Well, he is right about this

The chairman of the Environment Agency risked further criticism on Monday night when he suggested that flooded residents were partly to blame for their problems by choosing to live in high-risk regions.

Lord Smith said people who bought homes in flood plains need to think about the “risk that that property faces”.

The remarks stoked the mounting anger towards Lord Smith’s agency, which has been criticised for its response to the floods.

However, not quite as right as he may think.

For example, people who bought in the Somerset Levels thinking that the centuries old system of drainage and pumping would be continued do indeed have a legitimate beef against the Agency which has stopped doing some of those things.

46 thoughts on “Well, he is right about this”

  1. Hmm. Conservative/Lib Dem voters who voted for a Conservative/LibDem coalition which said it would cut spending and did indeed cut spending on flood defences?

  2. Luke.
    They stopped dredging long before this particular assembly of half wits were handed the keys. So dredging would have been increased spending.

  3. BluLabour prob had no idea what the E(arths) A(rseholes) were up to–not that that excuses any of the blame-shuffling turds.

    The Senior Civil service must be sacked en masse without a penny compensation and their pensions confiscated. Then we might start to get somewhere.

  4. Luke,

    Yes, but spending on flood defences is the bread and butter of government. Along with defence of the nation, fixing roads, schools and hospitals it’s one of those things that you cut last. And it doesn’t even cost very much. It’s in the tens of millions.

    Meanwhile I noticed on the radio today that yet another government-funded anti-alcohol sockpuppet has been created in the North East (called Balance).

  5. Anyway. if the EA was asked to reduce spending, where it reduces spending’s up to the EA. Run by a certain thick necked, ex-Labour MP, turdburgler. They could have restarted dredging & cut back a bit more on other things. like the exorbitant salaries of thick necked, ex-Labour MP, turdburglers.

  6. Also the present EA creep (see Richard North at EU REF) is only partly responsible for the mess–Baroness Young, the dozy eco-freak EU-sucking bitch who held the “job”(hah) until 2008 started this mess off. Confiscate her pensions as well. If she has an EU pension (same goes for anybody in this country who has) bring in a special tax –the Selective Higher Income Tax –to confiscate it that way. The sooner all these slime are living in cardboard boxes (nowadays wet cardboard boxes) the better.

  7. Some chap on the wireless this morning made the point that a large proportion of the south of England is fairly low-lying, and that nobody gives out planning permission to build on the bits that aren’t (lovely rolling hills, and all that).

    So do people get much of a choice about living on flood planes? Are we building on them because they are easier/cheaper to build on (and, so, preferred by developers) or are they just the least objectionable sites for the ‘won’t somebody think of the green and pleasant land’ planning officials?

  8. “The febrile atmosphere appears to have been caused by a month-long campaign by Somerset farmers (Somerset evacuation gathers pace …, 7 February) to use the winter floods as an argument to support public money being used to convert their marshy pastures into good arable land, preferably, in their view, by moving the water as fast as possible in the direction of the nearest town. ”

    Graun letters page today, in support of laissez faire small government, contra Worstall and followers in support of collective action and government spending.

    (In fairness to TW, he avoids using the “d word”, probably because as a local boy he has his doubts about the effectiveness of dredging the so called rivers, which are more like canals.)

  9. I’ve asked elsewhere, but answer came there none.
    But since there are some knowledgeable chaps and ladies here, I’ll ask again.

    Is it possible for a property owner to seek legal redress against the Environment Agency? If, as now seems apparent, the policies that have contributed/caused the flooding in various places was due to deliberate activity or deliberate lack of activity by the Environment Agency, then surely there is some claim for financial compensation. Or are they in some obscure legal sense immune from prosecution?

  10. @SR
    I think there’s some legal thing, the Crown is unsueable.
    Like you couldn’t sue British Rail for train crash injuries & had to beg for compensation on bended knee.

  11. Anyway. i believe government agencies are required to be incompetent. It’s in their charters or something. Default position so anywhere they’re not has to be liberally rewarded with birthday honours all round.

  12. Hang on, Tim: you think it’s fine for govts to change their habits over green belts, but not fine to change their habits over drainage. Why’s that then? They’re both just about arbitrary transfers of wealth, aren’t they?

  13. Bloke in Spain

    Very good.

    But I don’t see how the government can be exempt from litigation. If a government agency causes damage to your personal property they can currently be sued. If the police launched an anti-terrorist raid on the wrong house, based on the wrong information/incompetence, they are liable for damages caused etc.

    I know that if they lose in court they are only being paid with our own money, so it doesn’t really count, but the fact that a court case would mean the issues (flooding caused by ideological belief systems, rather than extreme weather) will be raised in the public domain is what really matters.

    You know how the eventual public enquiry into this will go. We’ve seen this kind of monumental ass-covering before.

  14. @SR
    You’d have to ask Mr Lud but I’d imagine sueing the Queen in her own court in front of her own judge might be the obstacle.

  15. you think it’s fine for govts to change their habits over green belts, but not fine to change their habits over drainage.

    I would presume that he’s happy about changes of habits which generally improve things. Building more houses near London would reduce the overblown price of housing near London*. Stopping the previous practices over drainage hasn’t improved, unless you are a wading bird and probably not even then.

    Crown Immunity? Much reduced by the Crown Proceedings Act 1947.

    * Whether you actually care about this problem or not, it is recognisable as a problem,

  16. SE

    ” I would presume that he’s happy about changes of habits which generally improve things.”

    No, that doesn’t work, because he thinks governments are always stupid, so they can’t know which changes will improve things.

  17. @SE
    Consequence of policy rather than discrete events is still there, isn’t it? Unlike a firm which is sueable for an outcome of its policies

  18. You can sue the NHS for an instance of negligence but you can’t sue the NHS for being a negligent bunch of assoles.

  19. @ Luke
    You should try checking the facts before broadcasting your party political propaganda
    If the EA had dredged the rivers until 2010 and then stopped the amount of silt built up by now would be relatively small and flooding would be existent but not at emergency levels.
    The sensible attempts to decentralise has involved some of the EA budget being transferred to local authorities so Labour is trying to claim that less is being spent by excluding part of flood defence spending and not using a like-for-like comparison when spending on flood defences has actually increased (and including 2011 as being part of the Labour government).

  20. John 77

    “If the EA had dredged the rivers until 2010 and then stopped the amount of silt built up by now would be relatively small and flooding would be existent but not at emergency levels.”

    Can you let me know the flow rate in cubic metres per second for the Tone and Parret (a) in the days of dredging -1990?- and currently. If not, please explain how you know that there would be no flood. (Hint, saying there was less flooding won’t do – there was less rain.)

    I can’t be arsed to argue about spending levels.

  21. John 77,
    OK. You confidently asserted that with the miracle cure of dredging
    there would not be floods at emergency levels. Better?

    Now back that up.

  22. No, that doesn’t work, because he thinks governments are always stupid

    Does he? I know he thinks that centralised management, especially via directives, is often a poor idea because of the loss of information and that there is the public choice issue (although he also acknowledges the comparable principal-agent problem.)

    so they can’t know which changes will improve things.

    That’s why you try things out on small scale first. Even governments can manage this. Although (as per Universal Benefit) not always very well.

    Overall, I’d shade him more to the “governments are usually incompetent” rather than “are always stupid”.

  23. Luke
    No flood is different from acceptable flood. Ever drop of rain that isn’t being carried away by the river is ending up on the land. If the carrying capacity of the river is 80%, compared with its dredged capacity, a 5% excess rainfall becomes 25%’s worth of flood taking 5 times as long to drain.

  24. “I’ve long suspected that Tim’s and George’s views are much closer than either would care to admit.”
    In the aspect, the ‘system’ isn’t being run for the best outcomes, possibly. But for the Monbiot ” ergo it needs Monbiots running it according to strange Monbiot whims” unlikely. Even putting a windowbox under that bloke’s aegis would be a recipe for disaster.

  25. BIS
    “. If the carrying capacity of the river is 80%, compared with its dredged capacity….”

    Yes, “if”. But what is the difference between the dredged and undredged capacity? If, (like me and John 77) you don’t know, you have no idea if it would have made any difference.

    (And I’m leaving out whether iincreased flow would just flood Bridgwater.)

    I actually don’ t care – just amused at sturdy independent libertarians seeking government spending.

  26. @Luke
    The flooded locals want to transfer drainage of the Levels back to themselves (a job they funded and executed perfectly well for the 300 years before the EA appeared).
    That’s less government spending.

  27. @Luke
    I couldn’t tell you about Somerset rivers. Going by the foot or more was scraped off the bed of the Lys, near chez moi / France*, 20% mightn’t be far off. Fluid dynamics mean increases in cross sectional areas of water courses produce non-linear, proportionally greater flow.

    *This is Flanders. it’s originally part of the flood plain of the Rhine/Thames megariver system, ran through the Pas de Calais, before Doggerland became the North Sea.

  28. The sensible attempts to decentralise has involved some of the EA budget being transferred to local authorities so Labour is trying to claim that less is being spent by excluding part of flood defence spending and not using a like-for-like comparison when spending on flood defences has actually increased

    The government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 cut both the EA budget and local authority grants by nearly 30% over four years. If john77 is saying that local authority spending on flood defences in the Somerset Levels has nevertheless increased (there is no ring fencing) then perhaps he would care to tell us what the money’s been spent on.

    However, it seems that for any conceivable flood-defence budget, the view of modern hydrologists is that widescale dredging is not a cost-effective way to reduce flooding. Here ‘s some discussion of why not.

  29. @ Luke
    Yesterday evening my wife took me to a lecture at the Cambridge Union (yes, I am not omniscient and even my wife can notice that) so I got home to find your reply to my previous post and your subsequent crowing that I did not the answer because I had not replied to a post that I had not yet read.
    My generation sometimes misses the materially much worse times of our youth because 50 years ago no-one would have done that face-to-face: there was always the option of “step outside and say that” which was open even to those like me who weighed around 50kg.
    .It is quite simple to show that some flooding would still have taken place but would not have reached emergency levels.
    “This is the second year in a row now and we’ve been banging on to the agency cleaning the rivers out. They’re 42% silted up” see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25911391
    The Environment Agency regards 2.5 years’ silt as acceptable as it wants farmers to clear silt only on 20% of their river boundaries, but we’re now looking at 11 years accumulation. Assuming the Victorian engineers, as usual, set up a 100% safety margin (it cannot have been less than 72% or the rivers would have flooded previously under normal rainfall and any number over 100 merely strengthens my argument), then the rivers could cope with 116% of normal rainfall and flooding would start when it got worse. The amount of floodwater is proportional to X-1.16 where X is the ratio of rainfall to normal.
    It takes some time for the effects of silting to become noticeable if the first year only reduces the safety margin from 100% of normal rainfall to 96% but after 9 years the margin had shrunk to 23.6% and Somerset residents were complaining in 2012 http://avalonlightphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/somerset-levels-two-weeks-after-the-heavy-rain-and-flooding/
    The flooding is proportional to the excess of rainfall over 116% of normal levels whereas it would have been proportional to the excess of rainfall over 200% of normal levels if Life Baron Smith and his equally socialist equally ennobled predecessor had not chosen to forbid the centuries-old practice of dredging drainage channels. Somerset has survived wetter Januaries without comparable calamities: “Southwest England and south Wales saw the *fifth* wettest January on record with rainfall reaching 222.6mm up to January 28. It was the wettest since 1995, when 224.4mm fell.” http://news.sky.com/story/1203495/record-rainfall-for-january-and-more-to-come
    It has been the wettest January on record for *south-east England*, not for Somerset. There have been worse downpours that did not cause emergencies.
    Do your bloody homework!!

  30. @ PaulB
    Is that a joke? The suggestion is to reduce sea levels by enough to improve the rate of gravity-flow from the Somerset levels. Reduce sea level by a few hundred feet…
    Secondly, most of the damage to the drainage channels occurred before 2010 (pendantically we should look at 2011 because Ed Millionaireband demands that we treat environmental spending in 2011 as down to his government). The amount spent by the EA on flood defence was so small that it could not be used to meet a 30% cut in the EA budget (nor even over 2 years the 7.5% pa cut that you have presented as a 30% cut).
    Thirdly local spending in the Somerset levels was blocked by the EA under its New Labour appointees
    Fourthly “cost-effective” depends on WHOSE costs you are considering: some time ago my father’s late cousin moved to Old Windsor which had not been flooded in centuries; Then Slough paid for a flood diversion scheme which has resulted in Old Windsor being repeatedly flooded. It was “cost-effective* for *Slough* to divert flooding so that a 80+=year-old-widow had waters flowing into her house. Sir Nigel of Slough Estates should maintain his distance from me.

  31. BIS, thanks, esp the non-linear point which I hadn’t realised.

    John 77, thanks for the response. I don’t think this is really the blog to comment on if you feel the need to ask someone to step outside because they call into doubt your expertise on hydrology.

    Now, can we do your figures without assumptions (you make lots, however reasonable)? Do we *know* how much the rivers carry away now compared to before? Cubic feet/metres per minute is measurable.

    I am vaguely interested to know. Does anyone know this? Or are we all just guessing?

    [sorry, but I don’t take your figures very seriously – you just assume Victorian engineers had a 100% margin of safety – but how do you or did they know? And you faithfully report “42% silted” whatever that means) but not the rest of the article where people who know a bit cast doubt. And there’s more concrete than in Victorian times, so the flow needed now is higher – but I don’t know how much- do you?]

    Now we left wing urbanites have to attend to Man U v Arsenal.

  32. @ Luke
    It is not a question of stepping outside if you doubt my views on hydrology. It is about you implying that I am either a phony who doesn’t know what I am talking about or (more considerately) a complete idiot because I fail to answer a comment before I have a chance to read it.
    Do you want to apologise?

  33. As stated above I am not omniscient. However we DO have data from people on the ground. I quoted the BBC, not Fox News;.nobody in the rest of the article cast doubt on the 42%. My lack of omniscience does not amount to illiteracy.
    The reason why Victorian engineers used a 100% margin for safety was precisely BECAUSE they did not know. BUT, as anyone willing to think can see, if their safety margin cannot have been less than 72% and if it was greater than 100% then the extra flooding caused by failing to dredge was a greater %age of the total.
    If you can strain yourself to read the data you may see that there have been four years in the relatively recent past which had heavier rainfall *in Somerset* but did not result in equal or closely similar levels of flooding.
    My original post is correct, despite your whingeing.

  34. John 77

    Eh, eh, eh, calm down.

    (Ps I invest my money in index funds, w/o any financial adviser taking a cut. Sorry, but it’s just too tempting.)

  35. Is that a joke?

    It’s not a joke that three independent hydrologists think that dredging is not much of a solution.

    the 7.5% pa cut that you have presented as a 30% cut

    The government’s 2010 spending review announced a 29% annual cut (in real terms) in DEFRA’s annual resource spending by 2014.

    …local spending in the Somerset levels was blocked by the EA…
    …Slough paid for a flood diversion scheme which has resulted in Old Windsor being repeatedly flooded…

    So you think it was wrong for the EA to prevent the locals doing what the wanted with drainage of the Somerset levels, presumably for fear of the consequences downstream. And also wrong for water to have been drained away from Slough, because of the consequences downstream.

  36. @ PaulB
    The flooding of flood meadows (fields) near Slough has been replaced by the flooding of streets in Old Windsor. So YES I do think that was wrong. Now it may be open to debate as to *what* was wrong (I don’t know what would have happened if the artificial river had discharged into the Thames lower down), but there can be little doubt that it was wrong.
    Spending review “The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) settlement includes:
    continued investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management, with £2 billion being spent in total over the Spending Review period; overall resource savings of 29 per cent in real terms by 2014-15, through reducing the number of Arms Length Bodies from 92 to 39 and focusing spending on key priorities; and …
    DEFRA will focus spending on areas of high economic value. The settlement therefore provides for £2 billion to be spent on flood and coastal defences over the Spending Review period, better protecting 145,000 households by 2014-15. DEFRA will work with the Environment Agency and the Efficiency and Reform Group to review existing procurement strategies and maximise the money available, with expected efficiency savings of 15 per cent on capital investment by 2014-15.”
    However much you might wish to blame Osborne’s spending cuts, they were specifically directed away from flood protection.

  37. @ PaulB
    The average annual amount spent on flood defence has been higher since the 2010 election than under New Labour during 2005-10 (the chart doesn’t go back earlier). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26172688
    To claim otherwise Miliband had to pretend than he was still in power until 2011 and ignore 2005/6/7/8 but hid that with some weasel words so that he couldn’t be called a flat-out liar.
    The Grauniad of course trumpeted his claims without the weasel words. I am not quite naive enough to believe the Grauniad without checking

  38. John, that chart you link to shows a big cut in the first year, and the biggest spending hasn’t actually happened yet.

    The actual numbers planned at the time of the spending review are here. I repeat, the £2bn was a cut – the government said 8% in cash terms, comparing the four years planned in the spending review with the previous four years.

    And that’s a misleading comparison. Labour had seen the need for more flood defence spending, and increased the budget over its last few years in office. The immediate one-year cut planned by the 2010 spending review was 17% in cash terms, with a further cut of 6% over the following three years.

    The increases shown in your chart after the big cut were progressive changes to the initial plan, as it became increasingly obvious that the government had cocked up. It’s a horrible and wasteful way to run a maintenance budget.

    This shouldn’t be a matter of party politics. Forget the labels and look at the numbers.

  39. @ PaulB
    “This shouldn’t be a matter of party politics.”
    Agreed. Miliband is trying to make it one – I am merely refuting his claims.
    The chart shows typical pattern, a rush to spend the budget just before the end of the period and the average spending in the life of the current Parliament to April 2013 (before the sharp rises in 2013/4 and 2014/5) was *higher* than in the last 5 years of New Labour: 606 > 543. That is before the rushed-through increase to the flood defence budget last week
    The data is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277910/flood-coastal-erosion-funding.pdf
    Your link would require me to sign up to an outfit that sounds like the ones that were trying to sell me Carbon Credits before I can read their version of Defra’s allegedly satanic behaviour so I thought I might go the horse’s mouth: there are *some* limits to me naivety.
    As to four-year budgets: Defra got a spending cut but flood defences got a much smaller one, less than 2% – if add up the numbers and subtract the £130m extra you will get £2340m vs £2379m. Given the need to cut the budget deficit by 8% of GDP (according to Alastair Darling – rather more according to right-wing sceptics) flood defences have been relatively prioritised. Talking about a 30% spending cut for flood defences looks like a naive belief in the so-called facts presented by lefty propagandists – unless you believe that inflation was 28% in four years.
    Of course more could have been done and, with hindsight, should have been done, but Osborne is less guilty than the change of policy at the EA in 2003. Dredging on its own would not be enough but it would indubitably have alleviated the situation.

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