Questions for the Environment Agency

It was good to hear from the Agency at last on the Today programme. It was perhaps unsurprising that its Chairman was unavailable to be interviewed, and left the job to his CEO. I seem to remember in my days as Chairman of companies an important part of the Chairman’s role was to field any  difficult interviews with shareholders and public. This Chairman not only likes to stay on holiday during a crisis that his organisation has to handle, but then shirks the duty of explaining when he does get back to the office.

The CEO made one important statement that I support. He said clearly on more than one occasion that where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people. The follow up question is why haven’t they followed this principle in more cases.

He also said that dredging can be helpful, though he declined to endorse it in all cases. He said they have undertaken £20m of dredging in the last two years. A substantial part of that is dredging the two main rivers of the Somerset levels after the dreadful floods there, following Ministerial insistence. They had not thought dredging suitable prior to the floods. The EA has always refused my requests for dredging the Loddon in my area, claiming it would  not be helpful.

When Parliament returns I will table some more questions on the large EA budget and their priorities. There is no evidence that they do regard dredging as an important contributor to flood relief in most cases, and every evidence that they short change the dredging budget. Nor do they seem to do much weed removal and bank improvement in my areas, which is probably typical. They also need to examine the resilience of pumps and electricity sub stations, in the wake of the vulnerability of the York system.

The public expect considerably more flood relief for the huge sums the EA consumes each year. I will be writing to them again with my wish list for my area.

 

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63 Comments

  1. Ted Monbiot
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    To hear them say they will give priority to protecting people from flooding instead of refusing to interfere in the natural environment is a welcome but overdue policy change.
    For more than 15 years their deliberate reluctance to interfere with nature has led to the outcomes we have seen recently.
    The admission that just £20 million has been spent on dredging is remarkable.
    Nearly all that has been spent in Somerset in the Levels after their policies there resulted in complete failure and disaster, meaning virtually nil has been spent in the rest of the UK.
    Near me tens of millions have been spent on a wildlife reserve whilst under local river bridges silt and debris builds up from lack of maintenance.

    • bigneil
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Ted – your first point. What they say – and what they will do – could be totally different. Our wonderful leader has proved this many many times.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 6, 2016 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        Indeed. what is promised and what is done seem to be almost complete opposites for Cameron and so much of this government.

        After all did Cameron not say he was “a low tax conservative at heart”? Were we not promised some real renegotiation on the EU instead of the current joke pantomime? Did we not get lots of other “cast iron” and “no if no buts” promises. We were even told the N…. H….. S…… was Cameron’s “priority in three letters” and that they would raise the IHT threshold to £1M each.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      It is indeed a huge policy change from their current “return to nature approach”. Not that I imagine it will actually happen at the coal face. So much nicer to spend all the money on nice offices, high wages, expert consultants and pensions of pen pushers than actual dredging, provision of flood planes, holding reservoirs and flood relief channels.

      The flooding kills all sort of “nature” anyway so their daft approach does not even help nature.

    • Dennis
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      “The CEO made one important statement that I support. He said clearly on more than one occasion that where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people.”

      That would be all very well if there were a reasonable number of people but there are not – there are too many without any thought or policy to reduce (yes over much time) this present gross number. When will the thought that people are more important than environment continue until there is little environment left to support anybody?

  2. Margaret
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    We are certainly going to need quick action and not so much chit chat. It is one of those problems where the Environment Agency cannot afford to faff about.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Well they have been faffing for years and when Owen Patterson tried to take action he was fired by Cameron.

  3. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    “There is no evidence that they do regard dredging as an important contributor to flood relief in most cases, and every evidence that they short change the dredging budget.”

    The whole thing is so hedged round with silly rules and regulations that it is much easier to pretend to be ecologically sound and to harp on about global warming like the BBC.

    Please Mr Redwood put a bomb under these bureaucrats. I live in the Fens and I am getting apprehensive, as was our MP (Steve Barclay) when the floods came.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Indeed the absurd legal restrictions from the EU and UK are a large part of the problem.

    • stred
      Posted January 6, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I also am worried that my house in France will be unsaleable, as it is near sea level. It has nearly been flooded in very heavy rainstorms twice in 25 years, but the local council has cleared rivers and put in a gate to prevent high tides backing up. However the forecasts of 5 ft or more sea level rise or more are blighting low level areas, even though tidal gauges are showing hardly any rise and the forecasts are based on dubious satellite data and altered temperature records, with the CET records abandoned in favour of tree rings etc.

      In Essex, the sea level came within a foot of the top of banks last time there was a storm surge. Yet nothing is being done to improve defences, dredge rivers or other measures. Meanwhile E.Anglia is sinking slowly and world tide gauges have been averaging about 2mm rise pa for centuries, while the slight increase in temperature seems to be leading to more rainfall. If the EA is guilty of deliberately allowing homes and business to flood and rash sea level predictions by some Met Office heads turns out to be false, then those affected should take a class action against the agencies and the individuals responsible for the blight.

  4. sm
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    May I ask a naive but genuine question:

    when considering applications for planning permission to councils for either house-building from scratch or putting up a fence 25cm higher than normally allowed, planning authorities exercise huge and detailed control – so why do said authorities allow construction to take place in areas known to be at serious flooding risk?

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      sm

      Unfortunately Planning Committees are usually made up of local Councillors, many of whom have little or no actual planning, building, construction, technical knowledge at all.
      Indeed some find difficulty in reading a comprehensive drawing or plans.

      But they all think they can put up a fence.

      Whilst they may have the best intentions in the World, they usually have to be guided through applications, by someone who has some knowledge, and that is where a Planning officer can make a difference, but only again, if they have such knowledge.

      How do I know ?

      Over the years and before retirement, I submitted over 200 planning applications for my clients, and attended numerous Planning Committee meetings.

      Frustration at their lack of suitable knowledge and understanding of what was being proposed would be a very kind word.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Follow the money perhaps?

    • stred
      Posted January 6, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Councils are also under instruction to find space for housing to cope with immigration and high birth rates. Big builders have large teams of lawyers and specialists to get planning permission in areas which small firms and individuals would be refused.

  5. agricola
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    If dredging is only appropriate in a limited number of cases, mostly it would seem when ministers are standing on their necks, then what other answers to the disasters of Cumbria and Yorkshire do they have in their toy cupboard. If they have answers what are they and why have they not been employed. Lastly , to what extent do the green edicts of the EU bear upon their decision making.

    • Graham Wood
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Agricola.
      The EU ‘green edicts are twofold – the Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive which together either prevent or severely inhibit natural dredging and silt removal – as well as being highly costly.
      Without this gross interference in our domestic policy of river management the centuries old methods of local control, dredging, and silt removal could continue with co-operation between landowners, local councils and farmers who are well able to competently deal with these recurring problems.
      However, now is the time to bring the matter more urgently to the attention of Mr Cameron with the call for him to formally demand a complete disapplication of both of these highly damaging and intrusive EU directives as a high priority in his continuing negotiations with the EU Commission which affect the lives and property of people in York and elsewhere.
      This is yet again another urgent reason for the UK to leave the EU so that their disastrous “green” policies as the source of utter incompetence and bureaucratic interference can be stopped once and for all. Vote leave!

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted January 5, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        And the Landfill Directive, mentioned in this guidance about dredging:

        https://www.gov.uk/guidance/waste-exemptions-disposing-of-waste

        I note in particular:

        “D1: key conditions

        The waste must be deposited as close as possible to where it was dredged from.

        The waste must be deposited either:

        on the bank of the waters from where it was dredged

        or on land next to the water it was dredged from (the dredgings must be removed from the waterway and deposited mechanically in one operation)

        This means that you can’t deposit onto a bank and then move it further away by the same or another machine.”

        But as I understand there are circumstances where it is permissible to spread dredgings on fields, so even that is not the end of it.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 6, 2016 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      There are surely only four possible answers. You increase the river capacity all the way downstream to the sea in some way, you have holding flood planes, lakes or reservoirs up stream, you design the houses to accept occasional flooding or you move the houses and leave the flood plane areas where they currently are – in the flooded towns.

      The idea that cutting UK C02 emissions is any solution is clearly bonkers.

      Most likely they will do the usual government approach, don wellies and a hi-viz jacket and say soberly “lessons will be learnt”, “money is no object”, “we will ensure this is addressed urgently”. Then pretend to be doing something, produce lots of reports, PR and propaganda from nice offices – but actually do nothing that makes any difference at all. Repeat process again at the next flood.

  6. Antisthenes
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    You are no doubt fighting an uphill battle as the EA has it’s own eco agenda and is very reluctant to change that regardless of the downside effects of following it. Also they would rather spend their budget on their own comforts and what is left on their pet projects. The EU has considerable input into that agenda as it has with so many other things that effect the lives of UK citizens. Adding to the ease that the EA can do what it wants rather than what is needed.

    So you are up against two bloated bureaucratic bodies one that has no democratic accountability the EU and the other a quango that resists being accountable. A prime example of decision making by small cliques of experts rather than a much larger group of experts the general public especially the ones who are affected by the problem most.

    Experts are indeed needed but not as decision makers but to assist in implementing decisions when they are made through the democratic process. Government by experts is the modern fashion a very dangerous fashion as that way leads to dictatorship. A technocracy which the EU is and we can see how well that works. It does not except for a privileged few.

  7. The Active Citizen
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “The CEO made one important statement that I support. He said clearly on more than one occasion that where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people. The follow up question is why haven’t they followed this principle in more cases.”

    I’m pleased you are going to follow this up in Parliament, JR. It’s abundantly clear from the EU’s Water Framework Directive and many other EU Directives, that the EA has been happily pursuing an eco leftist-liberal hug-a-newt agenda for the last 15 years. They have done this to the detriment of people’s right to live in a reasonably protected way, and they’ve done it at enormous cost. Political dogma has shaped the EA’s approach.

    Naturally there are other considerations such as building on flood plains, etc, but the EA needs to be attacked hard on the following :-

    1. Why did your Corporate Plan 2010-2015 have as its number 1 priority to “Act to reduce climate change and its consequences”? Do you accept that this Plan was fundamentally flawed and that those responsible for it should resign?

    2. Why did you publish a new Corporate Plan in 2014 with a revised top priority of “A changing climate”, followed by a second priority of “Increasing the resilience of people, properties and businesses to the risks of flooding and coastal erosion” ?
    (See 2015 Annual Report and Accounts, incorporating summary of Corporate Plan)

    3. Why, if your top priority is now “a changing climate”, is your ‘Corporate Target 1a’ stated as “We improve protection from flooding for more households”? Doesn’t this demonstrate very confused thinking generally at the EA?

    4. And why is this ‘Corporate Target 1a’ flagged as Green, as if you think it’s solved? Why is this not red?

    3. Is it possible that you don’t understand that the public expect that an organisation with a budget of £1.25 billion should be putting people and property first? Exactly what do you mean by ‘increasing people’s resilience’? Does this mean persuading them to stuff more sandbags? And apart from private property, do you any idea how much businesses will lose in flood affected areas?

    4. How have any of the EU’s Directives changed the EA’s policies in the last 15 years? Can you please list all EU Directives which you consider to control what the EA can and can’t do and any Directives which determine what its priorities are? Do you personally agree with all these Directives and can you explain how they meet the needs of the British people?

    5. If EA policies have been changed since 2000, can you point to any single instance of change which has directly protected people and property from floods?

    6. To protect people and property in an effective manner, which requirements of EU Directives need to be abrogated on an extended emergency basis, as permitted under EU law?

    7. From your budget of 1.25 billion, can you please define the £281 million ‘capital works’ figure and confirm that this is actual physical work and that it doesn’t include any consultancy, meetings, salaries, reports, etc ? How much of this was directly on flood defences and waterway drainage?

    8. How is it possible that you spent £412 million on pensions and salaries, given that you contract out most of your work? What exactly does your enormous workforce of 10,235 actually do? Please provide a breakdown.

    9. Why is your first response to any crisis to insist that the Government gives you more money? Aren’t you just asking the taxpayer to pay even more for your failures?

    Clearly I could go on, but that’s enough for now.

    JR, the EA is just one example of profligate waste and mismanagement which is being accepted in our country all the time. A few days ago you rightly railed against this in general terms about all non-governmental agencies and organisations.

    Please push your questioning aggressively and you will have much support I’m sure.

    • alan jutson
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      T A C

      You outline simple but important questions which any presenter should ask if they bothered to do some homework.

      Perhaps this is the remit of a select committee if one is to be held.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted January 5, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        It is not a lack of homework it is the agenda they have.

      • stred
        Posted January 7, 2016 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        Another question- What are you planning to do about sea level rises, where existing banks protecting the Fens and E.Anglia and parts of Sussex are barely adequate.

        On the news last night the main item reported of the committee and the interview with the Chairman was his holiday arrangement. He said he works from his holiday home in the W.Indies. So that’s all sorted then.

    • oldtimer
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Good questions.

      I shall probably even much older before you get the answers.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Excellent series of pertinent questions, I think.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted January 6, 2016 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      Indeed excellent questions but do not expect honest or good answers.

  8. Ex-expat Colin
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The Flood Prevention Society – Urban myths about flooding:

    9 points on the various EA positions (h/t Bishop Hill).

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2016/1/4/flood-prevention.html

  9. Lifelogic
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Exactly.

    Christopher Booker put it well in the Sunday Telegraph this week. A vote on the site seems to prefer Owen Patterson to Lizz Truss by 96% to 4%. So why on earth did Cameron fire the competent Owen Paterson? The reason, one assumes, is that he is sound on the EU and most other things so he has to go.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/flooding/12078392/The-dismal-Liz-Truss-is-a-wash-out-and-the-EUs-latest-fishing-fiasco.html

    The Environment agency are clearly spending very little indeed as a proportion of their huge income on real actions to help reduce the impact of flooding. Lots of money on lots of money on pointless activities, PR, talking shops, reports, offices, wildlife surveys, salaries of bureaucrats, large pensions and the likes. They are also tied in knots by absurd EU regulations, a poor direction from government and the usual fake “green” religion & agenda.

    He is interesting on the Sea Bass fishing ban farce too.

  10. Bill
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I understand from someone in the Fire Service that (a) there is a large wastage of resources with money being spent on presentation (b) the software used by the Fire Service to coordinate its work is naff (c) York was deliberately flooded to save its pumping station.

    I cannot understand why with current computer modelling it is impossible to predict water flow from various amounts of rain and coming from various directions. The Environmental Agency has a good website showing where flood plains are and you would have thought that this mapping would have been extended and tested to deal with extreme conditions like the ones faced recently. What we need, however, is a connection between government departments so that the design of properties is improved where there is risk of flooding: stone floors, drainage, higher electrical wiring, etc to enable faster recovery and clean-up.

  11. alan jutson
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Cannot understand why the EA think dredging and weed clearance does not help water flow.

    With regards to the River Loddon, I hear Mole Road is closed due to its flooding yet again.

    Thus the flood planes which are adjacent are also covered in water.

    Perhaps you would like to ask Wokingham Council why they think that future building on this land should be allowed, and where they think the water will go when the planned houses are built on it.

    • JJE
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Yes the Sindlesham area is a classic example. Build on the flood plain and let the river block up. Anyone with half a brain cell can see the problems coming. I expect the Showcase roundabout may also be affected in the next day or so given the rain we had yesterday.

      Note to our friends in the North – this isn’t a North South divide issue. They are just as incompetent in Wokingham.

      As I said previously, we need something along the lines of the US Army Corps of Engineers to fix these issues and what we have is a bunch of swan-uppers.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Alan, over the coming years Wokingham council is going to have to find sites for a very large number of new homes, and that is it, if some of them have to go on areas which may be susceptible to flooding then that is how it will have to be.

      The precise number has not yet been settled, but I read here:

      http://www.maidenhead-advertiser.co.uk/News/Areas/Maidenhead/Senior-councillor-says-housing-targets-will-be-difficult-to-achieve-in-coming-years-21102015.htm

      that for Wokingham it could be 856 a year for the next 15 or 20 years.

      “A Berkshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) report released on Tuesday revealed a need for 2,015 new homes per year up to the year 2036 in the Eastern Housing Market Area – which includes Windsor and Maidenhead, Slough and South Bucks.

      The technical study suggested splitting the homes between the authorities, with the borough expected to provide 712 annually, Slough 927 and South Bucks 376.

      While the number is similar to the figure predicted as part of the council’s Borough Local Plan (BLP) discussions, Cllr Derek Wilson (Con, Oldfield), the Royal Borough’s cabinet member for planning, expressed disappointment with the numbers and said they will be ‘difficult to achieve’ over the next 15 years.

      “At the moment we are on track to provide 63 per cent of that figure, which isn’t enough,” he said.

      “From that perspective, we are going to have to try and see if there are other areas we can build.

      “There will certainly be more flats within the town centre and the density will increase which will increase the height of buildings.

      “We want to be able to do this without making the town centre look like Manhattan.”

      In the Western Berkshire Housing Market Area, the suggested housing split is: West Berkshire 665, Wokingham 856, Bracknell Forest 635 and Reading 699.

      Cllr Wilson pointed to constraints including greenbelt, Crown Estates, flood plains and special protection areas in Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead, and said the council will need to have discussions with neighbouring authorities on how best to share the load.

      He predicts that Slough Borough Council, which needs to provide 927 homes, will approach the Royal Borough for help.

      In turn, he said, the borough plans on approaching Bracknell Forest and Wokingham to take on some of its housing.

      Cllr Wilson also said the increased number of people would mean more of an issue over school places – suggesting another secondary school may need to be built – and would put pressure on the towns’ medical services.”

      It’s not that long ago that there was a plan to shut one of the state secondary schools in Maidenhead because with lower birth rates the rolls were projected to fall, making it possible to sell off the site for housing or other development.

      But in all this we should remember that overall mass immigration is not only necessary but hugely beneficial, and it will continue to add to the economic and multicultural vibrancy of the Thames Valley that we all value so highly.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 5, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Dennis

        The massive house building programme has already started in the Wokingham area.

        They have already agreed to 20,000 houses due to Mr Prescots directive of past years.

        Not much open land now to consider, Wokingham now already joined up with Bracknell, roads clogged up for hours on end, very little new roads proposed other than a single lane relief road which goes through a new housing estate and comes out between two low and narrow bridges to the south, and the same to the North which is due to come out on the A329 next to the M4 but not to connect with it. !

    • Timaction
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Mr Redwood, a relative informs me that the EA had sold some of its dredging equipment in the Taunton are. Have they done this elsewhere and if so why?
      Physics dictates that if rivers are dredged and embankments are cleared and reinforced that the flow of water will increase. Why have they ignored this other than rigid enforcement of EU directives to the detriment of people?

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      I could not support characterless concrete or corrugated steel banks on The Loddon . Proper management of a river costs proper money .

      If the Loddon is dredged , the surplus water is going to run into St Patricks Stream in Twyford and then into The Thames .

      It will just move flooding downstream …. and there is only so far downstream it can be moved before flood plains have to be used .

      The Thames upstream of Shepperton is sacrificially flooded to protect London .

      When there is severe rainfall , sewerage farms get swamped and release raw untreated sewerage complete with toilet paper etc etc directly into rivers .

      We only hear about this when it reaches the seaside and some poor child tries to blow up a condom and goes down with a viral infection .

      It’s a national disgrace and fixing it would be a great make-work program for the coming joblessness .

      In the South East , what about building some reservoirs to capture some of this water ?

      The issue in the Southeast is largely due to massive overpopulation thanks to the myopic LibLabCon party .

    • Know-Dice
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      WBC are scared of losing a planning appeal and the costs associated with that…

      I guess that the EA have produced a report saying that the flood prevention measures that the developers [Hare Hatch] have put forwards is adequate, which unfortunately doesn’t give WBC a leg to stand on as far as rejecting the application.

      More sway should be given to local objectors i.e. the people who will suffer when the area DOES flood.

  12. Bert Young
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    The Enviroment Agency is floored from the start . It cannot be answerable to Brussels and to Westminster . It’s bad enough being under the wing of one government direction , but , under two is impossible for any coherent policy and execution to occur .

    The solution now is to sack the Chairman and privatise the organisation . The present weather conditions are unusual and the extent of the flooding unprecedented ; on the other hand extremes of weather conditions have to be a part of the day to day activities of the EA and , clearly , it has caught them out . This must not happen again .

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      Privatisation would not solve the problem that MPs claim to be the masters in the UK but at the same time they have told the Environment Agency to act as if it were the local branch of an EU federal agency. If it was privatised it would still have to obey the EU laws which our MPs have allowed to be imposed on the country even if they don’t bother to study what those extraneous laws are, in fact even if they come into effect without MPs seeing them which is often the case.

      The core of this is the “constitutional contradiction” which the Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve advised David Cameron would be created if MPs dared to vote in favour of the sovereignty of their own Parliament on March 5th 2008, Division No 120 here:

      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080305/debtext/80305-0024.htm

      That was the occasion when Benedict Brogan reported on his blog:

      http://ebooksfromblogs.weebly.com/uploads/1/5/5/7/1557501/ben_brogan.pdf

      “A robustly euro-sceptic MP has just shown me the text messages he received from the Chief Whip’s office yesterday evening. The first, at 19.17, gave Tory MPs a green-light to go home by telling them there would be “no further official votes”. The division on Mr Cash’s clause was called seven minutes later, at 19.24.”

  13. Gina Dean
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    If we have a problem with lack of expertise in this area. Surely we could seek help from the Dutch. Who I believe ignore the EU directive about leaving the river to find their own way, as they know better than some group from Brussels in their ivory tower. People and homes are more important than wildlife, they will survive as they have always done without interference from us.
    As to the money the quango receives it seems to be used for vanity projects not for the use it was intended for. Do we get value from it with the 14000 employed by it.
    where is all the equipment stored around tge country is it in the correct places for use.

  14. Iain Gill
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The national trust really need a kick up the bum too, the way they manage their land is often sheer madness. They have taken decisions to allow land to fall into the sea, which could be saved, completely counter the wishes of the vast majority of the public. The way they operate as little more than a slum landlord in some places. All in all an out of control organisation not deserving of the special treatment they are given.

  15. JJE
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I see you have mastered the political art of scapegoating.
    As was said when you wrote about Quangos recently these independent bodies and their bosses fulfil the primary political role of enabling ministers to duck their responsibilities.
    I think we are starting to see through this ploy.

    If ministers are serious about tackling the flood issues, then take the responsibility away from the bird watchers and set up a corps of engineers to carry out the necessary work, and give them the correct funding and regulatory framework to prioritise people.

    Or perhaps you will tell us the EU makes this impossible?

  16. Denis Cooper
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    What do you do if you discover evidence that somebody you’ve employed as your servant has been surreptitiously working in the interests of another master and against yours?

    Just accept their denials and excuses, and so risk allowing them to continue to quietly serve the interests of that other master, or dismiss them outright, or keep them on but warn them that in future you will subject everything they do to much closer scrutiny?

    But what if you find that another, more senior, servant, let us call him your steward, has actually been instructing the junior servant to behave like that, over many years, without your knowledge and against your interests, and maybe even without his full realisation of what he was doing when he signed the instructions which were issued?

    Who should you sack then? Both of them, just the steward, just the minion, or neither?

    However it’s even more complicated in this case, because the minions in the Environment Agency can try to claim that they thought they were carrying out the instructions of the stewards in the House of Commons, many of whom have already been dismissed or have retired or moved on, but have left this as part of the legacy of their incompetence.

  17. Bob
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    A map released by the Environment Agency highlighting ‘severely affected’ areas runs an almost identical course to the proposed HS2 route through Leeds.

    Time to think again about this colossal mis-appropriation of public funds.eye

    Also, some pruning of EA sinecures would save a lot of taxpayers money too.

  18. Denis Cooper
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “There is no evidence that they do regard dredging as an important contributor to flood relief in most cases, and every evidence that they short change the dredging budget.”

    Well, if you want to know the views of the Environment Agency on dredging here is one version, in a leaflet handed out to the general public for their information:

    http://www.ourcityourriver.co.uk/downloads/Dredging%20Leaflet.pdf

    “Dredging and flood risk”

    “Your guide to our views on dredging”

    “This leaflet tells you why we believe that dredging does not tackle flooding”.

    Nothing at all in that leaflet about the EU, about EU policies and directives, in fact on the surface this is clearly “nothing whatsoever to do with the EU”.

    But then there’s another version of their views behind the views expressed in that leaflet, a version which while not actually secret is not so widely publicised:

    http://evidence.environment-agency.gov.uk/FCERM/en/SC060065/MeasuresList/M1/M1T1.aspx

    “Good practice management of in-channel sediments”

    where that webpage is marked “Page 1 Description, Application & Benefits for WFD”, and half of the page is actually about:

    “Benefits for Water Framework Directive”

    “Good practice management of in-channel sediments can help deliver objectives of the Water Framework Directive by … ”

    And that is only the start of the web of EU policies and laws which have shaped and even now continue to shape the policies of the Environment Agency, under which restoring and maintaining the ecological health of the river and protecting natural habitats and correctly disposing of dredgings or silt has been and still is given higher priority than keeping the river out of people’s homes.

    Of course all public officials are under a legal obligation to respect EU laws, our politicians made sure of that; and the consequences of simply ignoring them are unpredictable, insofar as ultimately their interpretation will be decided by the lawyers on the EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg if somebody takes a case there, and that court will decide whether there have been infractions and if so who should be punished and in what way; and that in itself is a good reason for officials and others to err on the side of caution about the legal aspects rather than risk the potential consequences of accidentally or incidentally infringing EU law.

    This is a rotten system of government, but it is the one that our elected representatives in Parliament have willingly imposed upon us since January 1st 1973, and the one in which the public servants in the Environment Agency are required to operate.

  19. ian
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Should be dune away with and give the money to the local areas

  20. alan jutson
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Off topic

    I see we have now given an illegal immigrant, who walked through the channel tunnel and caused chaos at the time, legal refugee status and all that goes with it.

    Great message to send to the thousands of other illegals who are in Calais and still trying.

    I really do wonder at times if it is me that is crackers !

  21. Martyn G
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    The state of the river Thames is rather dodgy at the moment – and that after only about 2 inches of rain over the past 7 days in the upper Thames area. The strength and amount of river flow makes navigation quite dangerous and today I note that the downstream lay-by for boats waiting to enter the lock at Marlow is already under water. Now 5 of the 7 buoys marking the narrowed and shallowed navigation channel downstream of Benson lock have been washed away and were last seen heading for the Thames estuary.
    No dredging was carried out in 2015 and it is clear that heavy and/or prolonged rain will quickly result in the Thames joining the increasing number of floods this year. Happy New Year folks!

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Flooding of the Thames is a bit different from flooding of other rivers .

      The powers that be have deemed that London has to be protected at all costs so the water has to be held back upstream .

      What annoys me is that London does not pay compensation to those who are sacrificed for it .

      I suppose that is what you get when the govt is located in the centre of the cesspit .

      Reply London does pay considerably more tax than the rest of the country, but we need a water management system that does not flood anyone’s home.

  22. lojolondon
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    John, these EA people have spent such a lot of effort to avoid doing their basic job, which is dredging rivers, I get quite infuriated! Ask any Dutchman if dredging is a waste of time, unhelpful or does not help with flooding. I think these people should be personally and criminally liable for the extensive floods in towns like York which has existed in the same place for a thousand years without the problems we now experience.

    • Graham Wood
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I live in York and the scale and extent of the floods within the city and area beyond are unprecedented. I think that those who should be “personally liable”, albeit indirectly, are those who condone the mad “green” policies of the EU by campaigning for the UK to remain in this incompetent and failed organisation.
      That of course includes Mr Cameron who also bears a heavy moral responsibility in his continuing support for UK membership.
      As I suggest above it is morally incumbent upon him to demand that the EU Commission abandons these “directives” in his coming negotiations with that body
      So that rivers management is brought exclusively under national control once again.

  23. peter davies
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The chickens really have come home to roost. Time for opposition politicians to stop lying on TV and blaming lack of dredging on EA Cuts given that a paltry £20m out of a billion budget has been spent on dredging.

    DEFRA needs to be honest about the impact of EU Directives and look at taking this responsibility back from the EA to local river boards.

    I notice the whistleblower blog for the EA has disappeared, a case of a large Quango using its financial might to silence dissent?

  24. Nig L
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    A typical politician’s response knowing his government is in trouble, blame someone else. First question ‘is Liz Truss alive and what precisely has her contribution been apart from helping DC with his gender balance. Why was a very effective Minister Owen Paterson got rid of. We know the answer to that one.

    Why are your views on dredging right and the EA’s wrong? Why should the EA act immediately, when you click your fingers meaning presumably the same for the remainder of the 600 plus MPs?

    Finally and most importantly why did your Government sign off a five year business plan that quite clearly shows that very few people are going to be protected in the short term. Your Environment Agency (from its last Minutes) appears to be achieving the objectives you set it.

    You come from a corporate financial back ground and will know the importance of Leadership driving a business through its correctly funded business plan. Your Government has achieved poor operational and political leadership with a seemingly meaningless business plan that is underfunded.

    No wonder you are looking for scapegoats.

    Reply As I have demonstrated, the EA has a big budget. The issue is how they spend it. One of the roles of MPs is to press for sensible spending that delivers value for money.

    • Nigl
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      I agree totally and you are to be commended for the assiduous work you undertake and it looks as if it is needed but you are missing or ignoring the point as other correspondents have also commented upon.

      However why isn’t Liz Truss all over this. Why did your government, presumably the Minister agree their Corporate Plan if the targets are so inappropriate and why are these area flagged as ‘green’ as being achieved without challenge from both the Minister and the senior civil servants.

      The allocation of this big budget would be in that plan. Sensible spending that delivers value for money. Who could argue. Only problem, unmeasurable. Nothing S M A R T about that statement. The reality is that it is your government who agreed their business plan. Now politically that is biting you. Stable doors and bolting horses!!

  25. Tony J
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    The comment that the Environment Agency has “spent £20M” bears further examination.

    I recall reading / hearing that in order to dredge the Somerset Levels, the UK had to buy back the dredging equipment we’d previously sold to the Netherlands

    One wonders just how, when & where the £20M was spent – on labour, materials, or was it an accountancy figure for depreciation of the equipment ?

    Reading your blog John, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for the EA Chairman to answer – it might be better if his holiday were “extended”.

    Permanently perhaps ?

  26. Shieldsman
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Major flooding in recent years is the fault of present and past Westminster Governments. It is the responsibility of the PM and his Government to ensure the safety and welfare of the Public.
    At ministerial level it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that her Department and the various Government appointed Agencies (Quango’s) fulfill their duties and tasks successfully.
    It is the duty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that funds are available for carrying out the necessary work.
    No doubt there will be much buck-passing and every last excuse will be stretched to its limits.
    The Environment Agency has been headed by unqualified political appointees who have shown more concern for wildlife than humans with over zealous implementation of the European Water Framework Directive (EWF) into UK law.

    With the creation of the Environment Agency in 1997 and our adopting the European Water Framework Directive, no longer were the authorities charged with a duty to prevent flooding. Instead, the emphasis shifted, in an astonishing reversal of policy, to a primary obligation to achieve “good ecological status” for our national rivers. This is defined as being as close as possible to “undisturbed natural conditions”.

    Richard North points out – reference to the actual directive might suggest a certain caution. Specifically, recital 31 states: In cases where a body of water is so affected by human activity or its natural condition is such that it may be unfeasible or unreasonably expensive to achieve good status, less stringent environmental objectives may be set on the basis of appropriate, evident and transparent criteria, and all practicable steps should be taken to prevent any further deterioration of the status of waters.

    This is then amplified in Article 3, which permits Member States to adopt a lower standard if the changes necessary for achieving good ecological status would have significant adverse effects on “water regulation, flood protection, [and] land drainage”. In other words, there is a very clear and specific exemption to the stated objective of achieving “good ecological status”, if the Member State judges that the works necessary to achieve that status would have significant adverse effects on flood protection.

    The failure to prevent flooding by carrying out essential maintenance work on streams, rivers, bridges and the infrastructure was primarily caused by our membership of the EU and the implementation of the European Water Framework and the Birds Habitat Directives.

    The Millenium bug did not strike but there has been repeated flooding this Century which is very well documented. I am sure we will hear all the excuses aired that it is due to unprecedented rainfall (in the Lake District !!!). The muddy waters surrounding the Governments belief in climate change will be well and truly stirred.

    If you believe that mankind is changing the weather, then you must take action to cope with the extreme weather patterns thus caused. Beggaring your Country in the hope that our tiny reduction in CO2 will save the day is a forlorn hope, with the developing World not interested in following our example.

    Every disaster and currently there are many within the EU) indicates that we would be better off LEAVING the European Union.

  27. MikeP
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    John doesn’t the local Council have any responsibility and/or budget for flood defences or is it all and always down to the EA?
    I agree that the state of the Loddon is a major cause for concern, at the Showcase Cinema car park end, further west at Sindlesham Mill and around the approaches to the new Shinfield bypass. This latter project will be worthless if no-one can get to it from Arborfield or other surrounding places !

    Reply Yes, the Council has lead responsibility for anti flooding measures. As the highways authority it is responsible for all highways water, and as the planning authority it has duties over water management vis a vis new development. The Environment Agency is responsible for the rivers, and needs to work with the Council.

  28. ian wragg
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    In common with other Quangos, the EA exists entirely for the benefit of the employees and to implement EU policy.
    Owen Paterson was sacked because he was off message vis a vis the EU so he had to go.
    Now we have the clueless Liz Truss with no sensible qualifications or experience blighting peoples lives.
    I see Dave is saying that cabinet ministers can campaign with their conscience after the negotiations. Is this a crafty ploy to announce a snap referendum leaving insufficient time for proper campaigning.??

  29. Ken Moore
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Wokingham is a good case in point.

    It was interesting reading the views of anglers.

    http://www.barbel.co.uk/site/vbulletin/forum/barbel-talk/446-ea-flood-defence-team-plans-substantial-dredging-river-loddon.html

    On the one hand there is the interests of a relatively small number of anglers in the fishing community that on the face of it, do not want dredging of the rivers that may impact upon fish stocks. This has to be balanced with the wider need to prevent disruption from widescale flooding that may impact thousands of people.

    It would seem that in John Redwood’s area, the EA took the side of the anglers.

    I do agree with a point made by the anglers that the building of homes on flood plains and other unsuitable areas is also a significant factor and needs to be controlled. Slim chance of that with net immigration running at 300,000+ per year .

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-31147252

    This development will deny the area soak away capacity and further overload the Loddon in times of flood. This has mostly come about because of pressures to build houses to meet the needs of an exponentially rising population….again it keeps coming back to this subject and our leaders failure to do something about it.

    The old settlers instinctively knew where to site houses. This is all been trampled over in the mad dash to increase GDP and rub our ‘noses in diversity’.

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      Ken ,

      I have fished the Loddon and found it to be incredibly hard going for barbel and big chub .

      About 10 years ago , there was severe flooding and sewerage farms ended up discharging raw untreated sewerage into the Thames and it’s tributaries .

      (words left out ed)

      This sewerage killed something like 95% of the Barbel which travel between the Thames at Twyford and Sonning , St Patricks Stream and the Loddon .

      Since then at least one double figure (10lb+) barbel has even made it up into the Embrook but overall , the barbel and chub stocks have never recovered .

      The bottlenecks which would need dredging are hardly amenable to it and some of those bridges which would need to be demolished or bypassed are historic .

      Perhaps the answer is not even to try dredging and cut new relief channels instead or create much needed new reservoir capacity to deal with that other problem which has destroyed fish stocks – over abstraction .

      Even the cheapest option for the Loddon would surely cost more than the EA’s total national annual spend on dredging .

  30. Ken Moore
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    ‘The CEO made one important statement that I support. He said clearly on more than one occasion that where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people’.
    Did anyone manage to read this without bursting out laughing..

    We know this is nonsense and that the emphasis changed from preventing flooding to achieving good ‘ecological status’. The whole of the EA like everything else the government touches now is controlled by what it sees as it’s politically correct truth. Dredging of rivers doesn’t fit in with the climate change alarmist religion so it can’t possibly be a good idea.

    Dredging is probably seen as too ‘white working class’ now. The establishment pretty much now despise fishermen, miners … anyone who actually gets their hands dirty doing something useful.

    Much better for diversity targets to get lots of graduates working in offices ensuring Eu directives are followed to the letter.
    That suits the battalions of managers too as it’s much easier to ‘performance manage’ an office bod than someone with a digger out in the field. They might use the wrong type of language at work or apply common sense to a problem which cannot ever be allowed to happen in 2016.

    For centuries we have known that the rivers must be deepened, embanked and cleansed so that they have enough capacity to take away sufficient water to prevent flooding. Until Mr Major/Blair/Cameron came along and decided every decision would be guided by PC logic as that was ‘the right thing to do’…

    Still waiting for Dr Redwood to write an article discussing how political correctness managed to take over his party and the whole political establishment, but I guess that is too hot a potato for even our kind and outspoken host ?.

  31. Jon
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Where it says;

    “where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people”

    I think the devil is in the detail here.

    Where we are talking about large flat areas such as the Somerset Levels and South East and Anglia then many a hamlet, village or town is on the same level as the surrounding farm land. I think we are in danger of simplifying to the extent that if it’s not a metropolis then no people live there.

    If, as millions do, one lives on low level flat land especially clay soil then not dredging so that it floods ” natural habitat” I don’t think will work on it’s own and end up flooding homes, farms and livestock. I would imagine such a policy would need to select low lying arable fields and then to lower them in height and to build banks around them with a gate for water to escape into. This would be in order not to flood the country homes and villages. However, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these anywhere!

    That is very off given the statement;

    “where policy has to choose between protecting people from flood, and protecting a natural habitat, they will choose to protect the people”

    Should the policy really read “if you are not a townie then you are regarded as Natural Habitat and okay to be flooded to protect the ‘people’ as you are not one”.

  32. DaveM
    Posted January 5, 2016 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    OT:

    JR, I am currently in Norway, but continue to follow my normal news threads and your blog, obviously. I note you have been hitting the BBC hard recently. The big story in the north of the continent at the minute is the NYE attacks on women in Germany by large gangs of immigrants. But the bigger story is that the German politicians and press are desperately trying to cover up the fact that groups of immigrants are ignoring rule of law and behaving like savages in the centre of major cities, and that the police are receiving no support from councils and govt. The BBC’s reluctant report on this was, I’m sure, only as a response to the DM’s coverage, and attempted to deny the incidents had anything to do with immigrants even though the whole world knows they did. I don’t recall reading about this sort of thing prior to Merkel’s open invite.

    Whilst I don’t expect any real info about con party conversations, would you please confirm or deny that the UK govt has acknowledged the truth of the situation and will support the police WHEN this kind of thing happens in England, when the govt finally caves and brings over all those people in Calais?

    It will be interesting to see how the BBC reports on the inevitable backlash from the (very well organised) German right wing hooligan element. No doubt they’ll be described as ‘violent racist thugs’.

  33. CHRISTOPHER HOUSTON
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    A major question as seen on BBC Select Committee Rooms recorded 5 Jan 2016: Winter Floods to three leading members of the Environment Agency was not answered properly; namely, their personal knowledge of the connections between various agencies Local Authorities; Coast guard, Army, Mountain Rescue, Charities, Volunteers…of exactly WHO in particular, makes a decision which is immediately acted upon.

    They answered in generalities seemingly quite unable to name particular instances in the flooding where Mr So-And-So decided to call in for a helicopter to transport 80 one-ton bags of sand a few hundred yards to fill in a breach in a flood barrier.
    Failing miserably to answer properly, the Parliamentary Committee did not challenge them. It allowed them to mention the helicopter ( a Chinook ) three times and how it was vital in delivering spare parts to the Foss barrier. The three were allowed to get away with saying the same Army Chinook was instrumental in effect in transporting the 80 tons of sand to fix the Croston barrier.

    This is most revealing…because if these three most senior men from the Environment Agency genuinely believed the Chinook fulfilled its mission in a timely way then they do not know what actually happened. They were taking their brief from afternoon and evening news reports and not from their officials nor from the LIVE broadcasts by Sky News and the BBC screened… only in the morning.

    The morning interview dealing with the 80 tons of sand transported by Chinook at Croston was with a female and one male Army Officer. It was with some embarrassment that the Army Officer expressed his regret that the Chinook would not complete its mission ( absolutely vital to be completed before nightfall ) not because of the bad weather but because the Chinook was undergoing repairs and was deemed not safe to fly until those repairs were done.
    The Chinook actually completed its mission a day or so later, too late for the deluge of the previous night. This failure was not referred to in subsequent news broadcasts. No journalist asked why only ONE helicopter capable of transporting one ton x 80 times was available to our Army, Coastguard, Mountain Rescue, RAF, Royal Navy or even Oil Rig helicopters.

    Such fact avoidance could not really be for security reasons. One is certain the Russians and Chinese and others monitor all domestic media broadcasts and get out of bed early enough to watch TV in the mornings especially when troops and helicopters are deployed.

    Therefore, sadly, one is left with the possibility that the UK lacks proper control and coordination in flood defence irrespective of whether any person had a legitimate Christmas holiday or not.
    I dare say any otherwise available Chinooks could have been deployed in Afghanistan, Kuwait, and are servicing the 1000 “special forces” ( British ) in Libya who are “assisting” in “logistics” for forces “fighting ISIL ” as reported by social media.
    Perhaps 1000 British soldiers do not constitute “Boots on the Ground “. Perhaps they are barefoot ready for an after-battle rolled-up trouser paddle in the Mediterranean.

    But of course the use of those Chinooks could not really be used there as they are too big and clumsy…and unfortunately break down too often to risk abandoning them in the Libyan desert.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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