While The Independent’s hilarious article showing David Cameron pointing and looking at various floods over the years certainly eased any fears the public may have had regarding the function of our prime minister’s arms and eyes it also underlined the more serious issue of the government’s failure to respond effectively to recent flooding. Having lived in York all my life flooding no longer comes as much of a surprise but the recent wave has only been matched by those in 2000 in terms of their severity. Only being aged 3 at the time those floods failed to significantly impact my life but they remained an ominous memory for many others. Then 300 houses had to be evacuated, this time the figure was closer to 600. According to the latest reports, in 2004 an independent inquiry suggested that the York flood defenses were not good enough – no action was taken. As water levels rose on Boxing Day this year it quickly became apparent that the flood barrier would not hold, either it had to be raised leaving 400 houses unprotected or left alone risking 1800. Admittedly it’s a decision none of us would like to make and though obviously horrendous for those 400 houses it was a lose-lose situation. But why were they ever put in that situation?
Since they came to power Cameron’s government has cut the funding to the Environment Agency by 14% and while it has defended the further cuts that are still to be made, a recent report suggests that in fact they could cause the number of homes at risk to be doubled. Given the devastation caused in York by flooding to reduce funding rather than increase it seems to me not only stupid but also cruel. Surely having witnessed the plight of those affected and very diligently pointed out the rising water Cameron would have felt enough empathy to reconsider? Do not blame the Environment Agency for its handling of the floods themselves since everything happened so quickly, and yet the lack of preparation for such a scenario is arguably immensely worrying.
Floods have an ancient tradition of acting as warnings (or at least if Noah and his ark are to be believed…) so even if Cameron is foolish enough to ignore it in terms of spending, I can at least hope that the warning about climate change is too great to be forgotten. Having taken the admittedly bold step of appointing a climate sceptic as Environment Secretary (Owen Paterson) under the Coalition government the claim that Britain is a world-leading country in tackling climate change is one that doesn’t quite convince me. The Energy Act passed in 2013 expressed a commitment of, ‘encouraging low carbon electricity generation’ which is vague enough to prevent any direct attack but suggests enough desire to allow itself to be defended. After the (so we’re told) success of the Paris summit at the end of 2015, we can but hope that not only the floods themselves (though surely that should be enough?!) but also the appearance of daffodils in January should be enough to make 2016 the year that we do at least do something, please.