The tough lessons from the floods last year are still being learnt. Environment minister John Healey spent yesterday touring various caravan villages in the north of England to see at first hand how the 1400 people still living in caravans are coping. This visit prompted a wave of sympathetic publicity.
Meanwhile, as Mr Healey was hearing first hand about the problems of cleaning up after such devastating floods, the House of Lords was debating how to deal with the problems in the future.
The two most striking lessons that come out of the ministerial visit and the Lords' debate are both quite tough to take on board.
Several of the people still stuck in caravans complained that they would have been back in their homes by now if initial drying out and repairs had been done properly. This is a realisation of a fear that many in the insurance industry voiced in the immediate aftermath of the floods. Some loss adjusters and insurers were privately very critical of the way local authorities were trying to score points by getting people back into flood affected properties faster than insurers could: they warned that it could, indeed would, backfire and have sadly been proved right. While there is no doubt that a proportion of those 1400 still in caravans were insured and will have stories of delay and incompetence to tell, they will pale into insignificance compared to those who were not insured or were local authority tenants. To be fair to some of the local councils, they have done their best but have been struggling because of the lack of central government support - especially financial - to help them deal with such exceptional circumstances.
In the Lords, the tough lesson was about setting priorities.
This, it seems, is especially true when weighing up the cost of letting agricultural land flood versus letting towns flood. Rural interests were chided by Lord Davies of Oldham, the government minister, for attacking the Environment Agency for not doing enough to protect agricultural land from flooding. As Lord Davies and several other peers pointed out, the flooding of fields is often essential in order to protect towns and that is where the priority lies because of the greater threat to people and property.
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