Steve Baldwin: Flood fightback by community shames Calder Valley politicians

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss during a fleeting visit to Mytholmroyd.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss during a fleeting visit to Mytholmroyd.

IMAGINE the helpless horror experienced by watching everything you own being slowly engulfed in a steadily rising cocktail of polluted river water, raw sewage and silt.

The calm panic welling inside you, as your determination to snatch and save what you can of your prized possessions, overrules your survival instinct to wade to safety.

You shuffle your feet to get a strong foothold on the stairs and stash what you can on the highest step, frantically grabbing what you can reach, before retreating away from the water now lapping around your chest.

Boxing Day saw the worst flooding that the Calder Valley has experienced in 100 years. The devastation it left in its wake was unfathomable – shops in Mytholmroyd and Luddendenfoot that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years were ripped apart, their contents and very fabric of brick, stone, slate, joists and floorboards carried away and deposited into the river beds miles downstream.

Floorboards and carpets bubbled underfoot in picturesque riverside properties as water rose up through cellars, relentless in its destructive, undiscriminating, yet mesmerising manner, as its lapping fingers silently engulfed everything in their path.

Within a matter of hours, the communities of the Calder Valley had sprung into action, the politicians watching powerless to stop the surge of volunteers helping in the aftermath.

While the councillors talked about procedures that needed to be implemented at hastily arranged meetings, the public were out there doing the job for them, no care for health or safety, no task too hard, no job too insignificant.

They just got on with it and did it while those at the top talked, kept dry, and updated their Twitter accounts, also avoiding possible confrontation by noticeably staying away from all the business flood meetings.

They did draft the Army in, and wagons onto the streets in record time to help clear the debris off the roads, removing sodden goods from houses and shops, but their actions were eclipsed by those of the townspeople whose communities lay destroyed, their spirits unbroken.

This clean up operation is still ongoing, community parks are being cleaned up in the old-fashioned shovel and wheelbarrow manner by volunteers whose names aren’t spread over the Press, while small business ministers hob-nob it round the towns, posing for pictures and issuing more hot air promises aimed to appease rather than remedy.

The Environment Agency sprang into action this last 
week, five weeks after the event.

They cleared out tonnes of rubble from some of the overstuffed riverbeds at the major flood hotspots, albeit three-and-a-half years after the first floods wreaked havoc, when David Cameron and his police escort came to Todmorden and promised we would all be insured should it happen again.

Well Mr Cameron, your promises failed at least 80 per cent of us in 2015. How do you intend to make amends?

It’s time for the Government, EA and local authority to take this seriously and do something more proactive rather than making promises in the hope that we’ll forget them once the clean up is done?

Because this is not a freak event that happens once every 100 years. It is going to happen again, and sooner than we think.

We are allowing the moors to be stripped of Sphagnum moss, by letting money-hungry landowners use the protected moors for their lucrative grouse shoots.

The burning of the moors to leave nothing but young heather in order to attract the birds to the killing fields is also burning off the protective cover of moss, causing the peat to dry out. The moors, that would usually soak up 25 per cent of the rainfall, are no longer able to perform this natural defence.

The solution, is to stop the burning of the moorlands and keeping its delicate ecosystem intact, but with the landowners stamping their feet at the very idea and getting lawyers involved, you know its not going to be an easy task.

The council has made token payments for flood-stricken homes and businesses. That’s why an independent fundraiser, “Calderdale Rising” came in to being, a crowdfunder bringing in a 103 strong unit of small local flood hit and uninsured businesses attempting to reach a group target of £150,000 in order to help top up the £2,500 they have already been awarded by Calderdale Council.

What are the future-proofing options that are being offered to help out the stricken towns and villages? It’s time for positive action from those who are paid from our taxes – time to put the taxpayers money to the use it should be intended.

Stop wasting time, councillors. Nature is desperately telling you that it’s not on your side.

Steve Baldwin runs The Dark Angel Design Co Ltd, based in Sowerby Bridge and which lost £125,000 of stock, machinery and chattels in the floods. He is a member of the Calderdale Rising group.