We need proper investment in flood defences

Over the past three weeks our area has been battered by storm after storm, with heavy rain, hail and gale-force winds causing flooding in our towns and villages.

Luckily we have escaped the worst of it, but neighbouring areas in the Calder and Aire Valleys and York have been devastated.

This is a national emergency, with thousands of residents’ homes ruined by floodwater and businesses left in peril.

Here in Batley and Spen, Chain Bar roundabout was turned into a lake with nearby businesses flooded, and communities in Cleckheaton, Liversedge, Heckmondwike and Batley were also affected.

I visited constituent Mick Wilkinson whose Liversedge home was devastated by floodwaters to assess the damage and offer my support, and also visited local business Hub 26 in Cleckheaton which saw its state-of-the-art gym space flooded. I will be writing to Environment Secretary George Eustice to outline my concerns over these issues.

But where has the Prime Minister been over the past three weeks? Nowhere to be seen, hiding away in Downing Street and more troubling, failing to call an emergency COBRA meeting to address the problem.

But then, failure to properly address flooding in Yorkshire isn’t new.

The flood defences promised following the Boxing Day floods of 2015 are either incomplete or not fit for purpose, leaving our communities at risk of further flood damage. We need proper investment in defences and we need it now.

With climate change making these ‘once-in-a-generation’ weather events more and more frequent, we need a long term strategy not a few sandbags.

When bad weather heads our way, we need up-to date and accurate forecasts and it’s often the BBC News we go to for updates, which brings me to my second area of concern these last few weeks.

Senior aides inside 10 Downing Street told a national newspaper the Prime Minister plans to scrap the licence fee and replace it with a subscription model, suggesting the BBC should reduce its website, scrap TV channels and get rid of its local radio channels, as well as Radio 2.

This would be nothing short of a betrayal of the British people.

The BBC is a vital public service. For up to date news on emergencies, local traffic and sports commentary you switch on the local BBC radio station. For high-quality factual, entertainment and drama programming you turn on BBC television.

For less than £3 a week you get high quality content from a trusted, unbiased public service broadcaster. It would be a dark day for Britain if the BBC was lost.

This was not mentioned anywhere in the Conservative manifesto and is obviously – as a well-connected Tory MP said – a ‘vendetta’ which will seriously damage British society.

Finally, I have to mention the tragic death of Caroline Flack two weeks ago aged just 40. It’s so sad she was driven to a point where she saw no way out except to take her own life.

As well as being targeted relentlessly by trolls on social media, some irresponsibly elements of the press hounded her day and night which must have had a terrible impact on her mental health. Those that attack people in the public eye are often cowards hiding behind anonymous profiles, with no thought of the consequences of their actions.

Something must change, and the upcoming Online Harms Bill needs to ensure social media companies do more to protect their users. But newspapers too have a role to play and I will be looking again at whether we need Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry to ensure the press live up to the same standards.

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