During his lengthy career in politics, Dr Alan Billings has been a man to choose his words with great care. So it is worth listening when the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner questions the level of transparency around the decisions of the Environment Agency following the recent devastating floods in the county.
Dr Billings has seen at first-hand the extent of the devastation caused by the floods, describing visiting one traumatised family whose property in Bentley, Doncaster, was still full of brown, foul-smelling water which had their ruined furniture and possessions. As it is the second timetheir home has been flooded, they had the secondary blow of being uninsured.
The misery of that family and many others like them in the Doncaster area follows growing questions about the decisions which led to new flood defences being built in Sheffield after the devastating 2007 floods. Those defences were effective in largely protecting Sheffield this time around, but with the River Don bursting its banks further downstream leading to the flooding in rural areas and suburbs around Doncaster, many in the flooded areas believe their communities were sacrificed.
As Dr Billings simply puts it: “Many in the Don Valley believe they were the victims of decisions taken elsewhere.”
There is of course an argument that building flood defences in urban areas to protect the largest number of people and businesses possible is not only legitimate, but perfectly sensible.
But as Dr Billings rightly points out, with a lack of local accountability for the Environment Agency there are unanswered questions for those who have been so badly affected.
The very least they deserve is greater transparency and full answers about what has happened – and why.