Money wasted on HS2 could have been used to prevent people in Catcliffe having to flee their homes due to flooding - Jayne Dowle
Back then, in November 2019, I mentioned my friend’s elderly parents, who had to be evacuated by boat from their bungalow and put up in a hotel, because her own home wasn’t suitable for their mobility needs.
I said that her 80-year-old dad, who suffered from cancer, dementia and COPD, became seriously ill in the hotel room and was taken to hospital. What I learned afterwards was that he died within a matter of weeks. His devastated family still blame the flood for hastening the end of his life.
Their story wouldn’t have made another sad headline - unlike the tragic case of Maureen Gilbert, 83, who perished last weekend in floodwaters that engulfed her own home in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and was found floating downstairs by her own son – but still, my friend’s dad faced forces entirely beyond his control.
And that is how thousands of people feel this week, as Storm Babet has done its worst and still the rain keeps falling. Abandoned and helpless. Unconvinced that the authorities, or local or national government, are concerned enough about their plight.
Politicians – local and from Westminster - turn up and look concerned, nodding their heads in sympathy, but so many homeowners, and business owners, feel angry that their situations are not being taken seriously.
For example, up to 250 residents in Catcliffe, near Rotherham, were evacuated from their homes at three o’clock in the morning on Saturday. Speaking to reporters, local Chris Lloyd, whose home was flooded in the catastrophic floods in 2007, when the River Rother breached its banks, was asked what support he had been given by the authorities. He replied: "We've had nothing from nobody."
In response, it was reported, the Environment Agency (EA) said it was “currently looking at the best use of our pumps and other resources". Meanwhile, a little further south in Retford, Nottinghamshire, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey spouted figures.
Between 2015 and 2021, she said, £2.6bn had been invested in flood defences across the country, covering more than 300,000 homes. “We're partway through a programme of spending a further £5.2bn over a six-year time period,” she added.
Ms Coffey also talked about Flood Re, an insurance scheme introduced by the Conservative government in April 2016, that makes sure everybody in this country can have their home protected by insurance, regardless of what level of flooding has happened there in the past.
I’ve interviewed a lot of flood victims in recent years. Claiming on an insurance policy when your entire home is uninhabitable, your possessions destroyed by filthy water and your children’s schooling interrupted because you can’t go back to where you live for months, whilst repair work is carried out, does not offer that much peace of mind, to be honest.
According to official figures from the Met Office, five of the ten wettest years for the UK in a series from 1836 have occurred in the 21st century so far. Since 2009, the UK has experienced its wettest February, April, June, November and December on record. The Met Office says that overall, there has been a slight increase in heavy rainfall across the UK in recent decades; the problem, as the residents of Catcliffe know only too well, is the concentration of huge amounts of rain at once, especially if it’s falling on already sodden ground.
Welcome though government money is when it comes to flood prevention and defensive measures – I witnessed this in action locally last Sunday morning when I took the A635 through the village of Darfield, and saw the huge flood plain that has been created here to accommodate the River Dearne bursting its banks – less than £10bn is but a drop in a very worrying ocean compared to what has been spent on the failed project of HS2 to date.
If even just a portion of what is now looking like a £100bn-plus bill for a high-speed railway, which will not now achieve its aim of joining up the North of England with the capital, had been spent on flood defences, we might not have families forced to flee in the middle of the night, and elderly people found dead in floodwater in their own home.
However, although investment is important, the big question is, will cash alone be enough to stop the deluge?