Seize the chance to act on Yorkshire floods and fairness – Dan Jarvis

THE coronavirus crisis has brought out the best of our South Yorkshire spirit.

The people who have been collecting shopping and medicines for those who are shielding. The volunteers who have produced PPE for the front-line. The pub landlord who has cooked hundreds of meals for vulnerable residents.

Everywhere, the extraordinary character that exemplifies our coalfield communities has shone through.

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It’s the same community spirit that I saw in abundance during the floods last November.

Boris Johnson meets flooding victims in Fishlake. Photo: James Hardisty.Boris Johnson meets flooding victims in Fishlake. Photo: James Hardisty.
Boris Johnson meets flooding victims in Fishlake. Photo: James Hardisty.

Across South Yorkshire, our communities were under water. In response, we did what we do best – rallied around and supported those in need.

But even now, there are some residents who have not been able to return to their homes, who lost their possessions, who live in a state of constant anxiety about what next winter will bring.

I’ve been fighting for these communities both as MP for Barnsley Central and as the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region.

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We’ve developed a plan for flood prevention measures worth more than £270m that would protect 10,300 homes and 2,800 businesses – saving an estimated £1.7bn just in direct damages avoided.

Boris Johnson arrives in Fishlake to meet flooding victims. Photo: James Hardisty.Boris Johnson arrives in Fishlake to meet flooding victims. Photo: James Hardisty.
Boris Johnson arrives in Fishlake to meet flooding victims. Photo: James Hardisty.

I’ve pushed for an emergency flooding summit to bring together local authorities, 
central government, the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and flood management experts to formulate a plan for flood defences in South Yorkshire.

And I’ve asked the Environment Agency to take active measures to reduce flooding risk, like dredging canals.

Of course, it’s not just a problem for South Yorkshire. Many parts of Yorkshire – and indeed the whole country – have suffered immensely from floods in recent years, most recently this March.

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That increase is consistent with the predicted impacts of climate change. The very local problems we face in the Don river valley are inextricably linked to much wider issues, and our response must reflect this.

Dan Jarvis MP is mayor of Sheffield City Region.Dan Jarvis MP is mayor of Sheffield City Region.
Dan Jarvis MP is mayor of Sheffield City Region.

We’ve heard warm words from the Government. In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor pledged over £5bn to improve the country’s flood defences. It’s a welcome move, and I’m campaigning for our region to get its fair share of that funding.

But, so far, we’ve seen neither the detail nor the follow-up commitments needed to translate this pledge into practice. Time and again in Parliament, I’ve asked the Government to hold the summit the Prime Minister promised. I completely understand why so much energy is being directed at the coronavirus crisis, but he must stick to his word.

When we come to the practical actions needed to rise to the challenge of flooding, we must do far more than provide sandbags when the riverbanks burst. We need a bold and creative response, that integrates flood prevention and defences into our policies at every level, from the local to the global.

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This means ensuring that flood mitigation better informs the planning process when it comes to where houses and businesses are built, so we work with nature, not against it.

It means an approach which looks at the whole watershed and seeks to manage it as naturally as possible. It means a major tree-planting strategy to reduce the risk of floods – and improve our neighbourhoods and create natural habitats in the process.

It means putting sustainability and tackling the climate emergency at the heart of our future economic plans, so we address the global factors driving our local floods. It means giving Metro Mayors and local authorities additional powers to deliver flood mitigation in their areas, to make our response more targeted and effective.

Crucially though, there is a direct link here to the Covid-19 response. We desperately need to create jobs and invest in infrastructure to counter the damage the disease has caused and will cause to our society and our economy.

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Increasing and accelerating work on flood prevention can help provide those jobs – while ensuring that the public investment we so badly need produces some long-lasting good.

I’ve written extensively about how we can rebuild our businesses and communities after coronavirus. But returning to a failed status quo is just not good enough: we must seize the opportunity to renew our economy and society, to build a fairer, more equal country. And that applies to flooding too.

We need to do things differently. And there is no better time than now.

Dan Jarvis is the mayor of Sheffield 
City Region. He’s also Labour MP for Barnsley Central.

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Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson


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