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As I write this piece the rain is still falling and the wind is still whipping it’s way around Plymouth and the South West of England.
The Met office have put out more flood and weather warnings, which can only mean that there is the likely hood of more damage over the weekend, and the additional rain will only add to the already saturated areas such as the Somerset Levels.
As if stands we are now facing the prospect that this winter will be the wettest on record. In fact I can’t remember another winter quite like the one we are now having. The great storm of 1987 is nothing compared to this.
The English have always liked talking about the weather; this winter is most certainly one which will be talked about in the future.
This will be the year when you will remember that the gateway to the harbour at Porthleven was ripped open, and boats sunk in the harbour. The rest of the boats being removed by the harbour master to prevent further damage.
This will be the year the Waterfront and the Wet Wok on the foreshore of Plymouth Sound were wrecked by the waves smashing on to the sea front, causing untold damage.
This will be the year when Devon and Cornwall was cut off by rail from the rest of the country as the line at Dawlish was undermined and dragged in to the sea. The reported amount of time for the repair work is six weeks plus.
This catalogue could go on further and will more likely be added to in the coming days.
As it stands, the present situation, especially in the case of the Somerset Levels, faced by the South West over the past six weeks has got progressively worse. It is only now that government has decided to act.
The problem sits in the fact that even if this weather does finally break there will still be major flooding, damage, and other issues to contend with. Local services have acted in a most brilliant way – but it would seem they have lacked support from central government.
The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson never seemed to have been able to get a grip on the situation to begin with, and it is surprising that the man is still a government Minister. He should resign with immediate effect.
Only now has the Prime Minister David Cameron pledged £130 Million for the repair bill, for an area of the country that will lose millions of pounds worth of business in the coming months. The tourist season is quite possibly scuppered before it began.
On the whole, the response from the Government has been slow, inadequate, and totally lacking in feeling for the South West of England. We are once more treated like we are the poor cousins.
For many decades we have suffered a lack of investment in our communication infrastructure – from airports to railways to even motorways. The South West is never given priority in anything.
To take this argument a little further. It would be fair to say that the South West almost seems to be treated like a separate country by the government. The South East and the North get all the investment – the South West gets nothing.
Yet in all of this if these events had given the South East and the North a good pounding. There can be little doubt that the Government would have acted in the first week. Yet because we are the poor cousins we are told to shift for ourselves.
Even though all of this has been a total Conservative failure. The more disturbing thing to come out of all of this, is that at the time of writing, nothing has been uttered by Ed Miliband the leader of the labour party.
The Labour Party has been silent. No one in the party has said anything. Let alone voice an option that may be supportive of those who have been caught up in the flooding. Things would have been different, no doubt, if this flooding had happened up north.
I fully understand that we can’t control the weather. These events will happen and they do happen. The reality is though is that we would expect help when needed, and that help has come only slowly and begrudgingly.
This time I feel that the Government and the Conservative Party has let us down completely. In fact I would go so far as to say that we have been undermined once more. Are you sure you always want to remain the Poor English Cousin in this country of ours?
7th February 2014 – Just a quick update on this piece. It was written before the events of Thursday night (6th Feb) in which the army were deployed to the Somerset Levels as aid to the people on the ground. At last something is being done to help the flood victims, other than just trying vainly to pump the water out of the area, which seems to having very little effect. I can only wonder why this did not happen when this flooding event began about six weeks ago? In this sense then the core argument of this article – that not enough has been done to help the South West, and that we may well be the Country’s Poor Cousins in relation to other regions still stands. It is obvious that this needs to change.
8th February – Well it has happened at last. The Prime Minister yesterday visited the Somerset Levels to view the flooding for himself – not that it will help the people who have been evacuated. After all even Cnute did not manage to control the sea and the weather. But this concern for the people of the South West should have been shown earlier. In fact the governments reaction to these events over the past weeks reminds me of their reaction to the riots of a few years ago: where every one was on holiday as the country went in to melt down; not even returning as the trouble began to spread. In other words the response was slow; and not forth coming. The is obviously a blot on the governments record; and as far as can see the Labour Party have still to comment on this issue. The again, at least Cameron’s pledge, to help the victims of the floods is something, rather than nothing.
There will be even more bad weather over this weekend. With Brixham coastguards reporting that there could be waves of more than 45 feet hitting the local coastline. I also note that the old clock tower on the sea front at Kingsand has been undermined by the sea and the weather, and it has been condemned. In the end I can only wonder at how much more of this weather the South West and the Somerset Levels can take. For now we must soldier on.
9th February – At last on Andrew Marr this morning Eric Pickles admits that they should have not stopped dredging the Somerset Levels. Some farmers in the Sunday Times are arguing that the pumping of the levels should have begun as early as the beginning of December! So in this sense then it would seem that Pickles statement is an admission that Central Government has not done enough. Maybe they should have listened to the locals: they talk a lot of sense. Good politicians listen to advice given: bad ones have always been deaf.
Also it may well be worth noting that Nigel Farage has been doing the rounds today. He seems to want to use part of the UK aid budget to compensate farmers and home owners for the damage caused over the past few months.
As for the weather. This Sunday seems a lot calmer than it has been for a few weeks. The wind has been rattling through the rafters and sleep was a little difficult last night, only for now there is a bit of lull which may not last long. The Thames in Surrey has now burst its banks, and there has been a land slip at Crewkerne, which has finally cut the South West off by rail. By the look of the weather forecast it seems there is more bad weather on the way. Although the winds may die back a little.
I think now a lot of people are beginning to become tired with all this weather.
10th February – With flooding expanding down the length of the Thames, which is now at a record high, and with the Somerset Levels still under water, it is only now that Labour Lord Chris Smith, head of the Environment Agency, has finally apologised , and stated that he should have done more to raise money to dreg the Somerset Levels? Should he now resign? The word which comes to my lips is: discuss?
I still wonder why there has been no response from Ed Miliband on this subject over the past eight weeks. I take it he can’t be very sympathetic to the people who are having to handle this situation on the Thames or in the Somerset Levels.
Even though the weather today is far calmer than it has been for a few weeks; there is according to weather reports more on the way. This is turning into a winter that will be one to be remembered.
Opps… I must apologise for stating that Ed Miliband had not responded to the flooding in the South West. It just seems that what he actually said was underreported. I found this in a Mirror article from the 5th February, where Miliband is reported as saying: ‘many of those affected feel the Government’s response has been slow and that more could have been done sooner.’ I suppose one sentence is better than nothing and silence.
Network Rail have been discussing several new routes to keep the South West connected while other routes, such as the costal line via Dawlish are down – the repair time at the moment for the damage at Dawlish is going to be six weeks plus.
This can never be good for business or tourism in the South West. Therefore there has to be a solution to this, dare I say, old Victorian issue.
And Network Rail has come up with the best solution which I have heard of in a long time.
The core idea is to restore the old Bere Alston, Okehampton, Tavistock, Plymouth. This would mean that people coming in to Plymouth via this route would come down the Tamer Valley route in to North Road.
I know that the restoration of this would be a long term project, yet it only be a long term project which Devon, Cornwall, and Plymouth would welcome hands down. As a route It would be good for business and it would be good for tourism all around. In fact it would be great for the region as a whole.
Just noticed George Monbiot on the BBC News 24, explaining that he thinks that Somerset Level farmers should be paid to keep the water on their fields – no doubt connected to his theory of re-wilding the country. I can only wonder what the farmer’s think of that!
David Cameron has also been hanging around Dorset claiming that the Government is working their hardest to help people. At the moment the jury is out on that subject. Although it looks like Chris Smith might be putting the boxing gloves on.
11th February – We all know that all the flood hit areas are in for the long haul, even though we are reminded of this fact by David Cameron as he stood on next to the gapping big hole in the Railway line at Dawlish.
He has toured the South West inspecting damage and talking to various people who have been effected, and involved in the rescue effort. He also stated that the money being pumped in to the HS2 development was not only good for South East, and the North of the Country, but also good for the South West.
Although how this formula is meant to work I still have my doubts and would be sceptical about the results. How does the South West benefit from the HS2 investment?
At least the army has been mobilised for the Thames valley and the South East. It may not stop the flooding, but the more hands on the ground the safer all concerned will be.