South Bristol has been battered by wind, rain and flood in recent weeks with forecasters predicting more to come. For many of our older residents this has brought back memories of the tragic summer storm of 1968, when Ashton and large parts of Bedminster were under water. Eight people lost their lives in Bristol and the surrounding area as rivers burst their banks when extreme amounts of rain fell on already saturated ground.
As a result of the loss of life and very significant damage to homes flood prevention measures were put in place, at considerable financial cost. These environmental improvements have protected lives and property in our community for a generation.
Scientists from the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change have confirmed that as a result of climate change extreme weather is occurring more often. The Earth is warmer now than at any time in the last 1400 years, warmer air holds more water which means more intense rainfall.
It is therefore a near certainty that in years to come, regardless of much needed efforts to reduce carbon emissions or any other causes of climate change, Bristol will face severe weather more frequently.
All of which makes the decision by the Government to cut over 500 staff from the flood team at the Environment Agency, based here in Bristol, utterly baffling. Everyone knows that prevention is better than cure – for every £1 spent on flood prevention we save £8 on flood damage costs.
This really is an area where money is important, Ministers should think again.
We must also look again at how we invest locally in our own city. There is always a temptation to look for exciting new development, but there must be a balanced approach.
The chaos caused by the apparent failure of 50 year old wiring at the Plimsoll Bridge over the Cumberland Basin in December demonstrated our reliance on creaking infrastructure. With so much of our tourist income reliant on shipping access to the floating harbour, and with the potential for this to increase, reliable swing bridges are essential. If money needs to be spent to ensure this vital link between north and south Bristol is maintained then it should be found, and quickly.
On the subject of money, by the time of publication Pigeon readers will know the Mayor’s final proposals for the Bristol City Council budget. Whether the final level of cuts is £90 million or £80 million it is clear to me that many of the services on which people rely will disappear.
I very much hope that when we see where the true burden of cuts will fall it is on those most able to bear the weight rather than the most vulnerable people in our city.