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Anton Coaker: The majority must help the minority in flood hit areas

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 13, 2014

Anton_Coaker

Anton Coaker

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Isn’t it novel, having all those ministers and big guns worrying about the Westcountry – or they were until the Thames started spilling over. Better they’d closed the old stable door before the horse swam away, but hey-ho.

I’d better fess up, and admit at least the floods rush past me. I do find myself a tiny bit nearer sea-level after every storm, as another wheel barrow full of dirt goes galloping off down the Dart. And while the howling gales have made my daily routine a bit of a grind, in truth, I’m still here, and so is everything that was sufficiently nailed down before Mr Beaufort got his measuring device out.

But what of our inundated flatland cousins, and the fringes where ragged edges are fraying under sustained floods and repeated battering by gales? Various coastal defences are to be abandoned due to unpalatable bills, and the protection of lowlands – including, but not exclusively ‘The Levels’ – is apparently open to some kind of negotiation. And there’s that stretch of rail line dangling over thin air. Despite ministerial promises, hands are being wrung about the cost of it all.

I’m inclined to regard protecting such communities and communal assets as the mark of a civilised society. If the majority cannot help the minority, then a fundamental cornerstone of civilisation goes out of the window.

Abandoning the rail line from the Exe round to the Teign, in favour of a more protected route, holds no water for me. If you do that, what of the row of houses subsequently exposed? What of the existing rail infrastructure? Unless there are already overwhelming reasons to abandon the coastal route, better bite the bullet and make it storm proof. It isn’t beyond us to fix the immediate breach, and implement an ongoing program of summertime work to form better wave protection 20-30 yards further off shore. The cost will be miniscule compared with the absurd alternatives, so do get on with it chaps.

The ‘Levels’ situation also seems to be pretty clear cut, in that dredging the rivers concerned would likely alleviate a lot of the problems. The only discussion should be about how localised the funding has to be. There are longer-term considerations – the smallest rise in sea level will likely have a monstrous effect on areas like The Levels.

Sea defences elsewhere come back to the rail line argument. If you let one bit go, who’s next in the firing line? We as a nation should prevent loss to the sea. There will be places where the cost is vastly disproportionate, but the costs shouldn’t just be sitting on the shoulders of those on the front line.

However, flooding elsewhere starts to venture into some murkier territory, with graduations of blame and responsibility. Many of us have watched new developments being put on ‘flood plains’. These areas of dead flat ground, adjacent to water courses, are flat because the water spreads across them in times of deluge. This is inevitable, and building on them is simply irresponsible. And while the occasional inundation generally doesn’t harm the agricultural output of this productive ground much, covering it with houses and industrial units absolutely does. Likewise, in that row of quaint old cottages by the brook, inhabitants of old accepted that downstairs was going to get drenched occasionally. The cottages were cheaper, and occupants had to be stoical about it. Nowadays, relocating urban refugees, having chucked out that frightful lino and fitted nice carpets, and filled the downstairs with electrical gadgets, kick up a huge row when their lives are turned upside down by the same occasional deluge.

My sympathies are stretched somewhat in such instances. Perhaps we should encourage an autumn ‘gutter and storm drain clearance party’, for every community?

At least, on moorlands upstream, we’re being encouraged to hold up some of the floods through peat bog restoration, and prevent silt going down the swannee with improved tracks and silt traps. The schemes are generally quietly getting on with it, but there is a definite change in direction.

Next week, maybe I’ll try and dredge up (haha) some dusty desert tale from my wastrel youth, to make you feel warmer.

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  • Tavistock_SFB  |  February 16 2014, 12:57PM

    We need some rail line resilience built into the Westcountry. This does not mean abandoning one line in favour of another. As with some of the problems involving flooding of all types, on the face of it - Authority neglect seems to figure at a high point of causes...

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