ANOTHER week – and another token gesture from the Government in response to mounting pressure over its derisory response to the Yorkshire floods.
Seven days ago, the Prime Minister responded to criticism by making available £40m to help shore up and repair this county’s flood defences after a storm of criticism over the decision to veto a major scheme for Leeds in 2011 before approving a £300m scheme for the Thames Valley. Now the Government has stumped up £3.3m to repair Tadcaster’s 300-year-old bridge and construct a temporary footbridge to assist residents and businesses in a town now split in two.
However, there will be disappointment that this drip-feeding of announcements does not include a temporary road crossing – David Cameron said this was “a national priority” before the Army vetoed the plan because of the River Wharfe’s width. It will take until Christmas for the repairs to be completed. And there will also be dismay that the Department for Transport’s announcement does not extend to Elland Bridge in Calderdale, which also faces a lengthy closure.
Yet, given the belief that this region is paying a heavy price for the Government’s complacency on flooding, it is all the more surprising that the BBC’s Andrew Marr chose not to challenge Mr Cameron on this during his setpiece interview – the much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse will be little more than a damp squib unless cities like Leeds have proper protection.
If the South East was facing months of flooding misery, this issue would have topped Mr Marr’s agenda. Why, therefore, should the North be any different? For, given Labour’s inability to function as an Opposition, it’s even more vital that The Yorkshire Post and others provide such scrutiny. Anything less would be a betrayal of the public interest as well as each and every flooding victim.
PM’s home truths
THE brouhaha over Europe, and the convulsion that this is causing the Tories, should not detract from David Cameron’s aspiration agenda and determination to preside over a new era of home ownership. This will become self-evident today when the Prime Minister delivers a setpiece speech on housing policy in which he will pledge to transform some of Britain’s sink estates into attractive properties that tenants might purchase under ‘right to buy’ schemes.
The Conservative leader’s intentions are laudable – many first-time buyers have been priced out of the property market and their plight is being exacerbated by the failure of successive governments to build sufficient housing. Yet there remain a number of policy areas which the Prime Minister needs to address. First, Mr Cameron’s promised £140m represents little more than £1m for each of the 100 estates which he intends to transform – is he confident that the private sector, and housing associations, will pick up the shortfall?
Second, high-rise tower blocks were built in the first place to reduce the pressure on land. If tower blocks are knocked down, where will the new homes be built when local councils are already struggling to identify sufficient sites for housing in their local plans?
Third, Mr Cameron needs to recognise that a consequence of ‘right-to-buy’ is a shortage of social housing for the most needy – the charity Shelter estimates that councils in the Harrogate area could be £20m out of pocket unless the Government allows them to invest proceeds from such sales in new stock. The PM’s response is awaited with interest.
A crime of naivety: Aid worker deserves compassion
EVEN the most hard-hearted would sympathise with aid worker Rob Lawrie who has been convicted of trying to smuggle Bahar Ahmadi, a four-year-old girl from Afghanistan, into the UK so she could be reunited with relatives in Leeds.
What was he supposed to do when approached by the father of the youngster, known as Bru, as the former Army physical training instructors built shelters at The Jungle camp in Calais for refugees and asylum seekers?
It would have been very difficult for Mr Lawrie, as a father of four, to look into Bru’s eyes and ignore her desperate family’s pleas for assistance. Yet, having admitted that this was a “moment of madness”, it can only be hoped that the French courts spare the aid worker from a jail term – the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment. After all, Mr Lawrie travelled to France for humanitarian reasons and the judiciary should be lenient and recognise that his only crime in this act of mercy appears to be one of naivety.