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Flooding: making the best of a very bad job

Friday 18 January 2008

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, whose regular trout stream was this week part of a mile wide lake, despairs at lack of Government action on flooding - but praises the work of Environment Agency staff trying their best to help victims of this 21st Century plague

IT'S MY birthday this week and I wanted to celebrate it by trying out a new fly-rod for a grayling on a stretch of the River Aire near Skipton which, on a normal summer's day, is no more than a foot deep and five yards wide. What a laugh!

This week, it was Lake Aire, stretching from Broughton via Carleton and almost as far down stream as Cross Hills. At an estimate, it was over a mile wide and probably two miles long. At my favourite spot, which you can wade in wellies in a hot summer, it was probably eight feet deep and carrying whole rafts of debris faster than an Olympic sprinter.

Flooding: making the best of a very bad job
Flooding: making the best of a very bad job

Now it not unusual for the Aire to flood between Skipton and Keighley: it has been happening for years. But I have never seen it so deep and so wide - and this is the chilling point - at a time of the year when the traditional high water season, March, is still two months away.

And as a write this with the rain thundering down on my study skylight, there are people cowering in their houses in Airedale, Wharfedale, Wensleydale and across the whole of East Yorkshire who are praying that they will not spend this weekend baling out homes which have still not recovered from this summer's floods.

And what are the Government doing? Wasting £55 billion of our money - that's almost £2,000 a head for every man, woman and child in the nation - propping up Northern Rock whilst slashing pay rises to teachers and policemen as MPs bury their snouts further into the trough by voting themselves rises which will take their pay and expenses to well over £200,000 a year.

What made me even angrier this week was the report that Yorkshire Water are to spend £225,000 on a new pumping station which should relieve the threat of flooding to a small area of Skipton (See News, Wednesday).

No I do not begrudge the residents of Cross Street this extra re-assurance (if it works, that is) and well done Yorkshire Water, a body which I have often criticised in the past. There are also small-scale flood schemes being developed by the Environment Agency in several parts of Yorkshire at present, and they are welcome too. The people at the pointy end of the agency's work - many of whom I know quite well - work their butts off to do whatever they can to alleviate the suffering caused by flooding.

It is patently obvious that this country needs tens of billions for new flood

But they are chronically over-worked and under-funded by a Government totally obsessed by its own internal politics as its ratings in the opinion polls plunge thanks to incompetence and sleaze. Anything that happens outside the Westminster village is irrelevance.

It is patently obvious that this country needs tens of billions for new flood defences. Schemes like the quarter-million pumping station in Skipton, though welcome, are not even a flea-bite on rump of this problem - you would need an electron microscope to see it.

The Taxpayers' Alliance recently estimated that the Government has wasted more an £100 billion on failed IT projects alone. In other words, money to people sitting behind desks when 55,000 people are still living in caravans as their homes devastated by the summer floods are still unrepaired.

There is only one good thing in this whole watery mess and that, again, is down to the staff - and not the bureaucrats - who actually do the work at the Environment Agency. They have produced one of the best web sites I have ever seen giving advice to terrified flood victims. You can even key in your post code and see a map of the flood dangers outside you front door.

To get real, on-the-ground action on flood defences, we shall no doubt have to wait until the Thames floods the Palace of Westminster. But in the meantime, try the next best thing: www.environment-agency.gov.uk/flood

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