FLOODING? No Lord Smith, it is down to you, not the result of Media frenzy..
Hitting back at a deluge of criticism "that has been aimed at him and his agency for weeks" Lord Smith said the attacks had been unlike anything in his career. All we can say is that he has had a sheltered life.
The problems or the roulette of flood defence 'tough choices' has been known for decades, and certainly in 2001 when I was involved. Clearly he too should have known this after his many years of public service and also know the way the system works.
Do we save that mega imposing property or several smaller ones? Which looks best?
The imposing property 'on Govt. value for money terms' wins, the small property owners can always move... but equally clearly any thought of an HS2 railway, the proposed route currently under a blanket of festering raw sewage has to be rethought and the possibility of flooding curtailed before HS2 is considered a safe option.
The money already ringfenced but the funds could be quickly released for flood defence, if finally done properly would of course keep many thousands of workers in full term employment and rebuild our engineering and water industries.
This of course is only half the story as Lord Smith well knows, the Chair has to put forward a convincing case in order to preserve budgets 'Value for Money' has never been a strong point with the Environment Agency, which within its structure is riddled with arcane rules and departments, that still exist for the sake of maintaining outdated modes of working, and some duplicating the efforts of other departments, possibly in the same building but on a different floor.
At one time the Environment Agency in each region even housed part of the British Library and their staff! It was quicker to buy a technical book through the on site British Library than indent through the Environment Agency.
For example water quality and flood prevention are two different departments each with their own vertical structures, and this is replicated all around the country as each individual region has its own structure, with little or no input or interchange from the head office in London.
So the regions usually made up their own rules , only to be pulled up if the latest wacky design code or publication template from London had been locally modified, usually to make it work better.
True the 'rule of thumb' for flood budgets is that every £1 spent must save £8 of value, but a weak Chairman, or one holding multiple appointments, would take his officers long term working ethic at face value and not question their thinking or wish to change what has gone before. For example top level Environment Agency staff seem to be interchangeable with water company senior management.
The chairman for example could make the case that any property with a septic tank and not on mains drainage is a potential time bomb waiting to go off. One small domestic septic tank discharging into a larger flow of water will rapidly contaminate surface water, an area the size of a 100 acre farm.
So on that basis the money available on the value for money basis rises from the oft quoted £400,000 maximum to around £40,000 FOR EACH AND EVERY PROPERTY WITH A SEPTIC TANK.
Recent water quality test shows that on the Somerset levels bacteria infection made up sixty percent of the fluids, previously designated floodwater or the gentler sounding 'overtopping' but now all floodwater should be escalated and now should be regarded as raw sewage, with biohazard signs everywhere!
Lord Smith, said: "In a lifetime in public life, I've never seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces."
Well Lord Smith would say that, a lifetime of public service, and very well paid for it but not wishing to rock the boat, and have a public row with the Treasury. Perhaps he should have made enquiries before accepting the role of Chairman some six years ago?
Clearly flooding isn't a new problem. It was known back in the year 2001 when I had a brief professional relationship with the Environment Agency and launched floodline.
I found it very odd that lavish funding was available for wetlands and but flood defence and physical work on rivers was considered a marginal even dirty activity and something that had been bolted on from the swallowing up of the National Rivers Authority.
In short not attractive and not a way to climb to the top of this quango or smarten up the CV for a job with a water company or other utility.++++++++++++++++++++++++
'Managing Flood Risk - Parrett Catchment Flood Management Plan (March 2008)’
What this document contains is an outline of the government’s policy, through the Environment Agency, to deliberately flood certain areas of the countryside, in particular the area of the Somerset Levels and the surrounding areas. The main point of interest is:
“Policy Unit 8 – Somerset Levels and Moors”
“Policy option 6 – Take action to increase the frequency of flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere which may constitute an overall flood risk reduction.
Note: This policy option involves a strategic increase in flooding in allocated areas, but is not intended to affect the risk to individual properties.”
Forecasters say severe storms will batter Britain in the week ahead. On Sunday the agency had 16 top level 'lives are at risk' severe floodline warnings in place.
Fourteen of those were for stretches of the Thames including that of Magician Paul Daniels and wife Debbie McGee who tweeted they had only just been called by Floodline two whole days after the River Thames was seeping in to their riverside home. Daniels had however wired in a series of pumps around his property a few years ago, so hopefully like King Canute, he will magically hold back the waters....
Also we should consider that Lord Smith has been in post as Agency Chairman for all of six years and hardly a chirp out of him in all that time.
Eric Pickles, on the Sky Murnaghan programme blamed the agency for the tardy response on the Somerset Levels, but its been under a covering of raw sewage
since Christmas day!
The coalition cut annual flood defence spending by almost £100m and the agency will have lost 25% of its staff by October. The staff cuts needed to be done, as the quango has always been top heavy with pen pushers and researchers doing secretive projects that not even their colleagues knew about.
Simply walking around with a clipboard or manilla folder became a lifestyle for many, with the rest of the time taken up with endless meetings, and meetings about meetings.
One senior staffer spent her entire time writing worthy documents on strategy, that no one ever read, but it's said she used beautifully bound copies of her work as material to get a job with ... English Nature!
Reporting lines were casual, flexitime widespread and the IT systems a joke, still using fax as the main communication medium in 2001 as the email system was limited and anyone pressing the 'hit all boxes agency wide email alert' would be carpeted, or even sacked.
On dredging, Smith claims the agency finally recognised in 2012 the local view that dredging would help to carry water away faster after a flood and had assigned £400,000: the maximum sum allowed under Treasury rules.
That of course is nonsense, its always been known that dredging is essential as has been done locally for hundreds of years. And it is the Chairs responsibility to strongly put the cost implications to the Treasury.
As soon as the health of citizens living in flooded areas becomes critical (about mid April should do it) then the value for money scale is again altered, when the substantial extra cost to the NHS and Emergency services is factored in.
The Environment Agency is also at the mercy of so called experts at some of our newer Universities, who make a good living out of handing out advice no matter how useless, but who is going to challenge an expert?
One well meaning but totally useless view is that "Taxpayers' cash would be better spent on more effective, long-term soft engineering schemes to protect homes, such as water capture and upland tree planting."
When the land is waterlogged, floodplains concreted over, upland tree planting is the last option. What is needed is a basic understanding by planners and developers that water (raw sewage) and other liquids will always sink to the lowest level, tampering with the water table as any engineer knows need constant remedial work to restore it.
The Dutch living below sea level maintain their water pumping stations and they work non stop., constantly pumping out In the UK some of the most expensive London properties in Kensington and Chelsea are frantically digging out deep multi level basemants. all collectively moving the underlying water table by stealth.
It has to go somewhere, have you lifted and looked under your floorboards lately?
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