The floods we’ve seen in West Yorkshire have been horrendous. Just about every district has been affected. Cities, towns and villages only a stone’s throw from here have suffered terribly. I was astonished by the images, not least from Mirfield and the devastation people along the Calder have had to endure. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected.
Anyone who has ever been flooded doesn’t forget what it is like. The violation of their homes or businesses, the unstoppable destruction, the loss and tainting of their properties and belongings. The futility of attempting to stem the flow and then, afterwards, the heart breaking clean up and the weeks of inconvenience and disruption.
For some there are battles to reopen, redecorate or rebuild. For others there is no recovery at all – homes or livelihoods that have been built up over years, perhaps even generations, have to be abandoned completely.
And then, every time there’s heavy rain there is that sense of dread wondering whether this is the time it will happen again. Many of the people I’ve met and spoken to about flooding say this is the worst part – the apprehension, the fear and expectation that everything they have worked to restore can quite literally be washed away again over night.
It’s one of those examples we get from nature now and again about its unstoppable, devastating power.
But actually these things can often be prevented, or their impact minimised.
No matter what schemes we had in place the wettest December on record would have seriously tested them. But the Government’s short-sighted approach since 2010 has a lot to answer for.
This cavalier attitude and lack of sympathy was brought home to me on Wednesday while sat in the House of Commons. As the prime minister was being quizzed about the floods Tory MPs jeered and laughed.
After the 2007 floods the Labour government took on board recommendations in the Pitt Review and developed a strategy that would involve hundreds of millions extra in investment. Spending on flood prevention went up and would keep going up in response to the biggest civil emergency modern Britain had ever experienced.
Much of this was cancelled, reduced or mothballed when the Coalition took power in 2010. The Chancellor immediately cut the budget by 15 per cent in a single year, from £670m in 2010-11 to £573m in 2011-12.
This included the loss of schemes in Batley & Spen designed to stop homes and businesses from continuing to flood. There have since been smaller scale schemes but nothing like what the Environment Agency had initially intended.
The funding Labour committed wasn’t some reckless spending frenzy. It wasn’t a luxury or a pre-election giveaway. It was based on a clear and considered assessment of what was needed.
That funding should never have been cut.
It may not have stopped the devastation that we have seen this Christmas but we will never know. It certainly could have and it surely would have reduced it.