I asked Ed Miliband to Exeter today because I didn’t think enough thanks has been expressed to the hard working and dedicated staff of the Environment Agency and Met Office during the recent floods and storms. I also wanted him to be left in no doubt of the needs of our region for better flood defences and rail resilience.
Exeter is home both to the globally renowned Met Office and the South West regional headquarters of the Environment Agency (EA). Both have been performing an incredible job over the last few weeks. This is the second year running that they’ve more or less had to put Christmas on hold.
Ed saw the control room at the EA on the Sowton estate and met regional director Richard Cresswell and colleagues. He was shown how future storms and floods are both predicted and then reacted to using real time data on rain and river levels and wind and wave strength and size.
This year’s storms and floods were described by the EA experts we met as a 1 in a 250 year event. Last years floods were a 1 in a 100 year event. Yet, against that sort of back drop they are losing staff and funds, the very people who are currently help us get through this crisis. That cannot be sensible and I was pleased Ed raised his concerns about this during Questions to the Prime Minister this week.
At the Met Office, Ed met weather and climate change experts who showed him their world leading forecasting technology and talked him through the latest evidence on the impact of climate change on our weather. They are in no doubt that the increase in the frequency and severity of major weather events is connected to global warming and that even with the recent pause in the pace of increase in global surface temperature the oceans have continued warming, their levels rising and the ice caps melting. Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, said “Globally, the last decade has been the warmest ever recorded.”
From there, Ed had a cup of tea at the home of a couple who live on Exeter Quay who wrote to David Cameron this week about the huge increase in their flood insurance and sent a copy of their letter to me. They’ve been hit by the reduced protection offered by Exeter’s 1960s flood defence scheme – which was built to withstand a 1 in a 100 year flood, but will now only withstand a 1 in 40 year one.
Later in the afternoon, the Chairman of Exeter Chamber of Commerce told us that businesses on Marsh Barton have recently had the excess on their flood insurance quintupled! Some have also been told that if there is a flood warning they have to move everything to a first floor, when many of them are only single storey.
I then took Ed to show him the railway line at Cowley Bridge where we had the serious flooding problems last year. It was after that when the Government promised an extra £31 million for improved railway protection – money which never came. David Cameron appears to have re-announced it this week. But we’ll have to see if the Government actually delivers this time.
Finally we went to the Mill on the Exe (not for a pint, sadly) but to look at the city’s existing flood relief channel and to get a briefing from the city council on the plans for an upgrade. The leader of Plymouth City Council, Tudor Evans was on hand to lobby Ed on the particularly serious plight of Plymouth – now without a railway link as well as an airport. Ed also spoke to Derek Philips, local councillors, City Council officers responsible for the flood defence scheme and the rep for Unison for the Environment Agency in the South West.
I hope he left with a clear idea of all the hard work and effort that has being going on to deal with the recent crisis, but also of the needs of Exeter and the South West for much better flood defences and more resilient and reliable transport connections.