TOMORROW, it will be 50 days since The Yorkshire Post published an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, challenging him to answer a series of crucial questions on flooding policy – and say how the Government intends to support the victims of some of the worst floods ever to hit Yorkshire.
We are still awaiting a full reply to these questions. However, last week we were offered an article, written in the Prime Minister’s name, in support of English Tourism Week. We chose not to publish the article on editorial grounds.
In his Saturday essay, our columnist Tom Richmond said it would have been a disservice to our readers to give the Prime Minister such a platform “when so many homes, businesses and tourist destinations, the latest being Jorvik Viking Centre and the iconic Settle to Carlisle railway, are paying such a high price for the floods”.
The Prime Minister’s piece began with the words “I love Yorkshire & the Humber” and was designed to boost tourism in the region. It then emerged that variations of this article had been produced for other regional newspapers up and down the country.
Over the weekend our criticism of this flagrant PR stunt went viral, attracting widespread support from the likes of The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, as well as notable figures including Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Alastair Campbell, Jay Rayner and Ian McMillan.
Labour’s Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves wrote on Twitter: “Proud of @yorkshirepost for standing up against the PMs insincere and copy & pasted love letter to Yorkshire.”
But this is not about exposing the folly of insincere PR exercises. What we are questioning is the Government’s lack of a coherent flooding strategy and the absence of empathy for the victims of the Yorkshire floods.
Jobs are still being lost – it was confirmed last week that German automotive firm ThyssenKrupp Woodhead Leeds is shutting its flood-hit Kirkstall premises which employed 93 people – while firms in the Calder Valley can no longer get insurance cover.
Had London and the South East been hit by such unprecedented flooding it is simply inconceivable that the Government would have sat back and done so little.
The response so far has been wholly inadequate. In Leeds, a scaled-down scheme is under- way which will offer a safety net for the city centre but leaves areas that bore the brunt of the Boxing Day floods woefully exposed.
The Environment Agency has been tasked with carrying out a feasibility study, but this could take up to two years to complete.
Taking into account the timescales involved in terms of producing detailed designs for the measures, acquiring the necessary planning permissions and the procurement process, this could mean residents and businesses remain at risk of flooding for up to five years.
In Calderdale, one of the worst affected areas, a flood alleviation scheme has been promised, while some money has also been made available to boost tourism in Yorkshire and Cumbria.
However, the Government has not produced a co-ordinated flooding strategy and what announcements there have been have failed to acknowledge, or properly address, the seriousness of the situation.
This is just one of the many policy areas where our region has suffered chronic under investment for decades, the impact of which only serves to widen the economic North-South divide.
On Wednesday, the Chancellor George Osborne will deliver his first full Budget since last May’s General Election, but will the recent flood victims receive any fresh support?
Mr Cameron visited Todmorden in the wake of the 2012 floods and promised to do everything within his power to help local residents and businesses. But he has failed to do so.
Rather than paying lip service to how much he loves Yorkshire, the Prime Minister should insist that a comprehensive flooding plan is set in motion so that the very real problems that beset our flood-hit communities are not repeated in the future. The people of Yorkshire deserve nothing less.
We wrote a letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron back in January, exactly a month after the December floods that caused such devastation in places like Leeds, York and the Calder Valley.
We asked Mr Cameron to look again at his Government’s handling of the floods and to consider, amongst others, the following key issues:
A fully independent audit of all spending on flood defences, and the Environment Agency’s river maintenance strategy, to ensure money is being targeted effectively at those areas which are deemed most risk of flooding.
Immediate funding for a new feasibility study into a major scheme to protect Leeds.
A specific inquiry into the Yorkshire floods, so lessons can be learned and a strategy developed for river catchment areas in their entirety.