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« +++Alas Smith+++ | Main | Julia Slingo on the storms »

Follow the money

The torrent of claim and counterclaim about the floods continues apace. Last night Twitter was abuzz with environmentalists trying to defend Lord Smith, the head of the Environment Agency, while those of a more sceptical bent (myself included) were furiously pointing out some of the flaws in the argument.

Some have been making the claim that dredging would not have prevented the floods on the Levels, but as David Rose pointed out in the Mail on Sunday yesterday, not all of the area is a dredging-free zone.

Dramatic confirmation can be seen just a few miles away, in the northern part of the Levels.

At the Gold Corner pumping station, three giant pumps are still lifting the waters from the rivers Axe and Brue up seven feet into the Huntspill Drain – an artificial watercourse about 100ft wide which runs straight to the sea.

But unlike the southern Levels rivers, the Huntspill is not silted up. The land for miles around is just as low-lying as the drowned villages and fields near the Parrett, but the flooding is far less severe.

This seems to me to be strong evidence that the Environment Agency has made things considerably worse than they needed to be.

The argument that these floods can be pinned to climate change is also looking increasingly thin, particularly after the reminder that just a couple of years ago DEFRA was warning us that drought was the "new normal". The focus of the EA's defence therefore seems to have shifted somewhat to its finances (or the alleged lack of them).

It looks as if the argument is going to come down to whether allegations that the EA has splurged money on water voles, corruption and general wastefulness win out over claims that it is underfunded. That being the case, it will be interesting to see if someone can get hold of documentary support for Richard North's story about the absurd costs claimed by the EA for dredging. Given all the stories swirling around at Inside the Environment Agency, I have little doubt that it is true.

So who should carry the can? Chris Smith, as EA chairman, is probably just a grossly overpaid public relations man. It's hard to believe that he was privy to any of the day-to-day decisions that took place inside the agency. But then again he is placed in the EA to represent the public interest. The fact that he is an enthusiastic environmentalist as well, and would therefore have presumably been happy to see water voles given preference over taxpayers, only adds spice to the story. And besides, there were floods in the Levels last year and Smith was out in public trying to put them down to the "wrong kind of rain".

There was perhaps an echo of this last month when Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, incautiously blamed recent flooding on “increasing instances” of “convective rain, which sits in one place and just dumps itself in a deluge over a long period of time.” Not only did this sound to annoyed flood victims and their MPs as an excuse; it drew a sharp rebuke from the veteran weather forecaster Bill Giles, who said “There is nothing new about convective rain. Perhaps next time he should get a meteorologist to check his answers.”

It's all getting very interesting.

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Reader Comments (82)

Smith has a PhD in Wordsworth and Coleridge. As a Levels farmer stated:-

''What we want is a plumber not a poet''.

If I remember correctly he was a disaster as Arts Minister under his mate Blair. He should go now and pledge his last years salary of £100,000 towards the Somerset Disaster Fund.

Feb 10, 2014 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

From John Redwood's blog today :

In 2012-13 the EA spent £1207.4m compared to £1166.6m the year before. It ended the year with £95.8m cash in the bank. We are told the “cuts” stopped it doing a good job on flooding. How big an increase in spending would it take to qualify as no cut?

so it would seem that the EA had plenty of cash but preferred not to use it for dredging

It makes Chris Smith's claim that the EA had "put £400,000 on the table" seem even more ridiculous!

Feb 10, 2014 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Perhaps, Mr Smith might like to visit Google maps, find Langport and follow the River Parret downstream to a hamlet called Oath. Just north of the hamlet is what looks like a pumping station. Now, zoom in and keep following the river downstream. Is that a lot of sediment build up?

Do you think dredging may be necessary?

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

Perhaps this is also a contributory factor- I can understand certain number of the 4 x 4s but the ratio of cars to employees seems- well, somewhat excessive.

To carry out its field duties, the EA operates a fleet of 4,747 company cars funded on contract hire with full maintenance (at high expense, along with the documented abuse of the mileage claim back system highlighted in this blog), with an additional 1,920 badged 4x4s. That's nearly 7,000 vehicles (plus trucks) - that's more than one official vehicle for every two employees... which does seem quite high - no?"

"Drivers of leased vehicles at the EA are paid a mileage rate and are not issued with fuel cards. This makes it very difficult for the EA to capture and analyse mileage data on each vehicle at the end of its contract, as it is recorded on a driver basis, rather than a vehicle basis" - resulting in abuse of the mileage system when staff over-report business mileage primarily by claiming expenses on personal trips/exaggerating business miles.

More money seems to be spent on high staff salaries, inefficient systems, unnecessary vehicles and toys, lost work time from system abuses, and excess number of managers/"specialists" than on flood defences!

Quoted here.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

The reason why the Huntspill drain is free flowing is because its dredging is the responsibility of the local Drainage Board.

The rivers, on the other hand, are the responsibility of the EA, which has messed them up through sheer, possibly criminal negligence.

Indeed, yesterday, an experiment was being tried to open a sluice gate from the swollen, non-tidal Parrett, to access the Huntspill drain which enters the Parrrett in its free-flowing tidal region.

Drainage Board 1, Environment Agency -10. Let's hope heads will roll.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose
It's time someone spoke up on behalf of water voles who, I'm sure, are none too happy with Chris Smith either.
Seeing their 'lush riparian habitat' inundated must be quite distressing.
I see that they sometimes resort to eating frogs legs, while discarding the bodies.
I wonder where they got that idea !

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad

The serfs will suffer, but not those of the nomenklatura of whom Smith is definitely one, along with Yeo, Deben and the other relentless pursuers of personal vanity projects.

You stroke my ego, I'll stroke yours.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

The other example of how it SHOULD be done is the Norfolk Broads Authority and the authority that looks after the fens both of which have not been absorbed by the Borg (EA).

The EA should have the top three layers of management removed and their pensions used to employ some engineers that have experience in river and waterway management.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

BBC newpaper review last night, one of the journo's mentioned that the EA spent 4 times the amount it says it would have required for the dredging on one PR campaign.

He also commented on the £100k+ salaries for more than 40 EA managers, which might seem quite high to the folk of Somerset.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

So how are the water voles doing right now?
Feeling a bit Ratty, I expect.
Probably shacked up with Toad someplace.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

Apologies, Toad. I hadn't seen your post.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

David Rose refers to the 2008 agency Environment Agency Report which suggests the policy for the Levels was to ‘take action to increase the frequency of farmland flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere’.

Chris Smith was questioned about this by Evan Davies this morning. He claimed the report was written in 2008. He had never read it and it was NOT Environment Agency policy over the past six years whilst he was "in charge".

I doubt whether anyone will be brave enough to "leak" any internal documents which might suggest the 2008 report has been a policy document over the past six years. It seems odd if a 250 page report was written and simply ignored.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterNeil Hampshire

Eric Pickles today in response to defending the aid budget after it was suggested some of it could be used for dredging,
“aid money spent in a sustainable way in other countries will help alleviate extreme weather in the UK” , quote of the week ?
The EA has had cutbacks after DEFRA the overall body was fined over £500 million by the EU 2008/12 (mainly over the farm subsidies debacle) and started selling off or cutting back in order to balance the books, which makes the largesse shown on "environmental tasks" ie bird sanctuaries even more absurd.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered Commenterwiggia

From time to time we should hang dishonest, idle or incompetent "public servants" pour encourager. We could start at the EPA and the Met Office. This is far, far more important than hanging lawyers.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

The discharge Q of a river is proportional to the following
areas to the power 5/3
velocity squared.

The ability of water to carry sediment is proportional to the velocity to the power 3.
Consequently allowing vegetation to slow down the velocity and sediment build up causes river to rapidly deposit additional sediment. The rivers in Somerset carry high sediment loads, they are not coming off granite rocks which produce small amounts of sediment.

What needs to be calculated is the discharge rate of the rivers now and before they stopped dredging. Also stopping dredging causes sediment to be deposited in the river bed causing it to be raised. Consequently when river bank is broached by flood water it can travel greater distances over the flood plain - channel avulsion. This is way river channels change course over a flood plain.

Dutch flood defences are designed for 1 in 10,000 year floods.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

It bears repeating time and again that EU policy has, for ten years and more, determined what can and cannot be done to Britain's countryside, including its rivers and wetlands. British politicians (even, curiously, UKIP at present) are notoriously reluctant to acknowledge the power and reach of the EU in this regard; yet it seems quite clear that the Somerset floods result in part from EU-imposed legislation (as well as, of course, from the copious rain).

See recent posts by Richard North on his blog - - for chapter and verse, including this post by guest blogger (and Somerset resident) Christopher Booker

"Britain's flooding disaster is being driven by EU policy"

Once the EU legislation is acknowledged openly by the politicians we can proceed to a sensible public discussion of the pros and cons of that legislation, which should include a balanced discussion of the effect - if any - of climate change on the trends in precipation, wind speed and other possibly relevant factors.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterCassio

Screw the Water Voles. At least they swim well and far... Me an' my mates on the other hand have been virtually wiped out.

Wont someone think of the Shrews! Poor b'stards

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterMicrotus agrestis

" *Assuming Richard North's source is right."

Dr Richard North's research is always meticulous...

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterJabba the Cat

@NeilC: the object at Oath is weir. This is because Oath is at the tidal limit of the Parrett. What you see in the river is the downstream turbulent flow.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

Neil Hampshire: Re: the R4 Today interview with Smith. It wasn't so much the questions that Davies asked (and failed to get satisfactory answers to), it was the questions that any competent reporter would have asked but which Davies failed so miserably to ask. Makes you wonder if there was some kind of secret hand-shake going on when Smith left the studio....

So Smith was asked why the EA had not put more money into dredging: Smith: Not me guv; it was the Treasury wot done it. They refused to allow me to spend the money. They wanted a 1:8 cost:benefit to accrue and we couldn't produce that.

To which Davies should have asked: what was the cost benefit of the £31M nature reserve you OKed?

Big fail BBC!!!

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

The heat being applied to Smith may have interesting results. Clearly he is not (to use NuLabour jargon) 'fit for purpose' and there is a real anger about this wholly unqualified fat cat with his 11 jobs, massive salary and de haut en bas manner. It takes a real crisis for people in this country to rise up in anger and this may be the catalyst we have been waiting for, following which both eco-loons and quangocrats start fearing for their jobs.

Or am I just being mindlessly optimistic this morning?

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Badger

So in the UK, the enviros get it to flood, and in Australia the enviros make sure the fires are worse. The enviro/climate movement seems comprehensive in their incompetence.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Following up on Smith on Today: Davies asked Smith if he had 'spoken to Minister Patterson especially as he was in hospital having surgery on a detached retina' [paraphrase]
Smith's response is notable: 'Yes, I've spoken to him; I spoke to him in a text I sent him'(!!) Now leave aside that a) the guy's in doc and it would be nice to get a visit/chat, and b) all he gets is a text; when you've just had retinal surgery and you're all bandaged up so you probably only have vision in one eye, do you really want to conduct government business by having to read a text???? Smith is just so incompetent!!! But not as bad as Davies who failed - again - to follow up that line.

Feb 10, 2014 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Dr Richard North's research is always meticulous...
... but not always accurate.
Dr North has such an aversion to the EU that on occasion he allows his dislike to override his objectivity.
I am no particular apologist for the EU but many of its interfering Directives are a(i)) not intended for the purpose to which the British civil servant chooses to apply them (examples have been quoted by Booker); a(ii)) not intended to be other than advisory though the British civil servant ignores this fact; b) capable of interpretation in a way which will be to the benefit of the interpreting country (a practice applied in most EU countries with the noted exception of the UK); c) susceptible to amendment before being issued as a Directive (a practice that the British civil servant appears to be singularly useless at); and d) capable of being ignored if not in the best interests of the country.
Unfortunately when you put ex-RSPB activists in charge of things like the EA it is hard to avoid words like "dracula" and "blood bank" coming to mind. It's not so much that quangos need to be put on the bonfire as that the government departments which are at least nominally responsible for their field of activity need to ensure that the work they do is properly carried out in the most efficient, effective and economical way instead of their being allowed to just "get on with it" without proper accountability.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:00 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Annual budget: £1,112m (inc. Grant in Aid from Defra plus £417m in income from fees charges and other sources of income).
Staff: approximately 11,500 FTE based in England and Wales.
The figures above relate to the Environment Agency for England and Wales. From 1 April 2013 Environment Agency Wales became part of Natural Resources Wales.

Annual budget: £1,096m (inc. Grant in Aid from Defra plus charges, levies, partnership funding and other income)
Staff: approximately 11,300 based in England

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Audit the EA now

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJaceF


Agreed. But the story will not gain traction until we have something in writing.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:08 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Meanwhile, in Wivenhoe, a couple of years ago the Environment Agency waste a pile of money devastating an attractive riverside:

Hedges and trees cut down, apparently to stabilise the river bank and discourage rabbits. When I did geography at school, I was tahght that plant roots helped bind river banks together, and prevented erosion. As for rabbits, is this seriously supposed to discourage them? If only it was that easy.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

@MDHNN: My point is, yes I can see the turbulence from the weir, but from thereon downstream, being tidal is where the silting problem exists. I walked down there a few weeks back, the silt has been building up on both sides of the river for years making it much narrower. At high tide, the river water up to that point, has nowhere to go apart from spilling onto the land either side, causing the flooding.

Dredging to clear the tidal part to increase outflow (at low tide) and the right amount of pumping taking the spillage off the surrounding land, greatly reduces the amount of time the area remains flooded. Especially after high rainfall which we have experienced recently.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeilC

When the EA assesed the economic value of the land did they forget that the train lines run through the area ?

I wonder what the cost of no trains until the floods subside and the lines are repaired.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterrom1

Anyone else think that the 'spend £1 to save £8' model which the EA use, is just a tad simplistic..?

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

I know the Parrett quite well too. The silt is terra cotta clay which does not easily flow away. The river becomes V-shaped instead of U-shaped because the velocity is lower at the sides.

The real problem is the static water above the weir which allows the heavy silt to build up. At present, the capacity** of that non-tidal channel is 60% of what is needed.

**As described by Charlie above, discharge rate Q = Area^5/3.V^2. (I presume V is the mean value). Reduce area by 40% and assume V is constant, Q falls by 32%. However, this means V falls by 32% too, so iteration gives Q 30% of the initial value. This is presumably why the rivers are backing up in the non-tidal regions. Clearly the EA is staffed by incompetents. Also Datchet floods are caused by lack of dredging in that non-tidal part of the Thames. I heard an EA spokesperson today claim that the flow would de-silt the non tidal part. It can't, near the weir.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

Chris Smith's defence is that the EA was restricted by Treasury rules that limited the amount that the EA could spend on dredging but surely it is the EA's job to decide what the priorities are to prevent flooding and tell the Treasury how much money is needed. If the EA thought that the amount allowed by Treasury rules was insufficient for what appears to be essential work then they should have made that argument to the Treasury. He is implying that the Treasury decides what work the EA needs to do to prevent flooding, which seems ridiculous, and also implies that the EA is redundant since the Treaury is making the decisions about how to prevent flooding anyway.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:26 PM | Unregistered Commenterhebe

As regulars here are well-aware, any major infrastructure projects that drift anywhere near "being necessary because of climate change" are immediately hostage to whichever set of "experts" the Government has on tap. Some of us might have noticed the "experts' consensus" being deployed on Countryfile last night (BBC1 TV Sunday 9th Feb). Video of the state of Dawlish Sea Wall were shown in the same breath as video of Spurn Point near Hull, and East Anglia where "the sea has come three miles inland".

It's noticable that none of the experts setting environmental policy are engineers who might have the vision to solve problems in a productive or positive way. The experts' policy of choice might best be summed-up as "Environmental Pacifism". That is, (they say) because of Climate Change, fighting the Environment is a war humans can't fight or win, the best thing we can do is manage an orderly retreat. In East Anglia, that meant letting the sea breach existing dunes and sea defences. Same at Spurn Point near Hull.

These Environmental Pacifists seem to have no stomach for a fight to save and protect the people they are meant to be serving. More likely they are now too busy adopting a "Posterior Protection Policy" and a fight to save their jobs.

What would that mean in the South West? Emergency repairs in the short term, but then a long-term policy of not investing in coastal defence maintenance, or downgrading the railway infrastructure?

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Macdonald

JaceF @12:06 PM

Indeed - but don't expect to find much immediately - the EA seemingly have remarkably slack internal accounting - certainly some staff do not seem to have to record where and for how long they have been working - or where they are going (mileage/travel cost centres), how much "holiday" they're taking and what their flexi-time balance is....

They are obliged to record individual amounts over £25K (IIRC) which are recorded on a central, public register - but allocating those amounts to individual tasks is hit and miss AFAICS.

There is also the question of honesty and competence - I made an FoI regarding EA activity and trivially X-checked via Google of all places and turned up EA documentation which thoroughly conflicted with the answer provided by the FoI respondent.

In all the impression is of an organisation having considerable sums of money poured in the top with incompetent (and arithmetically challenged) managers scampering around dreaming up "inventive" ways to spend said money without much oversight and as quite a few people have found out - if those managers are challenged they are very quick to resort to their lavishly paid barrister chums (see public register of spending) to bury awkward issues under piles of legal invoices. To add insult to injury they see no reason to follow court orders if the don't feel like it either :-)

Treasury ?? - Chris Smith is walking on thin ice there .... shame, but he likely won't be properly called out on that assertion (I assume Smith has arranged some mates to make a statement and hope they don't have to provide documentary evidence!) - although John Redwood seems to be having a go...

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Registered Commentertomo


I'm confused. If the local Drainage Board in Somerset (e.g. the Huntspill drain) and the Norfolk Broads Authority are both still doing a competent job and dredging waterways, how can we or the EA put the blame on EU rules?

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterKeith Macdonald

We should all reflect a moment, to think on and about the people whose homes and farms have been ruined. Because this is a tragedy but it could have been mitigated.
People living on the Somerset levels, are all victims of a quite incredible bureaucratic hotchpotch of maladministration, bad judgement and something worse - like the rest of us they have been subject to an experiment but this wasn't societal engineering, those living on the levels were subject to a diminishment of engineering - an abandonment by the authorities if you will, as Keith Macdonald's post alludes to [above], it was and is being planned and initiated.

The British government needs to stop the wholesale and gormless implementation of 'green' - nature is good all farming is bad policies and put an end to its callous disregard and to causing chaos with peoples lives and livelihoods and this means putting a stop to facilitating the lunacy of those green tinted bespectacled eco warriors.

A cynic would maybe suggest that, the EA yearns, craves and loves a crisis.

Thus, it can then get all the lads down on the plains, 4x4s and new kit to the fore, waders and Gore-tex dressed up in high viz jackets, interviewed with sweat soaked faces and all solicitous anxiety [best camera angle lads], "we've been pumping for days now!"............... Ah yes............... so you have, pumpers all but to what effect? All running around. loads of efforts and to not much avail it seems, the horse bolted a long time ago but they were warned and frequently.

How to precipitate? Well lots of malpractice and with lots of solution, saltation and bedload transport - plus precipitation helps, and a man made catastrophe is bourn.

No crisis = no photo opportunity.

No crisis: means the EA is doing its job but fat chance of that.

The EA, should be forcibly coerced to and forthwith, amending its priorities.

The big problem however is, liblabcon - which is the greenest government ever and also - EU, UNEP-UN agenda 21.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

And more....

Th Environment Agency bosses spent more on public relations than it would have cost to carry out vital dredging work, it has emerged. The organisation spent at least £2.4 million on "PR activities" in one year, according to The Sun, where as dredging key stretches of the Somerset Levels would have cost just £1.7 million.

Feb 10, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Add me to the list of those who cannot fathom why an organisation like the EA needs a PR team. They've got a grubby job looking after muddy fields and it's probably a fairly thankless task even when they're doing it properly and almost certainly they are displeasing people as well as pleasing them.
But if their remit from government is clear and the policy is straightforward they are nothing but intelligent automatons carrying out the tasks set for them by government, ie us! What do they need PR for?

[Same applies across large swathes of government and the quangocracy in my view]

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:01 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

All you need to know about Chris Smith, when interviewed by Nicky Campbell on 5 live this morning Campbell referred to him as Chris Smith to which the rapid retort LORD Smith was forth coming.
Unbelievable arrogance.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commentersunderlandsteve

Henry P

I was surprised to hear Davies refer to Booker's piece on the subject (a first for the Beeb, I think!) although, inevitably, he failed to mention the EU connection (and the PR expenses). I love R4, but not before 9 am.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:07 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

If the EA has been following Baroness Young's policy of 'just add water' without informing the local residents and their insurance companies then surely the EA, or someone in it, can be sued for damages.
The unread policy document of 2008 is a must read for the insurance boys.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterG. Watkins

This farce reminds me of the dredging and straightening work carried out in the 1970s on the mid and lower Dorset Stour. All expert local opinion told the water board (as it was then) that the work would be a disaster and that all it would do is channel a raging torrent of water down the river into Christchurch at flood times and at other times lower the water level. In addition the dredging would wipe out the gravel spawning beds for salmon. Of course all this duly happened. Then a year or so later the first big flood coincided with a high tide resulting in severe flooding in Christchurch and Wimborne and for a while all roads into Bournemouth from across the Stour were closed. After a lengthy investigation the water board then built a number of weirs to reinstate the river level up to its previous mark,, closed off some straightened channels and thereby alleviate the problems they had caused. Seems no lessons were learned from undue interference by people who haven't a clue.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Unregistered Commentersteve

I arrived in Oxfordshire April 2012 - during a supposed drought and prior to the first set of floods that were not supposed to be possible thanks to climate change. I was immediately struck by the really high level of the Thames and the really bad state of most of the river banks. By contrast every little village had plenty of road bumps and other stupid traffic progress stoppers so it clearly wasn't due to lack of money. Even during the summer flood, there was absolutely nothing done to prevent floods in some very obvious spots where the river banks were in a truly parlous state. There is no doubt in my mind that previous bad science advice that predicted ever-increasing droughts allowed councils to just ignore the issue. After all, why prepare for a 100 year event that is getting even scarcer? This is the reason why Slingo should sling her hook. Yet I've seen this pseudo-scientific hubris over and over again in the UK; acid rain, BSE, foot-and-mouth, etc. Politicians seem to have incredibly short memories and UK science advisors just seem to be uniformly both dumb and arrogant. We'd all be much better off if they just said 'we don't know' rather than taking a blind guess and pretending there is some proper reasoning behind it.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Interesting to hear George Monbiot on today's Jeremy Vine show - blaming deforestation as a cause of flooding. Perhaps someone should point out to him that over 2000 hectares of forest have been cleared to make way for wind turbines in Scotland alone - some five million trees.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnon


On the BBC News website Chirs Smith is quoted as saying: "The agency is bound by the rules that are laid down by government. When someone says they followed the agency's advice, what they were actually doing was following the Treasury rules which are laid down."

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterhebe

The EA is a quango, so it's not as straight forward as doing as the Treasury/Government tells them. They have a lot of autonomy for a reason. They are just passing the buck. Why can't they hold their hands up and learn their lessons?

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSSN


sheesh, the EA gorge on their position as a so called NDPB and I'm pretty sure that assertion would get a snorting guffaw from senior EA management - the only oversight mechanism I see is that enshrined in the 1995 Environment Act that constituted the EA which is pretty much one way traffic - here's a box of cash - you're accountable to the minister btw and we'll have a softball review every few years....

So I feel pretty safe with saying the remarkably conceited LORD is playing fast and loose with the actualité - he is after all - as is now rather obvious - nothing more than an overpaid PR decoy.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:28 PM | Registered Commentertomo

A throw away remark by an EA employee on BBC Countryfile last night might indicate a fruitful line of investigation. In answer to why some sea defences hadn't been maintained he said that it would not be cost effective "particularly in the light of increased erosion due to climate change" (or words to that effect). How far is current policy determined by output from climate models being used in cost-benefit analysis? Are cost-benefit analyses publishe? Bish, you should get 'em under FOI. What would also be revealing is the costing of "environmental factors" versus human amenity. I supect that policy decisions at the EA are strongly influenced by a biase to returning us to a nightmare "natural state" but they must use cost benefit models. We need to see what the assumptions are.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterRecovering Leftist

To clarify the flow relationship (which I misquoted on a previous thread - the dangers of eating and typing at the same time): for a given gradient and surface characteristic, volumetric flow rate Q is proportional to [area ^ (5/3) ] / [wetted perimeter ^ (2/3) ].

For an indication of the impact of silting, consider a uniform, shallow rectangular channel (width >> depth), in which case the relationship simplifies to

Q is proportional to [depth ^ (5/3) ]

In which case, if you halve the depth you reduce capacity by more than two thirds.

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

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