Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bernard Trafford Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Bernard Trafford Columnist

Article excerpt


OOR old Chris (Lord) Smith!

PThe Environment Agency chairman was bound to become as unpopular as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson when he dared to pronounce on the prolonged problems of flooding around the country.

Responding to criticism of the agency's earlier decision not to dredge rivers in Somerset, he said: "Flood defences cost money; and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend on different places, communities and livelihoods - in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire or East Anglia? There's no bottomless purse and we need to make difficult but sensible choices about where and what we try to protect."

Fair point, you might say. We can't afford to do everything. And, alas, we can't turn the clock back: if we could, we might have avoided some pitfalls, such as building housing developments on floodplains.

Hold on! It's easy to be awfully reasonable, say choices are diffi-cult and insist we can't pay for everything.

But there's a heavy tax burden for anyone in reasonably or wellpaid work in the UK: and we all pay council tax as well. Many would feel they pay a hell of a lot, and might justifiably expect more from their taxes.

I don't know the ins and outs of drainage. Nonetheless, it does seem pretty clear that, had the Environment Agency kept all those banked rivers and drainage channels around the Somerset levels properly dredged and clear of silt, the flooding would have been less severe.

Centuries ago, people knew what they were doing when they built houses near rivers. Look at the aerial pictures of Muchelney in Somerset: it's a mediaeval village with a fine old abbey, built on a hill above the floodplains. So (as far as I know) it hasn't actually been flooded: its problem is being cut off from the rest of the world for more than a month because every connecting road is impassable, except by boat.

Meanwhile, farmers there can only sit and watch in impotent fury as their crops rot beneath the waters. I can appreciate why they're cross.

Governments have to make hard decisions: they always say, as Chris Smith reiterated, that money's limited. …

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