Christopher Booker: Owen Paterson Plans ‘Dry Homes’ Instead Of ‘Wet Lands’

  • Date: 08/03/14
  • Christopher Booker, The Sunday Telegraph

Environment Secretary takes steps to avert future disasters – despite EU directives and arguments by ‘eco’ campaigners

A man walks beside the River Tone

Rivers have silted up ever since the Environment Agency took control of them in 1996 Photo: Tim Ireland/PA

Over nine weeks, ever since we first became aware of those abnormal floods in Somerset and then the Thames, two quite different dramas have been unfolding. At the centre of one has been the drive to uncover just why these disasters took place, and what should be done to prevent them happening again. The other, round the edges, has been a concerted campaign to fog the real issues, and to divert attention from what made the disasters inevitable.

The shocking truth, as I have been reporting here since early January, is that those unprecedented floods were not just a freak of nature, brought on by what turned out to be only England’s 16th wettest winter in 250 years. They were deliberately brought about by a fundamental shift in management policy, shaped by EU directives and enforced by the Environment Agency, which in certain areas of the country, notably the Levels in my own county of Somerset, put the interests of wildlife and “biodiversity” above those of people and property.

Someone who grasped this when, at my instigation, he came down to Somerset in January to talk to practical local experts was the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. After private meetings with those experts, whose pleas had long been ignored, he returned to London with a clear idea of what needed to be done.

The Environment Agency should be directed to dredge the rivers which had been horribly silting up ever since it took control of them in 1996. Management of the Levels should then be handed over to a “Somerset rivers authority”, including those local boards which previously kept the Levels effectively pumped and drained for generations. There should be a new sluice at the mouth of the River Parrett, to prevent silt being pushed back into it by the second highest tidal range in the world. And within six weeks the relevant local organisations should present him with an agreed plan to ensure that this winter’s disaster is not repeated.

On Thursday this was just what happened, when Mr Paterson was able to announce that these bodies had come up with just the proposals he had asked them for. But all through these recent weeks, a rival lobby has been desperately trying to divert attention from all this. “Environmentalists” have been battling to preserve their dream by hiding everything which made disaster inevitable. Their “useful idiots”, such as the BBC and the journalist George Monbiot, have repeatedly tried to blame the disaster on “climate change”, and on greedy farmers increasing the run-off of water from the hills by planting maize: two theories which no proper scientific evidence supports.

On Friday they were at it again, with two items on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme featuring Monbiot and the BBC’s Roger Harrabin. Even before Paterson’s announcement our local BBC staged an hour-long “all heat and no light” show, pitting a studio-full of flood victims against singularly unimpressive representatives of the Environment Agency and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – along with a barely articulate policewoman who was apparently “Gold Commander”, in charge of co-ordinating that response to the local floods which the admirable residents found so pitifully inadequate. No mention from the presenter, of course, of the EU’s directives on birds, habitat, water and flood management.

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