Flood defence lies have put lives at risk

140208floods

The BBC has actually dared to run a story criticising the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government! Perhaps its editors are worried that the social media are getting a better reputation for news reporting.

It seems the UK Statistics Authority has attacked the Treasury for giving a “false impression” of government investment in areas like flood defences.

The government chart, released with the Autumn Statement, appeared to show an even spread across sectors, but used a ‘logarithmic’ scale – with gaps between £1 million, £10 million, £100 million, £1 billion and so on represented by increments of the same size.

The scaling appeared to show flood defences getting at least half as much funding as transport and energy – the projects that received the most money.

The Treasury's 'logarhythmic' chart, apparently showing a relatively even spread of funding.

The Treasury’s ‘logarithmic’ chart, apparently showing a relatively even spread of funding.

In fact, would you like to know the proportion of money actually being spent on flood defences, compared with energy infrastructure?

Two per cent.

The UK Statistics Authority's more representative chart, showing that flood defence (third from left) receives two per cent of the funding that goes to energy (second from left).

The UK Statistics Authority’s more representative chart, showing that flood defence (third from left) receives two per cent of the funding that goes to energy (second from left).

Last Wednesday the same BBC that broke this story told us that severe flood warnings – signifying a danger to life” – had been issued for part of the Somerset Levels.

People were in danger of death because the government had neglected anti-flooding plans.

This year the government is spending £60 million less on flood defence than in Labour’s last year of office (2009-10) – and that’s after factoring in new spending to combat the current deluge.

“The government has denied attempting to mislead the public,” according to the BBC report.

Well it would, wouldn’t it? But how often has it done anything else?

Does the Coalition not tell us every day that we are better off than before – when we know the pounds in our pocket buy less and less, the longer they are in office?

Is it not telling us that more of us are in work, when we can unpick DWP press releases to reveal the tawdry tricks they have played to create those figures?

Did it not tell us the National Health Service in England would be safe – and then ruin it, especially with the current drive to maim accident and emergency departments?

How much longer can we afford this cavalier gang of Hooray Henrys, playing fast and loose with the facts?

They couldn’t care less if their irresponsibility causes somebody’s death.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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15 thoughts on “Flood defence lies have put lives at risk

  1. Damien Willey

    The BBC have published an anti-govt piece??? Has Grant Shapps jumped up on his soapbox screaming ‘left-wing bias’ yet???

  2. jeffrey davies

    this use to be the job of our water boards now in the hands of private companies and dredging or helping to stem floods is not in their best interest it cost money and government doesn’t care they wouldn’t have to pay a fig if their houses flooded we get that bill jeff3

  3. groc

    It will be interesting to see if the Tory faithful in Somerset and Devon will be keeping that faith come the next round of elections.

  4. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This is important, as I’ve also come across a piece in one of the newspapers or magazines that stated very clearly that despite Cameron’s claims to the contrary, the spending by the Environment Agency on flood defences was very definitely much lower than the Labour Party’s period in office. Cameron, however, has been doing exactly what you would expect him to do: he came down to Somerset, and then proceeded to bluster that the Coalition was spending more than Labour had, while promising the people of the affected areas every help possible. I am not at all sure how many of the unlucky folk down there will be reassured. The people down there are upset and angry at the way the Environment Agency has bungled the defences of the Somerset Levels. You may recall the terrible footage of the news of weeping women phoning up to see if their homes are still there, and the farmers, whose lands are now under water and whose livestock has now been moved elsewhere, or must be slaughtered because the farmers simply have nowhere to pasture them. Somerset is, like much of rural England, an area where the Tory party is very strong. However, Ian Liddell-Grainger, the Tory MP for Bridgwater and the Parrett area, has angrily attacked the government because of their neglect of this area. He has most vociferously asked for the resignation of Lord Chris Smith, the current Environment Minister. Liddell-Grainger stated that Smith turned up a year ago promising the situation was improved, and then went away promptly to do nothing. In fact, the Tory MP is so angry with him that he described him as a ‘little git’, at least as reported in yesterday’s ‘I’. Whether this will result in more people voting Labour is extremely questionable, though I can see some splitting the Tory vote by turning to UKIP or the Liberals out of disgust with them. It is, of course, equally possible that dissatisfaction with the Coalition will lead to a Tory rebellion and campaign to remove Cameron as a liability. Whatever Cameron says, it should be obvious that a government committed to cutting government expenditure would not be spending more on the environment and flood defences: these would be cut along with education, health and the armed forces. And this will be a continuing problem. That part of Somerset was marshland in pre-history and in the early middle Ages. It was gradually reclaimed during the 13th century onwards, with more piecemeal reclamation occurring in the 17th and 18th centuries. The rest was reclaimed in the 19th and 20th centuries. With climate change occurring, it is to be expected that those areas would once again suffer from the possibility of flooding and its reversion to primeval marshland. This, however, has definitely not occurred to Cameron. Or rather, it’s simply not a priority, as Cameron’s government seems to be concentrating the vast part of any remaining investment in the metropolis. Various Tory politicians and celebs have appeared on a number of Right-wing internet sites to extol the virtues of London, and decry any criticism of the disproportionate amount of funding going to the capital as motivated by prejudice. The result of this is the neglect and consequent damage to the flood defences and the rest of the infrastructure in the stricken areas, while Cameron pours investment into the wealthy areas of London to attract rich foreign investors.

  5. AM-FM

    I use logarithmic graphs all the time, and I often have to look twice.
    I doubt if the majority of the population even notice or know what logarithmic means,
    – so to me just yet another attempt at deception.

    Is that the Welsh spelling of logarithmic that you’re using?

    1. Mike Sivier

      No, it’s the ‘not-thinking-what-I’m-typing’ spelling.
      (I’ve corrected it since, but in the original version of this article I spelt a certain word “logarhythmic”. I guess my biorithms must be at a low point.)

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  10. aussieeh

    Hello Mike,
    An old friend sent me this today, thought you might like a peep, makes interesting reading. I apologize for the length of this letter.

    Christopher Booker explains how the EA failed to prepare for the floods
    http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_13_February_2014_v4.mp3

    It has taken six long weeks to uncover the real hidden reasons why, from the West Country to the Thames Valley, the flooding caused by the wettest January on record has led to such an immense national disaster. Only now have the two ‘smoking guns’ finally come to light which show just how and why all this chaos and misery has resulted directly from a massive system failure in the curious way our country is governed. Because I live in Somerset, I first became aware that something very disturbing was going on back around the new year. As it became clear that the flood waters on the Somerset Levels were beginning to rise dangerously high for the third year running, I set out to find technical experts who could explain just what had gone wrong.

    I discovered what I was looking for in the members of a small task force set up by the Royal Bath and West Agricultural Society, which from the mid-18th century had organised the effective draining of the Levels, after they were first reclaimed from a marshy wilderness by Dutch engineers in the reign of Charles I. These farmers, with long practical experience of working with the local drainage boards, along with an eminent engineer who chairs the Wessex flood defence committee, were in no doubt as to why in recent years the Levels have become subject to abnormally prolonged and destructive flooding.

    The problem began, they said, in 1996 when the new Environment Agency took overall responsibility for managing Britain’s rivers. These men had been alarmed to see a sharp decline in regular dredging. The rivers have always been crucial to keeping the Levels drained, because they provide the only way to allow flood waters to escape to the sea. Equally worrying was how scores of pumping stations which carry water to the rivers were being neglected. And although the drainage boards were still allowed to operate, their work was now being seriously hampered by a thicket of new EU waste regulations, zealously enforced by the EA. These made it almost impossible to dispose sensibly of any silt removed from the maze of drainage ditches which are such a prominent feature of the Levels.

    But all this got markedly worse after 2002 when the Baroness Young of Old Scone, a Labour peeress, became the agency’s new chief executive. Dredging virtually ceased altogether. The rivers began dangerously to silt up. The Baroness, who had previously run the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England, talked obsessively about the need to promote the interests of wildlife. She was famously heard to say that she wanted to see ‘a limpet mine put on every pumping station’. The experts I was talking to had no doubt that this apparent wish to put the cause of nature over that of keeping the Levels properly drained was eventually going to create precisely the kind of disaster we are seeing today. Their message as to what needs to be done couldn’t have been clearer.

    First, they wanted to see a resumption of dredging those choked rivers.

    Second, they wanted responsibility for managing the Levels to be handed back to those local bodies which kept them effectively drained for generations, without having the EA constantly on their backs.

    So compelling was their message that I conveyed to our Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, that he should visit Somerset to get a first-hand picture of what was to be done. He was as impressed by what these practical experts had to tell him as they were by how quickly he got the message. After speaking to other local representatives the next morning, he gave them six weeks to come up with a workable action plan. And if only he hadn’t then been snared into a media disaster, when unexpectedly confronted by a mob of shouting protesters crowding so densely around him that he couldn’t even get to the back of his car to don his wellies, he could have quietly returned to London having pulled off by far the most effective practical initiative yet to have emerged from this appalling mess.

    Already, however, so much damage had been done by the excessive flooding, for which there could be no quick fix, that, as ever more farms and villages had to be abandoned, the man-made disaster escalated into a full-blown political crisis — taking on a further dramatic dimension as similarly catastrophic flooding began to threaten the Thames Valley.

    We had the great and the good converging on those flooded Somerset villages from all directions: a visit from Prince Charles, carried along the floodwaters on an improvised throne; the hapless Lord Smith of the Environment Agency being yelled at by irate flood victims; David Cameron flying in by helicopter; Nigel Farage being regaled by residents in a local pub, Nick Clegg waffling as ineffectually as ever. With Owen Paterson rushed off to hospital for a serious eye operation, we then had Fatty Pickles trying to give the impression that he was now in charge, lashing out at Lord Smith.

    But while this media circus and the growing crisis along the Thames have been occupying the headlines, assiduous researchers have finally been uncovering those ‘smoking guns’ which explain how this disaster has come about. The first was revealed by my long-time collaborator Richard North, a real EU expert who, by combing through scores of official documents, unravelled the story of just how Baroness Young had been able to get her way in shifting her agency’s priorities towards promoting the interests of ‘nature’ over those of farming and people.

    A key part in this had been played by those EU directives which govern almost everything the Environment Agency gets up to — including two with which Baroness Young was already familiar when she presided over the RSPB — setting out the EU’s policy on ‘habitats’ and ‘birds’. But just as important was a 2007 directive on the ‘management of flood risks’, which required ‘flood plains’, in the name of ‘biodiversity’, to be made subject to increased flooding.

    This was just what Lady Young was looking for. She had already been giving lectures and evidence to a House of Lords committee on the EU’s earlier Water Framework directive, proclaiming that one of her agency’s top priorities should be to create more ‘habitats’ for wildlife by allowing wetlands to revert to nature. As she explained in an interview in 2008, creating new nature reserves can be very expensive. By far the cheapest way was simply to allow nature to take its course, by halting the drainage of wetlands such as the Somerset Levels. The recipe she proudly gave in her lectures, repeated to that Lords committee, was: for ‘instant wildlife, just add water’.

    In 2008 her agency therefore produced a 275-page document categorising areas at risk of flooding under six policy options. These ranged from Policy 1, covering areas where flood defences should be improved, down to category 6, where, in the name of ‘biodiversity’, the policy should be to ‘take action to increase the frequency of flooding’. The paper placed the Somerset Levels firmly under Policy 6, where the intention was quite deliberately to allow more flooding. The direct consequences of that we are now seeing round the clock on our television screens.

    The second smoking gun, which explains the other half of the story and why we are seeing a flooding disaster not just in Somerset, but also on the Thames and elsewhere, has now come to light thanks to the Whatdotheyknow website which specialises in publishing the results of Freedom of Information requests. The Environment Agency’s response to an enquiry as to “why the Thames has also not been properly dredged since 1996” reveals that this was because the new EU waste regulations of that year made regular dredging ‘uneconomical’. They made disposal of silt dredged from rivers by local landowners so complex and expensive that it became much more attractive to take advantage of the ‘financial incentives’ given to ‘conservation schemes’. This was exactly what those farmers had found on the Somerset Levels.

    So, at last laid bare, has been the hidden background to our floods disaster. Aided by that wettest ever January, it has been brought about by a synergy between ‘green’ ideologues here in Britain and an array of legislation from Brussels which has to guide policy in every EU member state.

    Even in Holland there have been fierce rows over proposals to dismantle some of the dykes which protect the 29 per cent of that country below sea level, but in no nation has this ‘green’ ideology found such a sympathetic response as in Britain, where the senior officials of the EA — 14 of them earning more than £100,000 a year — have long been more swayed by those Agenda 21 doctrines of ‘sustainability’ and ‘biodiversity’ than by any practical concern for the needs of people, homes, businesses and farmland.

    The overwhelming lesson emerging from this disaster is, that it has been made far worse than it needed to be by a catastrophic policy failure. When Lord Smith weakly tries to complain that this was only because rules set by the Treasury wouldn’t allow his organisation to spend £4 million on dredging the river Parrett, which flows through the Levels, the victims of the policy point to the Environment Agency’s willingness to see £31 million spent on allowing the sea to flood hundreds of acres of prime farmland on the nearby Somerset coast, to create another habitat for birds.

    In Somerset alone, quite apart from the Thames Valley, the eventual cost of this disaster is already estimated at well over£100 million. If this cost also includes the drowning of countless ground-nesting birds, hedgehogs, water voles and badgers which the policies of Brussels and Baroness Young have made inevitable, then, even on their own terms, the case for root-and-branch reversal of such a crazily self-deluding policy becomes overwhelming.

    How to disentangle ourselves from this mess, when we are committed by law to obey those EU rules, is another problem altogether

    Yours indeed for the cause,

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