Friday, January 01, 2016

Bridge Under Troubled Water

For the 90th article of El Escritor Inglés, I shall try, as previously, to view England as it might be seen through the eyes of someone living abroad, be it a foreigner or expat Brit. As 2016 begins, how does the country appear from the outside? I suppose a topical answer might be ‘under water’, as flooding currently devastates many of its riverside villages, towns and even cities.

Let me start at the mid-Pennine market town of Hebden Bridge. Situated deep in the River Calder Valley, it is surrounded by steep, grassy hills navigable only by either narrow, winding lanes or a rural railway. It is a place that I hold dear. In the hot summer of 1990, I would commute by train every day the requisite 26 miles (41 km) to Manchester, beginning at the quaint Victorian station (Figure 90.1), a stone’s throw from the south bank of the river. Occasionally, I would leave home before sunrise and enjoy breakfast at a restful (now long gone) café on Bridge Gate.

Figure 90.1: Hebden Bridge’s evocative station dates back to the 1890s. Recent renovations have included readoption of the original signage style.

Copyright © 2014 RCTS

Today, the town centre lies under more than a metre of water (Figure 90.2), the Calder having burst its banks just in time for Christmas. Homes and shops wait, in ruin, for the filthy floodwater to ebb away. Many small businesses will founder, and those that survive will face crippling insurance premiums. Tragically, though, the fate of Hebden Bridge is nothing special. Many other northern towns with similar geography have recently met a comparable onslaught from Mother Nature. Parts of the county of Cumbria have been flooded three times in the past month alone.

Figure 90.2: Stricken shops on Market Street

Copyright © 2015 Huffington Post

True to form, the British media have gone as far over the top as the water itself. There has been an unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’. The Guardian wasted no time in banging on about global warming, but, as usual, I question its motives. Of all the scientists I know, most ‘juries are still out’ on the subject of whether climate change is a man-made meteorological phenomenon or just a man-made scam to defraud and control the populace. How a layperson could hope to wade through such a tsunamic tide of vested interests and journalistic disingenuousness is a mystery.

What is beyond doubt is that politicians will continue to postulate ‘climate change’ as a pretext for further ‘green taxes’. I despair. If British businesses are overburdened with super taxes and bureaucracy, they will fold; and subsequent marketplace gaps will be filled by the likes of China, whose attitude to industrial pollution is truly risible. These homegrown halfwits are, effectively, furthering environmental damage and exporting British jobs at the same time.

Incredibly, politicians’ stupidity does not end there. The government’s (non-existent) policy on immigration control has led to a population increase of more than 300,000 per year. Consequently, there is an acute shortage of low-cost housing. Financial incentives are thus offered to local authorities that allow new houses to be built, regardless of geographical suitability (Figure 90.3).

Figure 90.3: Tragedy, not comedy

Copyright © 2015 John Naughton

Agricultural policies beggar belief, too. A complex system of funding has been dreamt up by scientifically-illiterate EU pen-pushers, whereby arable and grazing fields qualify for additional subsidy if they contain no trees. This has meant that countless trees have been sacrificed in the stampede for other people’s money. This widespread loss of trees is catastrophic for many reasons. Most pertinently, roots act as natural reservoirs, absorbing vast volumes of rainwater, thereby controlling runoff and, in turn, reducing the probability of flooding.

My young sons remember spending a happy afternoon in Hebden Bridge last summer (Figure 90.4). I showed them the following photographs (Figures 90.5 & 90.6). Will this beautiful English town ever recover? Indeed, can it?

Figure 90.4: The River Calder, on more peaceful terms, last August

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 90.5: Hebden Bridge Picture House opened in 1921 and is one of the last civic-owned cinemas in Britain.

Copyright © 2015 Paul Spradbery

Figure 90.6: Et après nous, le deluge – literally

Copyright © 2015  Guardian News and Media Ltd

Enjoy a drink this New Year’s Day. The residents of Hebden Bridge certainly need one.

Copyright © 2016 Paul Spradbery