So much for this pledge by his lordship
Can it really be nine months since Lord Smith – the one who wears the horns round at the Environment Agency – stood atop Burrow Mump, surveyed the devastating floods across the Somerset Levels and gave a solemn pledge that dredging would begin within six months?
So why has the dredging not got under way? Why has there been not the merest sign of activity on the part of an organisation which has been put firmly in the frame for contributing to the magnitude of those floods by neglecting dredging for two decades?
What, I am beginning to ask myself, is the Environment Agency actually for?
We are, I need not remind you, moving round into autumn, a time when we can expect another rainy season to set in. But according to the photographic evidence I have been passed, we are no longer talking about the River Parrett, the majestic river which acts as the main drainage channel for the Levels, we are talking about the Parrett Ditch, so choked with silt as to be as good as useless.
Although I do my best to remain calm and rational under stress when I am faced with this kind of situation I have, David, to ask you why no-one is kicking the agency's backside to get some action, and what you intend to say to the farmers in the constituency which neighbours yours if we get a repeat of last year's disaster. Because I must warn you now you will need to choose your words very carefully if there is not to be a complete revolt down there.
The fact is that the Environment Agency is pocketing hundreds of thousands of pounds from the authorities in Somerset and delivering nothing tangible in return, except for the usual reams of bumpf.
No wonder it wants to keep people like Derek Mead off its committees and stuff them with the more compliant sort.
Time, perhaps, for me to compose a few well-chosen words to Lord Smith and ask him (a) what happened to his promise; (b) what he intends to do to see it is actioned; (c) if the chairman of the Environment Committee can't get something done about the situation what good is he as a chairman; (d) what point is there in having a vastly expensive Environment Agency if it is not prepared to protect the farmed environment which the Prime Minister himself appears to value, and (e) wouldn't it be better to go back to the old system so the drainage boards hold onto the money and organise the dredging themselves?
Incidentally, I hear English Nature has told farmers on the North Somerset Levels it doesn't want the sluices on the rivers opened in case the fresh water fish get swept out to sea, which gives us all a pretty good indication of the lunacy that is now infecting the business of managing the countryside.