February is usually a month when we talk a lot about the weather. In the past two years it has been ice and snow. This year it’s the high winds, persistent rain and terrible flooding that has hit parts of the country. I know from dealing with the 2007 floods just how awful it is. Your home is full of dirty water, your possessions are ruined, and you may have to leave with no clear idea when you will be able to move back.
When flooding is threatened what people want and need more than anything else is good information and help. Information about when and where flooding is expected and help to try and protect homes, evacuate those who need to leave and assistance at the rest centres that are set up. And once the water has receded, and the news organisations have moved on, communities need continuing support while they go through the long hard process of clearing up, repairing their homes and getting their lives back together.
It is clear that some residents in Somerset and parts of the Thames Valley felt that help was slow in coming, but what has been striking is the way in which communities have come together to support one another. Volunteering to fill up sandbags. Making sure that elderly people are safe. Giving lifts to neighbours in boats or Land Rovers. It is the natural, human thing to do, and the friendships formed during an event like this last a long time. It is a very British characteristic that it sometimes takes a crisis for us to start talking to each other. Now, if only we could be better at doing this the rest of the time!
In Leeds, by the way, we know what flooding can do and the city centre has had too many near misses in the last decade or so. Work is due to start before too long on the flood defence scheme for the city centre – something we fought long and hard to get funding for. There is a particular issue down by Knostrup Quay that has been raised with me by residents living in the H2010 development there. I contacted the council and as a result they have been consulting residents and have promised to come back with options for landscaping. I do hope this will sort the matter out.
Meanwhile, in case the weather does turn very cold, help is available for older residents living in the city centre, Hunslet, Beeston, Holbeck, Belle Isle and Middleton. Age UK has Winter Warmth Packs available. Contact Age UK on 0113 389 3007 to find out more details.
Finally, I was sorry to read in South Leeds Life that the decorative brickwork from the Middleton Arms Is not now going to used in the new Aldi store. It seems it may have been damaged when the pub was demolished, but we really ought to be more careful with the heritage that remains.
Hilary Benn, Member of Parliament for Leeds Central