Last night I attended a meeting of around 100 angry and worried local residents. Their story could be the story of so many in modern Britain. Most of them work hard, pay their national taxes, pay their Council tax and pay their water bills. All they want is that the authorities maintain the flood defences properly, and strengthen them if needed. The authorities seem incapable of doing either of these things.
I and my constituents are given the run round every time we complain. The Environment Agency, the Water Company and the local authority argue over who is responsible in any given case. They claim they do not have any money to do what is needed. They have plenty of money to pay highly paid executives to tell us nothing can be done, plenty of money to get legal and other professional advice to avoid responsibility, plenty of money to plaster websites with maps and stories about how many of my constituents homes are at risk of flooding, to put up their insurance bills.
I have tried to make it easy for them. If it is water from the local river causing the flooding problems, as in many cases it is, that is the responsibility of the Environment Agency. If it is foul water from the wastewater system that is the Water Company’s responsibility. If it is surface highways water that is the Council’s responsibility. What people expect is for public bodies and near monopoly companies to know and discharge their responsbilities. Somewhere in their massive budgets they ought to have reserved some cash to keep the drains, culverts and grilles clear. Somewhere there ought to be some cash to clear the river so it flows sensibly. And somewhere in the capital budgets there should be some improvement money to add the extra culverts, bunds and sluices we need to handle the extra water run off the new developments are creating.
The government fails to take proper account of the impact of extra development when it overrides the local Council and gives planning permission for more tarmac and concrete. The government fails to issue the right priorities for the Enviroonment Agency. The Agency fails to make strong enough respresentations against development in some cases where it will make the flooding worse.
No-one seems to want to spend any money from the huge sums they receive from the taxpayers on some hours with a digger to clean existing culverts and cut whatever new ones are needed. No-one wants to spend modest sums on throwing up some bunds around suitable fields to take the surplus water when the run off is too fast.
Next week the three responsible authorities are all going to meet together to ask what can be done. I guess that’s progress. I have been telling them what needs doing for years. It is not difficult, and much of it is not that expensive. The Dutch learned to keep the more challenging waters of the North Sea out of their country hundreds of years ago without the advantage of modern JCBs and strimmers. Why can’t we manage something a bit easier in 2009? Why do we get so little that we want from all our taxes?