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Give us a flooding story


So after literally years of speculation and waiting we at last have a new Prime Minister.

The question of course is will anything change as a result?

Well, at least we were able to run a 'Gordon Brown backs engineering' story this week.

That must be a good sign for the future surely.

But then again, we also ran a 'Gordon Brown backs Crossrail' story and to be honest we were tempted to run a 'Brown backs Thameslink' story as well - just for good measure.

We also toyed with 'Brown vows to tackle climate change' and of course were very interested in a possible 'Brown rises to African poverty challenge' story.

There really were limitless options because, as one might imagine, a man in his position has to work hard to appeal to many and offend very few.

Don't get me wrong, I am excited by the prospect of a new prime minister and a new government.

And he will work hard to tackle many of the 'closer to home' challenges on housing and education that Tony Blair overlooked because of his overseas priorities.

But I am still struggling to rid myself of a worrisome mental image that Brown has planted in my mind over the last decade.

That image is of a man with lots of big ideas but too much knowledge of the potential Treasury downsides. He certainly has many issues that he seems 'committed' to.

Yet deep down you really know that his linguistic gymnastics are likely to leave us coping with an expectation management issue.

Thus I drew the line at 'Brown pledges new cash for innovation'. And I ruled out 'Brown promises no more rain in June'.

Oh yes, the weather - more rain and yes, more flooding Last week this column discussed flood defence funding in the UK following a spot of floding. 'It certainly doesn't seem to take much rain to highlight the UK's increasingly inadequate flood defences, ' I said.

'?to convert a relatively mild weather event into an incident that impacts on and wreaks havoc on thousands of people's lives and businesses.' Well this week has certainly demonstrated that impact and havoc quite graphically. But it was hardly what one might consider a small amount of rain - 100mm in a day.

Some might argue that with rain on this scale it is really impossible to engineer a solution and that, given the unprecedented nature of the event, the systems performed well.

Yes, despite the three deaths and thousands of insurance claims that will follow, they did. And, yes, the overarching strategy of the government's Making Space for Water strategy is still valid. But the result still made the front pages with 'mayhem and disgrace' headlines.

So come on Gordon, use this as a marker for your forthcoming premiership. Government estimates show that flooding in the UK already costs £270M a year and that if nothing is done to control this, the figure could rise to £15bn a year by 2080.

An extra couple of hundred million a year would create a properly funded flood defence policy and would clearly make very good financial sense. As we saw this week, it would also make a huge social impact on communities struggling to cope with a changing climate.

I imagine both scenarios might be attractive to Brown position right now. We really need the 'Brown backs flood defence with real cash' story.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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