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Myopic cuts to flood defences

DEVASTATING floods submerging city centres and ruining homes are occurring with ever greater frequency in Britain.
With tedious inevitability, we hear from David Cameron that the government has done all it can to prevent floods and to protect people from them when they happen. But it isn’t true.
There is a shameless quality to a Prime Minister who can brazenly state on TV: “We spent more in the last parliament than in the previous parliament and we’re going to spend even more in this parliament, so it’s a rising budget.”
He even named a figure, £2.3 billion, to make his claim sound authentic. That may have been a mistake, however, since that would appear to be less than the £2.34bn spent on flood defences in the last parliament, which was less than the £2.37bn spent in the one before.
A cuts-crazed Chancellor with an allergy to the very existence of public services has not spared measures to protect the environment from his short-sighted assault on any and all public spending. 
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had another 15 per cent of its funding lopped off in November’s Spending Review, to be secured by “efficiencies” such as sacking people and “cutting red tape for businesses” (easing restrictions on polluting or poisoning the natural environment).
“You’d have thought Cameron had learnt the lesson from the floods of 2013/14,” GMB national officer Justin Bowden says. 
Indeed you might, since Bowden pointed this out to the government five months ago as the Environment Agency (EA) threw another 1,000 of its staff on the 
scrapheap: “It’s a misnomer to talk about protecting front-line jobs and just get rid of a whole lot of back-office jobs. Quite a lot of the front-line stuff is done from offices and remotely.
“Do I think they would be able to cope with a similar winter of flooding as was the case 12 to 18 months ago? No, I don’t think they would.”
But the left is sometimes accused of having no ideas beyond throwing public money at problems, so it is important that socialists respond to the EA’s call for a “complete rethink” of British policy.
The risk of flooding is actually increased by a whole range of current land management choices, as outlined by progressive journalist George Monbiot nearly two years ago: government support for dredging rivers increases flow, heightening the risk of downstream floods, while EU farming subsidies actively encourage landowners to fell trees even though forested land absorbs water far more effectively than bare hills.
We must also accept the reality of climate change. 
That means doing all we can to limit it, of course — which in practice should entail huge investment in renewable energy sources and a moratorium on fracking “until we can be sure it is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment,” in the words of Labour’s shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy.
It also means acknowledging that extreme weather events are likely to be more frequent and more severe than we are used to, taking steps to ensure new homes are built to withstand them and rolling out a massive programme to equip existing properties with the means to avoid the worst of flood damage.
A reforestation drive on the model of Beijing’s Green Wall of China, which aims to cover 40 per cent of that country with trees by 2050, would be an ambitious and popular public project with obvious environmental benefits.
A government of clapped-out Thatcherites wedded to the delusion that the unimpeded private pursuit of profit will ultimately solve all problems has neither the will nor the imagination to address these issues. Britain is crying out for radical change — the Labour leadership must rise to the challenge.


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