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Cash for the Levels must not be wasted

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: March 08, 2014

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Mindful as I am, as ever, of tempting fate I think all things being equal there is more than a distinct possibility that we may have turned the corner with the flooding and are making real progress with the pumping.

It is, of course, still going to be a long haul and we have to make sure we have definite strategies in place for the recovery phase of the operation, which is likely to be every bit as important as was dealing with the original emergency.

It goes without saying that a lot of people are going to be very traumatised by what they encounter as they return to their homes and farms – and considerably less well-armed, emotionally speaking, to deal with things than they would have been had the inundation only lasted days, rather than weeks.

I'm ensuring that everyone involved on the ground cuts the talking and offers all the practical support than can be mustered.

You've probably had sight of the 20-year plan by now so won't need me to run through the contents for you. But let me just stress one thing: there is absolutely no time to waste, either on cracking ahead with the dredging in the short term or the other measures for the medium and long term.

We have got to tackle this one head-on or we risk losing one of the most valuable stretches of farmland in southern England – and that is not, I assure you, an exaggeration.

Neither do I want to hear any hint of backsliding or shilly-shallying or general dilatory behaviour by the Environment Agency because if there is I shall be down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks. They, fundamentally, are the ones who have got us in this mess.

If I hear as much as a suggestion that this bit of river bank can't be dredged in case we damage a water vole's home or that we mustn't do it there because that's where the greater crested godwit usually nests, there will be trouble.

I shall personally drag some senior figures from the Environment Agency and Natural England to the top of Burrow Mump and ask them to show me where lie the areas that have benefited from their underhand, misguided and woefully ill-informed policies – and to explain how the flooding has improved the wildlife value of an area where (by my estimation) some £60 million has been spent on conservation in the last 30 years.

I was delighted to hear there's going to be cash on the table to allow the local tourism industry to recover but I'm sounding a note of caution here, too: it must go directly to those business which have been worst hit without any of it being siphoned off to employ consultants or stage "workshops" or seminars.

We saw what happened after foot and mouth: a tidy recovery fund – £10 million as I recall – was set up but then it fell into the black hole that was Business Link and by the time they'd faffed around holding visits, setting up consultations and running up expenses, there was only about three and six left.

It won't happen again if I have anything to do with it.

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