Broken promises over flooding; George Eustice damned by his own words – Tom Richmond

THE context is critical to Environment Secretary George Eustice’s belated attempt this week to ingratiate himself with Yorkshire’s flooding victims in order to nullify a mounting tide of public – and political – anger.

Environment Secretary George Eustice promised a Yorkshire-wide flooding summit during this visit to York last February in the aftermath of Storm Dennis. Photo: Gerard Binks.

This is the Cabinet Minister who indicated, shortly after his appointment in February last year, that he would hold a Yorkshire-wide flooding summit in the aftermath of Storm Dennis. He even visited York to witness the swollen Ouse.

It’s still not happened, although Defra held a South Yorkshire summit towards the end of last year that was likened, according to some of those present, to a PR exercise in tokenism on the part of the embattled Eustice.

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Yet he’s clearly not embarrassed about breaking his word so readily. “Last year, I was clear of my intention to host a series of roundtables based on management catchments because I want to understand the specific issues that areas are facing,” he wrote in The Yorkshire Post on Tuesday.

Environment Secretary George Eustice in York last February.

“We will be prioritising those roundtables in areas that have had serious flooding incidents at least three times in the last 10 years.”

Now Eustice is entitled to his view – and it would have been inappropriate to censor these remarks – but they should not go unchallenged.

In spite of one meeting with South Yorkshire stakeholders, he’s still, one year on, to meet local authority leaders, and victims, for ‘roundtables’ in those parts of East, West and North Yorkshire that have been flooded on multiple occasions. His February 2020 visit to York does, in hindsight, now look like a photo-call.

And the tone of a letter sent by Peter Trimingham, on behalf of the Fishlake Flood Warden Team, to the Environment Agency – and other bodies – this week certainly does not inspire confidence.

An aerial photo of the devastating December 2019 floods in Fishlake.

Writing on behalf of his 22-strong team, he notes: “The majority of defences constructed in 1947 were earth embankments.

“Given that the design life of this type of structure is 50 years, they are now 24 years past the expiry date and should be due for renewal or significant refurbishment. Are there plans in place to do this? If not, why not?”

He then adds: “In 1960 it took peak rainfall from the moors above Sheffield 24 hours to reach Fishlake. Currently the time is less than 12 hours. The cause of this is changes is land use and mismanagement of our environment in the catchment area of the River Don.”

All the more reason, given how this issue transcends council boundaries, that both the Prime Minister – and George Eustice – hold the Yorkshire-wide flooding summit originally promised.

Anything less will make a travesty of the Environment Secretary’s latest promise to “continue to work to ensure that our country is more resilient in the long term”. How can he be trusted if he goes back on his word faster than rivers rise in Yorkshire’s most vulnerable cities, towns and villages?

IT would have been remiss of Labour not to use designated Opposition Day debates in Parliament to expose issues of social injustice like free school meals, Universal Credit and the post-Grenfell cladding scandal.

What’s been more questionable is the extent to which it has used these platforms to try and force headline-grabbing votes and the Government choosing to abstain because the outcome is non-binding under Parliamentary rules.

This has meant the debates have been unduly partisan (on both sides) with a succession of MPs reading out pre-prepared speeches/press releases (you decide) without interruption.

In turn, this diminishes the debates when families, taxpayers and voters expect better of both parties. At least Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake tried to break free from these restraints over cladding.

He said the issue is caused by “poor building regulations in England across decades and a lack of regulatory oversight, which led to a construction industry that took advantage, put profits ahead of safety and built buildings with combustible materials and with missing compartmentation now regarded as fire traps”.

Strong words, he also called for “a pan-industry solution, involving cladding manufacturers, insulation manufacturers, developers and installers” and that leaseholders are not to blame. Three and a half years after Grenfell claimed dozens of lives, why has it taken so long to reach this point? And what hope of further progress in this Parliament? Very little, I’m afraid – and ashamed – to say.

FORTY years after Only Fools and Horses was first screened, it’s great to see the Trotters honoured on a new set of Royal Mail stamps. It’s just about the only venture that ‘Del Boy’, played by Sir David Jason, did not undertake in this masterpiece of TV comedy.

Just imagine if he was running the local post office – or mail deliveries. Complete chaos, and I write this on the day post for three different houses was pushed through my door in error by the temporary postie as they work wonders, it should be said, to maintain their rounds in the pandemic, but first class laughter.

FINALLY, I’ll leave you to try and identify the MP interviewed on TV this week with a photo on the wall behind them of a horse called Old Man Clegg – trained by the legendary Yorkshire trainer Mick Easterby – winning at the 2012 Ebor Festival on the Knavesmire.

I’m more interested in finding out if the horse was mischievously named after a fresh-faced Nick Clegg, the then Deputy PM, or an enduring character from TV’s Last of the Summer Wine...