The brutal truth about the floods

How should the government respond to some of the worst floods this country has ever seen? With more spending on defences, scrapping plans to build new houses on floodplains, or by making us face up to the need for greener lifestyles?

Maybe we really are entering a period of government with no PR spin, said Mark Steel in The Independent. No image-conscious person would ever propose building 20,000 houses on flood plains during one of the country's worst-ever floods. Housing minister Yvette Cooper tried to justify this by saying that the Romans built York on a flood plain, but should we being taking advice from the Romans? "They built a city at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius and look what happened to that."

The Government's whole response to the floods has been off-beam, says The Guardian's Jackie Ashley. Brown and his ministers have discussed the Environment Agency's budget, flood planning and where new houses should be built, when they should have seized this opportunity to state plainly that these floods are a further example of "what lies ahead for us, time and again, if we don't change our ways". Climate change means more extreme weather events and the "brutal truth" is that however good our flood defences, transport planning and emergency relief are, we must face the fact that failure to alter our economy and lifestyles in response is "simply idiotic". The British public's reaction is to jet off to the Mediterranean in search of the sun; we need to be "cajoled, led, provoked and taxed" into changing our ways. Our Government's focus on the long-term carbon offsetting, recycling and green transport is precisely the problem, says The Observer. What we need is a clear strategy to prepare us for the imminent threat posed by a "much wetter future".

There's no need to get hysterical, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. This was a "substantial natural calamity", but we don't get flooded every year. Last year, we had a drought. It boils down to risk assessment. "Should we spend billions on flood defences and stop flood-plain building incurring extra demand on green-belt land because of this infrequent risk?" The figures may suggest we should. Costs have leapt; the 1947 floods cost £300m at today's prices. The Association of British Insurers reckons this year's cost around £2bn. Or we can opt to live with the risk. In the mid-1990s, Shrewsbury residents chose to do that rather than erect the recommended unsightly flood defences.

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The Government's spin machine may be working better than people realise, says The Daily Telegraph. The real significance of Monday's Green Paper on housing has been "all but washed away by the floods". Other aspects of its housing policy have "more far-reaching consequences". The measures outlined constitute a "systematic intervention in the housing market", in both economic and political terms. It is clear the Government intends to override local authority planning powers in order to expedite building proposals, effectively removing local accountability.

This "draconian move" is intended to signal its sense of urgency over "what it has decreed to be a housing crisis". True, not everyone, notably the young, can afford the sort of homes they want, but this unfairness' "owes as much to market distortions created by over-regulation and Government intervention as it does to social inequalities". Brown, as chancellor, engineered the explosion of credit, and excessive planning controls have prevented new houses from being built, driving prices up. Now Labour wants to "improve the way the mortgage markets works" by intervening to create new financial products for those who are "disadvantaged". Surely "the answer to a problem created by artificially skewed markets and over-regulation cannot be more economic manipulation and additional intervention".