to their bases and tap water supplies were restored, the media’s and therefore the attention of the politicians with the real power to do something meaningful simply drifted off to elsewhere and beyond.

Yes, remedial flood protection work took place here and there – especially in places that are very much in the wider public’s eye.

But the changes made in response to the Floods that year were in many ways little more than being aesthetic.

There was then and has been since no change in the way that Politicians, Government and the Agencies address the causes, influences upon and effects of flooding across the UK – despite many similar experiences for other people and communities across the Country that have already happened and are taking place in Yorkshire and the East Midlands today.

What was clear to me as a Local Councillor at the time of the 2007 Floods here, was that the Environment Agency wasn’t fit for purpose; that flooding was and always would be managed on the basis of so-called tried and tested thinking. And worst of all, that there was absolutely no room for new approaches or original thinking to deal with the problem as the specialists and those who possess the fiefdoms that are public sector responsibility would always know best – no matter what the reality and impact upon real people was or would be that was involved.

Nothing has changed.

If anything, things have got worse.

And whilst processes and procedures to deal the impact upon families that have to move out of their homes and perhaps live in caravans as a result for many months now appear to have become normalised, the fact that Government has concentrated only on managing the effects of any flooding crisis at the time, rather than dealing with the causes and what lies ahead should be telling us all that we really need to know.

Flooding isn’t a vote winner when there’s no water on the ground

With the shallow, self-serving politicians that we have in power today, the harsh reality we must all face is that in their majority, Politicians and the Political Parties that they represent are not interested in seeing any task through from start to finish, unless they believe that doing so will secure them more votes.

What our Emergency Services, our Military, and the people on the ground will do in Yorkshire and the East Midlands during the current crisis to help people will not be an issue in Westminster once the water has gone and this ridiculous General Election Campaign has passed by.

Addressing the issues that count and will make a difference – that’s Planning Policy, responding to the Housing Crisis, how we address Climate Change and the way that the Public Sector itself actually works, are not and never will be on the agenda for longer than it remains in the news. Or at least not until we have politicians with very different motives and people-first mindset involved.

Planning Policy

Many people don’t understand that Local Authorities don’t make planning law. They just interpret it.

And with rules that come from the centre – rules that sound great because they seem to consider this and sound great because they appear to consider that – we have all been misled into believing that a one-size-fits-all approach to the way that we build in all locations, environments and conditions across this Country can work out for everyone wherever they are in the same way – even with different people with different motives doing the interpretation that is involved.

There is no room within the Planning System for local understanding and anecdotal evidence to be considered.

For instance, the Planning System is itself so arbitrary that floodplains that have been built up and covered with dumped earth and inert debris then qualify as being safe to build on. Yet there is no consideration for the displacement of floodwaters that would have historically rested at that location. Nor is there though given for how that water might flow around this newly created island or indeed what other properties or places would now be affected by what will be both a new and at time of flooding inevitably different water flow.

For the impact of future flooding events to be limited for existing properties, Towns, Cities and Villages to the same levels and impact that they are having right now, Planning rules and the way that we interpret them must change to embrace the increasing likelihood of the black swans, rather than the imbedded mentality of ‘it couldn’t happen here’.

Unswerving technical adherence to manmade rules doesn’t allow for reach and impact of Mother Nature.

Solving problems without creating others must be a priority for all areas of civic life and activity.

The response to the Housing Crisis

 Yet another of the political footballs that is currently being bounced around is the topic of which Political Party will build more houses and how quickly they will build them if they should find themselves in power once the Election question has been resolved.

The myth that we need to build so many new houses evaporates the very moment that you consider how much they actually cost.

How often have you seen house prices drop in any part of this Country when a new estate or development has been built?

The truth is that prices of old and new property in the local areas usually rise and like most things where prices and need can be manipulated, profit and therefore greed are the underlying cause.

Building at the levels we have already embraced is already creating a time bomb for potential flooding incidents that would never have had this kind of impact in the past – especially with planning policy as it is.

There needs to be a massive rethink and politicians who were thinking about the people they represent would certainly bring this foolish and ill considered approach to the problem to an immediate stop.

The way to deal with the housing crisis is to make better and more equitable use of the houses and buildings that we already have.

It isn’t helpful to pretend that the only solution is to keep on building more and more, whilst creating many more real ones than the hollow one that it is supposed to solve.

Climate Change

Yes, Climate Change or the Climate Crisis that our young people are now beginning to champion and the way of thinking that they are challenging is a very real part of the flooding problem too.

The weather in this Country and around the World is changing – no matter what your views might be about the cause.

The cold hard reality that we all have to face is that the weather patterns that are here today will take many years to reverse.

But there are steps that we can take to address their progression and pathway to becoming worse.

It is not simply about legislating to change the behavior of people who are already trying to make the best of what can be very difficult lives.

This is where the inexperience and impractical idealism of young people could easily be seen to make a valid argument that is beneficial to us all seem outwardly very wrong. Like Flooding events, protests soon disappear from the minds and plans of the wrong politicians and that is the truth – no matter how wrong.

Sadly, with Climate Change, much of the problem is again about money and greed.

The businesses that have the biggest part to play just need to be led to think differently and see that the profit which is their obsession is still there for them tomorrow as it is for them today. It will just come from them investing, operating and behaving ethically in a very different way.

Industry and money might not be listening now, but that will be different when we have different people in charge.

The necessity of political change that wont be served simply by having a General Election

The complexity of the problems that are contributing to the Housing Crisis, the failure of Planning Policy, Climate Change and Flooding as an issue in its own right will never be dealt with in the way that it needs to be by politicians who are only interested in the outcome of the next Election and how they convince all of us to give them their vote.

If we want the change that we need with the issues that we are facing not just like Flooding, but which we are experiencing each and every day, we must elect different people into Parliament, our Councils and into positions of power who will put people first. Politicians who know what it will take and – most importantly – are actually prepared to do everything necessary to get all of those things that need doing – and not just Brexit – done.

 

 

 

 

 

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