The scenes from Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire over the partial collapse of Toddbrook Reservoir dam are deeply worrying. More than 1,500 people have been evacuated, and were given just 15 minutes to grab bare essentials and valuables from their homes. While others risk their lives to stay at home to protect their properties, it’s clear that the homes and livelihoods of an entire town are at serious risk. People in the town are rightly worried about what this means for them in the long-term and whether the dam will really be made safe.
As well as ensuring that all necessary help and assistance is provided to deal with this now, we need a government that will invest in our flood defences and face up to the reality of the climate crisis, making issues like this more common.
Our emergency services have, as always, done us proud. The RAF, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Environment Agency have worked round the clock to fortify the dam and pump water out of the reservoir at breakneck speed. They’ve made significant progress, but there is still a way to go before it is safe again – and there’s more heavy rain forecast.
Over the last 10 years, £18bn has been siphoned off from water companies into the pockets of shareholders. Water companies aren’t just responsible for making sure our water is safe to drink; they’re responsible for making sure that our whole water system and the environment around it is fit for purpose. That includes making sure the infrastructure they use isn’t in danger of causing a flood or any other catastrophic damage. This is a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously in the wake of Whaley Bridge. Labour will bring our water into public ownership, so we can reinvest the profits into improving our infrastructure, as well as reduce bills.
If we don’t act now, the climate crisis is going to cause more freak and unpredictable weather, which will result in more flooding. And what’s happening at Whaley Bridge is just the latest in what’s more to come. There will be extremes of wet and dry conditions at different times of the year. We need infrastructure that can withstand all kinds of extreme weather. That means we need to invest more in mitigating the climate crisis. It’s about time politicians were more upfront about this.
Tackling the climate crisis and hitting the net-zero carbon emissions target requires a fundamental transformation of our economy, our water industry, and how we use water. We must not pretend otherwise. That is why Labour will continue to put the case for bringing water into public ownership and, instead of using profits to make already wealthy shareholders even wealthier, reinvest that money in lower bills and, crucially, in more resilient infrastructure to protect us from the impact of the climate crisis.