THIS is not a good time to be a Transport Secretary, as Philip Hammond has discovered. The under-fire Minister is having to grapple with unprecedented budget cuts, while being accused of not doing enough to keep Britain moving during the 'big freeze'.
If and when the snow finally thaws, and possibly precipitate floods, it will be an accusation levelled against Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, who is facing the same conundrum – the need for new flood defences at a time when her budget has been similarly squeezed.
This has been spelled out by the first Environment Select Committee report to be published under the chairmanship of Anne McIntosh. Not only is she a Conservative MP, but her constituency – Thirsk, Malton and Filey – is prone to flooding.
Her report should be heeded. If climate change is going to lead to more extreme weather, then the country has to be better prepared for the consequences. It is accepted that there are two imponderables – the scale of future funding cuts as the spectre of inflation returns to haunt the economy and locating the precise areas that might experience flash flooding.
These are issues for Ministers to consider. Yet they should also note the lessons of a pioneering scheme in flood-hit Pickering where the careful planting of trees, creating buffer strips along watercourses and blocking moorland drains, has slowed down the flow of water – and the town's vulnerability – for a sum which costs a fraction of a new flood defence scheme. It is not a long-term solution, but demonstrates the kind of pragmatism that will be required on the Government's part.