result of 20 years of neglect of its waterways and rivers.
The Environment Agency keeps saying that dredging is not the answer as it is a more complex problem
than that. Or to put it another way we don’t understand the situation because they are experts and we
are just the public.
Water management is a field of engineering and it can be complex, but at its heart it is all about moving
water from areas where it floods into waterways and out to sea in a controlled manner.
The Somerset levels are low lying wetlands that have been reclaimed from the water. To do this Levees
and banks were built to contain areas which were then pumped out.
The Levees and banks were designed to allow high water levels from rains and floods to escape into ditches,
run offs and gullies and from there to the waterways. Twenty years of neglect, 20 years of silt build up and
blockage, 20 years since these waterways were cleaned and maintained.
So now the water has nowhere to go, it is trapped behind the banks and levees that were built to keep it out
and once in it has nowhere to go so 30,000 acres is now underwater and we are looking at rapid rises in
bacteria and toxin levels as the trapped water has become a breeding ground for a whole slew of diseases
and the like.
Today the Environment Agency came out with a statement. Britain can protect its towns OR its countryside
but there is not enough money to do both.
So as I suspected several days ago when we started getting conflicting messages from the PM and the EA, we
are now looking at Triage. What can be saved and what is left to die.
I keep hearing numbers, only 40 homes have flooded, only a few hundred people are cut off in Somerset, millions
of people in cities saved, a handful of people in some backward county way over there hundreds of miles from
London are getting wet. Why should millions of tax payers be forced to finance the work needed to save a handful
of farmers in Somerset, if they could sneer when they mention the country name I’m sure some of them would.
So as I said a few days ago, once the floods are gone and the area has dried out this summer I suspect we are
looking at the levels or at least a large chunk of them being sacrificed, given back to the water as a pagan
sacrifice to spare the towns from the floods.
This also got me thinking which leads me, eventually, to the point of this article.
The Somerset levels are the end result of generations of work, those who came before us performed feats of
engineering and we live in the legacy of those people.
But it is not just Somerset that lives with this legacy. How many of our old buildings, our bridges, our
infrastructure and our homes are the relics of earlier generations.
Much of England is the result of the Victorians, they built to last and it has. I live in a house built in the 1890s to
house the vicar of the church next door. More than 120 years old and to be honest its in better condition than
Looking around Taunton I see entire areas built by the Victorians, streets and blocks built in the 30s or the 50s.
Churches dating back hundreds of years. The old rail yards are still standing after a hundred years.
The drains and waterways, water pipes, roads and pavements. All are a generation at least in age.
The local water company is “Still” replacing the main water pipes with new ones to cut down on the leaks and
waste from the original Victorian and Edwardian clay pipes. Our phones still come across copper wires, the
exchanges have fibre optic but the houses do not.
New build in the estates around here and over at Bridgewater are small, flimsy, cheaply built structures that
will be falling to bits within a decade. But then they are not designed to last, rather they are made to be
cheap, have short life spans and then to be knocked down and rebuilt.
All too often I see people knocking down a building to replace it with another new building simply because
the old building was not so old but rather was decrepit and falling apart.
We do not build to last in today’s need it now and throw it away tomorrow culture.
Builders of previous eras built strongly and well, structures that would still be standing in their grand children’s
day, walk into a modern built house with its flimsy frames, thin walls and cheap windows and you can hear
the next door families TV through the wall and the woodwork will be rotting be next year.
We have become cheap and lazy in the way we built far too many of our structures. But at the same time we
have been lazy and complacent with regard to the far more robust buildings of the past.
For several decades now our companies and utilities have been saving money and relying on the skill of
builders long dead.
Maintenance has become a waste of money and time, it has lasted all this time so it will be good for a few
more years. Save the money for other things.
Then when people become used to spending the money elsewhere and not bothering to maintain the old
structures becomes the norm they fade from view. No one wonders about the drains unless they are
blocked, no one worries about the water pipes, that is just an excuse used by the water company to put
up the rates. No one worries about the roof overhead, it’s a hundred years old so it’s not like it is going to fall
Then the ceiling of the Apollo theatre collapsed.
Suddenly people were looking at all the wonderful old buildings in our towns and cities and asking, how
often are they maintained.
Not that often was the answer in all too many cases.
All those wonderful theatres in London, those picturesque buildings built on such a grand scale that
tourists love to photograph and no one builds them like that anymore. They are inspected, oh yes someone
comes round and has a look, but maintenance, do you know how much proper maintenance costs on a
building this size and age.
Just in London alone there are thousands of Theatres, Museums, Palaces, Houses and Homes, Offices and
companies HQs, Hotels and Shops and a whole lot more that were built generations ago. Many of them have
been left unmaintained for far to long.
London is not alone in this, all of the UKs great old cities are the same. Victorian brick drains slowly failing as
the old brickwork crumbles away, ceilings falling, roofs collapsing, walls and towers leaning over and
needing to be braced.
We often hear of stately houses and palaces being sold off because the owners cannot afford to maintain
them or being left to fall down on their own so the expensive land can be used for other buildings once the old
listed pile is gone.
The problem is money, its always money. We live within the legacy of work and craftsmanship left to us by
previous generations who built fine strong structures. In too many cases we have chosen to leave those
structures as they are, money is needed elsewhere, its too expensive, our shareholders demand profit and
we cannot make a profit if we have to spend money on the building.
So here we are. Living amongst the splendour of our ancestors. All those wonderful well built structures. We
build new metal and glass or concrete structures expecting to tear them down a few decades later but the old
stuff, that is part of our history.
We grow up with our history, buildings and structures are just part of that history, let’s be honest here how
many of us who have lived beside these wonderful old buildings even notice them anymore.
But without maintenance those buildings and structures that are part of our living history will continue to
crumble and fall.
Without the money to repair and maintain them they will fail us as they are doing slowly right now.
The Somerset levels and the Apollo theatre at just two examples of this problem and we have to decide to
either maintain them or to accept that they are falling down and that we must either replace them or live
We cannot live on the legacy of previous generations of builders much longer, as well built as they were if we
fail to look after them they will fail and fall.
Where do we spend the money needed, the Somerset Levels, London’s Theatres, Buckingham Palace?
It is a hard choice to make, made all the worse because we have skipped this decision for many years while
spending the money elsewhere. What do we save, what do we let fall down. Not an easy choice.
But it is one we must make while it is still our decision to make.