The Good, The Bad And The Environment Agency
Feb 17, 2014
“Quango”: a quasi-autonomous, non-governmental organisation to which a government has devolved power. Like the Environment Agency, for example. No doubt current flood victims have other definitions, but repeating them here might risk legal action for using abusive language online.
Speaking from personal experience of the Environment Agency, I’ve got divided opinions. Regularly seeing an example of their work at ground level I’ll admit to being impressed; but at a corporate level I’d always thought I had good reason to regard the Agency with derision. Now in the light of Winter 2014 I really don’t know what to think anymore.
We have a brook outside our office; an incidental gift from nature providing a picturesque water feature running past our funeral home. After emotional visits to see loved ones, many families have sought solace in tearful contemplation of the bubbling water.
Even in white-water full flow I’d always regarded the brook as completely benign; running as it does within a steep-banked cutting six feet lower than our car park, before disappearing into a culvert under the car park of the neighbouring doctors’ surgery (a former mill). Nevertheless, as regular as night turns to day, if there’s the slightest hint of rain two sterling chaps in an Environment Agency Land Rover will mysteriously appear and ensure the brook is flowing unobstructed.
That started a few years ago, when – admittedly much to my disgust at the time, the Environment Agency installed a debris grille over the culvert entrance; a metal monstrosity that ruined the bucolic appearance of our little waterway. But having seen how effectively the subterranean culvert has been protected from blockage, I began to think more charitably of the Agency.
But in 2009 we applied for planning permission for our new office. Our local planners dropped the ball first, only realising at the eleventh hour that our intention to build within six metres of a water course required the Environment Agency to be informed. Having been invited to poke their beaks in the Agency then delayed our planning application by months, with complicated demands for a flood risk assessment.
The architect drew up plans proving how the brook was well-contained within its cutting and explaining how, even during the Gloucestershire flooding crisis of 2007, the water had only risen a few inches. Our little waterway hardly represented a major flood risk.
But that didn’t satisfy the Agency. Not one bit. “Call that a flood risk assessment?!” They sneered. “Size matters, and we want something the size of a Thompson Directory; we want fancy computer graphics and 1 in 100 year rainfall event calculations. We want a hydro-geological surveyor’s report” they declared, with typically Quango-like disdain for the common man. So I got a hydro-thing-ummy report done. It cost over £4000.
Furious, I considered waging a solitary campaign of civil disobedience against those bureaucratic bar stewards at the Environment Agency by letting down the tyres on their workers’ Land Rover next time they came to check the brook. But then what happens? 2014 brings a 1 in 250 year, rainfall event. Who’d of thought it?
“One humble pie please.”
“Certainly sir. Eat in, or take out?”
Meanwhile, amid accusations of “wildlife before humans,” the Environment Agency chairman warned limited funds for flood defences might see Britain choosing between saving ‘town or country.’ A Somerset MP reciprocated by calling the chairman a “git” and threatening to “flush his head down the loo.” By strange coincidence this was exactly how I felt during our planning application.
Ironically though, the flooding has given the government the badger cull they wanted. Most of them have drowned. But how far do you protect wildlife (which is often surprisingly adaptable), against the needs of humans? Parallel dilemmas might affect burials too. If we accept it’s lunacy to develop on flood plains, is it any more acceptable to locate cemeteries on land at risk of flooding? Our overcrowded island nation might soon be forced into writing off vast tracts of flood-ridden land. But with limited space for burials, should the temptation to use otherwise un-reclaimable or agriculturally useless land justify putting our dead at risk of posthumous submersion?
This is James Baker, for over50choices News, on the Berkshire coast….