Saturday 27 February 2016

After the storms: lots of mess and a chance for a political deep clean?

Siân Caiach writes: ;-

After the winter storms its time to take stock and clean up. 
They tell us that “extreme weather events” will be more common in future and many of us here have certainly experienced severe weather lately. A couple of days ago I saw a friend who despite not living on a flood plain has had the lower floor of her house devastated. She lives on the side of a hill. A new estate has been built above her and the water run-off has increased .It’s been traditional in Llanelli to put road and other land drains into the sewers.  After heavy rain she returned home to find her house flooded with sewerage. A manhole cover at the back of her house was displaced by a fountain of effluent which  filled the ground floor, suddenly and without warning.

Those of you who have experienced domestic flooding know the distress and disruption it causes, My friend has lost most of her furniture, all her floor coverings, her washing machine and  kitchen units and other domestic appliances.

With no idea of the oncoming disaster, she could not move valuables and sentimental objects out of harm’s way. She is insured but there is uncertainty as to how much her insurance will cost in the future. Luckily her parents live nearby and there is somewhere for her and her children to stay and keep an eye on the progress of the cleaning, drying and repair of her home.

In the last few years flooding has been the fate of thousands of residents in Wales. It doesn’t always make the news. The weather is changing and we need to take action in our communities to protect ourselves from flooding, storm damage and the damage to our infra structure – roads, electricity and phone lines etc. The bills to utility companies and local authorities as well as ordinary folk are piling up. On top of this more rain means more sewage spills here as our local sewage treatment plants have not coped with the volumes coming out of our toilets since the last century

But what is the Assembly Government doing to address the climate threat?  We can’t stop the bad weather but there is a lot we can do to protect our citizens. My friend is unlucky because Welsh water know that the sewage backs up in Llanelli and is building a better local pumping system which will be able to pump sewage away faster. This might have prevented the man hole covers on the sewers “blowing”. However, with the increase of building in the area much of the new pumping stations efforts may instead be to pump the excess into the Loughor estuary not the local treatment plant. The

Why has the Assembly Government not only ignored but encouraged our local drainage problems? In fact Welsh Water dumps untreated sewage into our estuary with the explicit consent of Natural Resources Wales, an arm of government directed by our environment minister. Some dubious research has failed to show exactly why the local cockles, sand eels and lug worms have been decimated so the increasing volumes of raw sewage have been dismissed as coincidental to the loss of Wales' only "sustainable" fishery. My feeling is we should clean up the water first and then see if the cockles like it better, rather than using bad science and incomplete and historic data to convince us that sewage is harmless to animals stuck in the sand and defenseless against oxygen depletion.

As the European Union referendum is announced I ask the question are we fit to be in charge of our environmental safety. EU membership has allowed our own government here to turn a blind eye to sewage not being treated and a merry dance is going on in the European Court, a case which is still not settled as the UK government, WAG and Welsh Water argue that they will be good and spill less sewage in future even though the EU rules are such that all sewage has to be treated. The case was referred to the EU Commission 8 years ago not by our government, councils or environment agency but by ordinary Llanelli residents in Stradey, where sewage flooding was not uncommon, joined later by cockle pickers when their livlihood disappeared.. If this had not happened the EU would be totally ignorant of our sewage problem. A remote government is a poor policeman if the local government  deliberately hides bad news!

If the Welsh Government was completely responsible to us for preventing pollution and keeping us safe would it be better at it? The truth is the people concerned would at least be close enough to visit and have to take the blame. In the EU they can theoretically to be brought to book by complaining to a slow and inefficient system in Europe. Some have said that our government’s actions in trying to hide the sewage pollution shows that only the EU can be trusted to ensure our sewage is all treated. Personally I would prefer a government here in Wales which actually cared about the environment, the changing climate and was committed to making this country better. If we haven’t had a competent Welsh government yet, in a democracy surely, we could and should have changed it.

Up until now we have apparently been happy in Wales to tolerate bad planning, poor infrastructure and open encouragement of pollution of our environment .There is little sign that the floods and destruction of the winter storms have made any difference in political attitudes despite the havoc and destruction.  If there is a “Brexit” then perhaps we will take more care to select Assembly Members who will actually govern? The buck will stop here. Up to the present , whoever you voted for last time has clearly not managed to get a grip! Don’t expect to do the same thing and get a different result!
Siân Caiach 

One of Llanelli's famous flood plain developments.Gutless Environments Minister
Jane Davidson dropped her objections to building on a C2 flood plain when the
developers, Taylor Wimpey, threatened a multi million law suit against WAG. 

Siân Caiach, is a People First /Gwerin Gyntaf  County Councillor, Assembly Candidate on the Mid and West Regional List and Constituency Candidate for Llanelli

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