Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

After the Storm

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

After the Storm

Article excerpt

Over Christmas and the New Year, Britain was once again hit by extreme weather. The West Coast main railway line between Glasgow and Carlisle is now likely to stay closed until February and it is predicted that the total economic cost of flooding will hit 5bn [pounds sterling]. From Cornwall to Cumbria, those affected cannot take solace in the notion that the floods were a rare or unpredictable act of nature: many homes in Yorkshire have been damaged for the third time since 2007.

Severe floods are becoming the new norm in Britain. Although the government has pledged an extra 40m [pounds sterling] of emergency funds in response to the latest wave, it has failed to provide adequate protection for those in the most vulnerable areas. After the Conservatives entered office in 2010, spending on flood protection was reduced by 20 per cent, and several hundred proposed flood defences have been scrapped on cost grounds, including, in 2011, a 190m [pounds sterling] project to protect homes and businesses in Leeds. This is an expensive mistake: the Environment Agency calculates that every 1 [pounds sterling] spent on flood prevention saves 8 [pounds sterling] in clean-up costs.

Little wonder that there is widespread anger about the government's failure. At the height of the Christmas crisis, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a pointed front-page editorial that declared: "A Northern Powerhouse is nothing when it is under several feet of mucky water." In such circumstances, the country badly needed the opposition to hold the government to account, and to point out that austerity is often a false economy. …

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