Everything, everywhere, is terribly wrong. No one represents people like us:
Over 5,000 homes and businesses have been affected, rail services have been cut and thousands of roads closed. And the danger is far from over yet. At the time of writing severe flood warnings remain in place along the River Thames and in Somerset, a large county in south-western England.
It’s revealing to compare the attitude of the authorities in Britain to such matters in the pre-neoliberal era, to today. In 1974 work began on the Thames Flood barrier, to protect London from flooding. It was opened in 1982. It was a great engineering project-typical of the sort of work that public bodies undertook in the post-war era when our politics was more democratic. In recent years however flood protection has been very low down on the list of priorities for the government.
The Thatcher government, on an ideological mission to privatize and deregulate, started the rot by easing planning restrictions. That led to hundreds of thousands of houses being built on flood plains, a recipe for disaster at a time when climate change was leading to milder, wetter and stormier winters. The Labour government which came to power in 1997 did increase funding for flood protection but not by the amount that experts had called for.
A 2008 report by the National Audit Office found that 63 percent of Britain’s flood defenses were not being properly maintained. Meanwhile the building on flood plains increased – between 2001 and 2011 around 200,000 homes were built on flood plains in the UK.
Things got even worse when the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition came to power in 2010. They slashed funding on flood defenses by about 100 million pounds (US$167 million) a year and money given to the Environment Agency. Important schemes which were shelved included a 2.2 million pound plan to improve flood management on the River Parrett, which flows through the Somerset Levels, the area worst affected by the current floods.
“There is no excuse. In 2010 the coalition slashed spending on flood defenses when it should have gone up,” former Minister for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne admitted this week.
Not only did it cut spending, but the government has eased planning restrictions still further, meaning yet more building on flood plains. In November 2012, Planning Minister Nick Boles, a free-market zealot, called on the amount of Britain that was built on to be increased from 9 percent to 12 percent – equivalent to around 1,500 square miles (2,414 sq km) of open countryside being concreted over – but didn’t say that the new developments wouldn’t be on flood plains.
“[The government] are encouraging building on floodplains because what they are saying is ‘We need new houses for economic growth and by the time things flood we’ll have more money to cope with it,’” says Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.