Two weeks ago the floods were big news.
Today, for most of us, they have faded from the memory. So it will be a shock for many to see our front page today and to read about the continuing impact that the rising waters are having on the Westcountry.
On the Somerset Levels, for example, an A road that links two significant communities – the A361 between Glastonbury and Taunton – remains impassable for all but tractors, horses or intrepid cyclists. Cars, including supposedly “go anywhere” 4x4s, lie abandoned where they were left when the floods brought their engines stuttering to a halt.
Elsewhere the main rail links into and out of the South West are still affected by the aftermath of the floods as engineers continue to work on shoring up sections of embankment that were washed away and making safe cuttings where landslips occurred. At Devon county council and other authorities they are still counting up the cost of infrastructure repairs while private businesses and individuals submit insurance claims and do what they can to put their properties back in order.
Flooding like this is, of course, a fact of life in the low-lying parts of the Westcountry. But, for the most part, it is an unusual weather event, once in 50 years, perhaps, that causes such chaos. The difference, with the most recent floods, is that although the rainfall was not, of itself, the heaviest we have ever seen it came on top of persistent rain through the summer and autumn and fell on saturated ground. As a result there is nowhere for the water to go and the consequences for businesses and for individuals are so much more long-lasting.
Do we simply have to shrug our shoulders and put it down to the vagaries of the weather, fuelled – perhaps – by global climate change? That is not going to help the businesses that are losing money because the blocked A 361 forces a long detour for goods and customers. That won’t go down well with the commuter whose journeys to London have been badly affected by delays on the main line. Nor will it do much for the council tax payer who may, in time, have to underwrite the extra expense incurred putting right the damage done by the weather.
The answer is to put measures in place before the waters rise again to ensure that, next time – and there will be a next time – we are better prepared for whatever the weather throws at us. We have done just that in many, many communities down the years. Look at Exeter, for example, where flood relief work has kept the raging river Exe inside its banks – just – during the worst of the storms, thanks to significant investment. We are not, in the 21st century in the civilised western world, entirely at the mercy of the elements. We can – and must – spend what is necessary to keep businesses operating and property dry, rain or shine.