Much we can learn from, says Kathleen, who buttonholed PM

Kathleen Simpson confronts the Prime Minister
Kathleen Simpson confronts the Prime Minister

A WOMAN who buttonholed Prime Minister David Cameron when he came to Todmorden to speak to flood victims says “it’s a pity I had to shout at the PM to get rubbish shifted!”

Kathleen Simpson, of Knowlwood Bottom, Todmorden, made national headlines when she quizzed Mr Cameron, accompanying Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker to see for himself some of the devastation, as he left a meeting with officials at Todmorden Town Hall last Thursday morning.

Ms Simpson said there was a gap between help she experienced from volunteers, including the Calder Valley Flood Victims Facebook site, and official bodies.

She wasted a vital hour where she could have saved more possessions from the floodwater because she was on the telephone being passed from one service or agency to another when she rang for advice, she said.

She criticised Calderdale Council for saying it did not supply sandbags to individuals and also at the speed of its clean-up in the aftermath when she was concerned debris left by the first flood might, if not cleared, wash back into the river and block it up again if another incident had occurred during the alerts of late last week.

“I got the people with clipboards asking me what I would like and I said ‘the rubbish moving’ but until I spoke to David Cameron nothing was shifted,” she says.

She expressed hope lessons could be learned in three areas - a clearly stated emergency number flood victims could ring for help as an incident was happening, better clearing and maintenance of the river bed to ensure the channel for the water was as clear of obstruction as possible, and using local knowledge people have about water courses, channels, gulleys and dams to better understand where the water will go and read the situation earlier.

The Environment Agency has pledged to review its procedures, while Calderdale Council says staff had attended Kathleen’s house before the PM’s visit.

Calderdale Council’s head of housing and environment, Mark Thompson, said: “Calderdale Council received hundreds of calls throughout the afternoon and night. The sheer volume of calls meant that not all calls could be answered.

“The council has generally not made sandbags available direct to residents, and in this particular case, sandbags would have been ineffective. However, the council is reviewing its approach to flood protection and this will include its policy on sandbags.

“We sympathise with Kathleen Simpson. Council officers and a team of volunteers, co-ordinated by the council, went to Kathleen’s house to help with the clean up. This was before the Prime Minister’s visit to the area. Throughout the aftermath of the flooding, the council has put on collection vehicles to take away flood damaged furniture and household items from outside people’s homes and businesses. ”