In the months of December 2013 to February 2014 the United Kingdom experienced some of the worst flooding on record, and certainly the worst many living in those affected have seen. Whether this was a freak occurrence due to a combination of different weather systems or a taste of things to come as a result of climate change is yet to be seen. While one must hope it is the former, we must prepare for more such onslaughts in the future.
To me, however, the floods and their effect highlight a wider problem faced by those of us in rural areas and the callousness of the coalition’s austerity measures. Already we are poorly-served by public transport and the floods brought this to an absolute standstill. I knew people who could not attend university in Plymouth due to the train line being destroyed and I myself had to miss two days of work as buses were not running. Of course this cannot be blamed on the coalition, but the fact is even without the floods things like public transport in country areas are being hacked back to the bone, with private companies unwilling to run unprofitable routes without subsidies. This has an adverse affect not only on people who rely on transport for shopping or health and social care appointments, but whole communities who find themselves isolated from each other through lack of transport.
But on the subject of the extreme weather, what is almost indisputable is that some of the worst effects of the flooding could have been alleviated by proper investment and expenditure on flood prevention measures. Many activists have pointed to the fact that the Rivers Tone and Parrett in Somerset have not been dredged since the late 90s and the coalition failed to start again despite increased rainfall over the previous two years. Others have called for larger-scale operations such as the construction of drainage channels and areas allowed to go to wetland further upstream.
The people affected in these areas deserve to have their voice heard and their suggestions and solutions put forward. To this end, Labour Coast and Country have proposed holding a Flooding Conference, most likely in the South West, for local residents and activists to discuss the causes of and solutions to the extreme weather and its effects. A Labour government in 2015 must have a clear and informed plan to deal with these events should they happen again, and input and discussion from the ground by those affected is vital if we are to formulate serious and co-ordinated prevention and response measures.
Sam Fawcett is a Labour activist in Somerset and deputy-editor of the Young Fabians Magazine, ‘Anticipations’.