Response to flooding is man-made
The rain is an act of God. The response to flooding is man-made. We need to remember that as we watch scenes of devastation flicker across the television screens.
The emergency services, fire brigade, ambulance, police, RNLI and Search and Rescue particularly, have worked overtime and with great courage to make the best of what for many has become a very bad job indeed.
The scale of the flooding to which parts of the United Kingdom that have never experienced such circumstances before have been subjected has been truly colossal. It is easy to argue, therefore, that "it could not have been prevented". The question is, does that argument itself hold water! The answer is to a very large extent "no".
The fact of the matter is that the Country has been forewarned and so far as prevention is concerned, as opposed to response and damage control, the response from central government has been far too little and far too late.
The last time that the United Kingdom experienced inundation on this scale, and when large areas of Herne Bay and Margate were under water, was in the 1950s. Then, forecasting was much less precise and communications systems and resources much less sophisticated and adequate. Since then, also, a great deal else has changed.
As the Secretary of State for the environment, Hilary Benn, has acknowledged with his customary candour, we have covered large parts of the countryside with bricks and mortar and tarmac and we have allowed building to take place on flood plains with little or no thought as to the consequences. It is scarcely surprising that torrents of water with nowhere else to go has roared through shops and homes causing billions of pounds worth of damage and untold misery as wholly irreplaceable personal effects - wedding photographs and the like - have been destroyed and small businesses decimated.
I have, during my time as a Member of Parliament, opposed virtually every significant development in my constituency on the grounds that it is essential that appropriate infrastructure - roads, schools, medical services, public transport, water supply and drainage - should all be in place before development commences or at the very least should be installed in tandem with construction.
In virtually every case my requests have been ignored. Until very recently every application for housing development, in Herne Bay, including an estate on the Plenty Brook flood plain in Herne Bay, has been granted and we have watched as some homes have been submerged in water not once or even twice but in some cases three times. At last a development, the golf Driving Range site, has been turned down by a Conservative City Council but it is on the cards that under present Government guidelines the proposal may be granted on appeal. The Housing Minister also declined a request to "call in" the Westwood Cross development in Margate and it is left to Thanet District and Kent County Councils to try to negotiate appropriate infrastructure deals in advance of the building, albeit over ten years, of a further one thousand homes.
If Mr. Benn recognises the damage that all of this brick and concrete and tarmac is doing then may I respectfully suggest that the time has come to call a halt to the imposition of hundreds of thousands of new houses in the South East and to evaluate, in the light of the flooding in the Home Counties, how much more our services and drainage can safely take?
There is another downside to all this. Government has cut the funding available to the Environment Agency. We are told that this will not affect "the capital programme". It will, though, have a dramatic effect upon the resources for forward planning that will be needed if we are to be able to respond to more extremes of weather in the future.
The military is at overstretch and the resources that might otherwise have been available to assist the emergency services and to engage in rapid prevention measures - the distribution of the sandbags, shoring up of riverbanks and the like - are deployed in places where, arguably, they should not be.
And modern communications, particularly the internet, have gone into overload and found to be wanting when needed most.
We do need a national alerting and information system of a kind, via radio and television, that has been available for years but not adopted and we need not vastly costly Regional Fire Control centres but a proper
civil defence network designed to meet not the threat of nuclear attack but the much more likely and, on a day to day basis, very real threat from the elements. That is the proper job of Government and it is not unreasonable to suggest that, in the light of the experience of the past few weeks, government has been found wanting. As a result they now have, literally, a lot of houses to put in order.