After the floods
Susan Press, Calderdale councillor for Todmorden (personal capacity), gives an eye-witness account of the flooding in the Calder Valley
ON CHRISTMAS NIGHT THERE WAS A PHONE CALL from the Environment Agency and the siren went off at 7.50am on Boxing Day. That was the end of our festivities in the Calder Valley.
As dawn broke, I watched the River Calder burst its banks as it did in 2012. But this time the damage has been much worse. Over 5,000 homes and 2,600 businesses have been wrecked and hundreds of people who could not afford insurance premiums after last time have lost literally everything.
There was a £15m shortfall in the flood defence budget asked for by Calderdale Council four years ago - instead we got £2m from the government and handshakes all round from Prince Charles.
The epicentre of the flood was Hebden Bridge, a little place with a big reputation as a tourist hotspot. That’s hard to imagine now with most shops closed, no bank or ATMs, no post office, and a hard road back to long term recovery. Many businesses have already said they are throwing in the towel. Thanks to several days of loss of power, of landlines and of most channels to the outside world, we had little idea what the media were saying. As it turned out, most had headed for York where Cameron donned his wellies and did a bit of pointing. My guess is he knew he would get a rough ride in Calder Valley.
Meanwhile, our community rallied round in an unbelievable show of strength. Town halls in Todmorden and Hebden Bridge were quickly converted to 24/7 hubs with an endless stream of free hot food and drink and emergency supplies. As word spread of our predicament, hundreds of people travelled up from places like Coventry, Croydon and Southall. Many of them were young members of Muslim and Sikh communities bringing hot food and a cheerful willingness to muck in with the clearing up. Their contribution will never be forgotten.
Flooding in this part of Yorkshire is nothing new – but thanks to climate change, the frequency of these major weather events is new. There have been three major floods in 15 years – each one has been worse than the last. Environmentalists like George Monbiot have cited the moorland management of profitable grouse-shooting areas by landowners as a major factor in sending the water from the hills down to the valley. There is no doubt that is a contributory factor. However, blame for this community catastrophe rests fairly and squarely with a government which has repeatedly cut flood defence budgets.
In 2014, the government found £297m to pay for flood defences in the Thames Valley but cancelled plans for an £180m scheme for Leeds – another victim of the Boxing Day deluge. So far, the government has promised a paltry £40m for the entire county in response to the devastation. To put things in perspective, repairing the damage to roads and bridges alone in our small corner of the Pennines will cost £19m - money we simply do not have.
In the wake of Storm Eva, Jeremy Corbyn also visited York and Leeds and pledged he would put pressure on the government to increase funds for our hard-hit communities. The howls of laughter from the Tories in response to his questions to Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time tells you all you need to know about how much they care about our plight.