Eric Pickles’s half-hearted apology for the Government’s botched flood response is too little, too late and is no comfort to the flood-stricken residents in Somerset who have lost their homes and businesses since the start of the New Year. The truth is David Cameron’s Government has made repeated mistakes and has been too slow to act.
- The Government’s response has been chaotic and slow. Despite 22 meetings of Cobra, the Government’s emergency committee, it is far from clear what all the talking has achieved for those still facing flooded homes and farmland. It is inexcusable that it took so long to get the pumps, boats and sandbags to the communities that desperately needed help.
- Defra ignored warnings last year from the Association of Drainage Authorities against not dredging key rivers in Somerset. The Association of Drainage Authorities, in its evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee last year, warned of “de-silting work on rivers in areas such as the Somerset Levels having all but ceased”. The Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s independent expert adviser, warned that current levels of funding will “result in around 250,000 more households becoming exposed to a significant risk of flooding by 2035”.
- Owen Paterson reduced domestic funding for tackling climate change by 40% last year alone. This adds up to a clear pattern of completely ignoring the scientific evidence of more extreme weather and the consequences for the UK.
- David Cameron rejected pleas to dredge the Somerset rivers. The Prime Minister last year rejected a plea for extra funds to be made available for river dredging by local farmers, clearly warning of the dangers to the Somerset Levels.
- The Environment Secretary does not take the issue of flooding seriously. When Owen Paterson became Environment Secretary he removed flooding prevention from his the Department’s core responsibilities.
- The Government has ignored Labour’s progress towards implementing the key recommendations as set set out in the 2007 Pitt review. When the country faced severe flooding in 2007, Labour established the Pitt Review to ensure that lessons were learnt. Immediate action was taken to implement its 92 recommendations. Most importantly, funding for flood protection was significantly increased, from below half a billion before the 2007 floods to £670.1million by the time of the last election. Immediately on taking office David Cameron approved a £97million cut in funding for flood protection, taking it back to £573million in 2011/12 – a 17 per cent real terms cut in one year. Of course tough decisions have had to be made on spending to reduce the deficit, including within DEFRA, but abandoning flood protection was the wrong choice.
- Owen Paterson does not take seriously the issue of Climate Change. The Environment Secretary is yet to be briefed by his chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, on climate change.
- We have seen nothing but chaos and confusion between the Prime Minister and his Environment Secretary. Almost a week after Somerset County Council declared the floods a major incident No 10 sent the Environment Secretary to Somerset. Owen Paterson then announced a concrete plan to be presented to him in six weeks,yet just days later the Prime Minister ordered an immediate plan to dredge the rivers in Somerset and called in the army.
Maria Eagle is the Shadow Environment Secretary