The great flooding: how to stop it happening again?
The recent stormy weather has shown how important it is that we prioritise investment in infrastructure such as sea defence and flood protection. In Norfolk and Suffolk alone we have seen storm surges cause serious flooding and damage, and so soon after extensive weather damage to electricity supplies in December.
As the Green Party lead candidate for the East in the May European elections, I am calling on the government urgently to commission an independent, top level assessment on the resource implications of maintaining the region's infrastructure and utilities during the next 25 years. We are talking here about very substantial sums of money and other resources that have to be earmarked and made available to maintain so many things that we have come to rely upon: highways and other transportation infrastructure, water, electricity and gas supplies, sewerage, telephone and other cabling, quite apart from flood and sea defences.
We know, for example, that the greatest threat to the UK from dangerous climate change is the increased risk of flooding. Yet government cuts to the Environment Agency mean they will lose about 1,700 staff members in the next 12 months, 550 of whom work on preventing and mitigating flooding. It is unlikely that as a society, country, and region, afford to maintain all this infrastructure whilst also committing to numerous other projects. Delays and competition between investments are commonplace, and there is evident scope for government to sharpen its awareness of what and where the priorities are.
Failure, by successive governments, to acknowledge the serious potential of climate change, and the competition for resources, must be addressed without further prevarication. More realistic forecasting and assessment is needed. Green Party thinking is rooted in awareness of these resource issues.
A belated government decision to invest in sea defences at Great Yarmouth following the serious storm surge, is piecemeal, too little, and too late. We need government and politicians who understand the science and engineering of hydrology and earth management. Personally, I want to see the East lead the world in tidal power and wave power: technologies which, as I found out on my recent visit to the Orbis centre in Lowestoft, can simultaneously protect us from tidal surges and from coastal erosion. It is exactly this kind of innovative thinking that needs to be included in the wide-ranging assessment for which I am calling.