FOI: How local journalists make a difference by sticking with a story

barb-flood-rescue-2

At certain times in the last 12 months, it will have been quite hard to avoid journalists in the West Country as news outlets from across the country followed wave after wave of floods hitting the region.

The 24-hour news cycle, the instant update world of social media and the ease of publishing online have all combined to ensure big events become ones of national focus very quickly. As a result, the thirst to lay blame can emerge more quickly, which in turn can result in big promises and pledges from those in power.

The widespread flooding in the South West resulted in big promises from the Government to get flood defences fixed, and rivers dredged to reduce the risk of a repeat this year.

Almost a year on, and it’s pretty much only the local media who are still covering a story which, for a while, led national news bulletins and dominated websites everywhere .. and as a result are the only ones left to ensure the promises made when the national media heat was at its highest are being delivered.

All of which brings me to the Western Morning News’ Freedom of Information-based story this week which revealed that, with winter approaching, almost of half of the flood defences damaged last winter have yet to be restored:

Almost half of the flood and storm defences damaged last winter in the South West have yet to be fixed despite another season of bad weather looming, the Western Morning News can reveal.

The Environment Agency has completed 194 of 344 identified projects, which will in total cost £53 million, in the region hit hardest by brutal conditions this year.

The quango also warned some damaged defences will be temporarily patched-up as it faces a race against time to fully restore banks, pumping stations and sluices.

It contends it is “on track to restore flood protection to communities near these assets” by the end of the month, but will include “contingency measures”.

According the FOI put in by the Morning News:

In response to a Freedom of Information request by the WMN, the Environment Agency said: “As of October 6, 2014, 194 (56%) of the 344 projects have been completed with work to the remaining projects making good progress.

“By October 31, no communities will be at an increased flood risk compared to the pre-winter 2013/14 situation.

“Repairs to the damaged flood defences will have been completed or appropriate contingency arrangements will be in place.”

Quite how the fact 40% of damaged flood defences won’t be repaired squares with a promise no-one will be worse off than in 2013, I’m not sure.

But as great examples of using FOI to keep holding those in power to account on behalf of a local community local after the story has been knocked off the top of the national newslist go, this one from the WMN will take some beating.
And it’s a great reminder of the job the local press – and indeed hyperlocal sites – can do on behalf of their communities.

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on A digital editor's tale and commented:
    A great example of utilising FOI to dig out the important facts that can’t be ignored. And hoping this story goes some way to getting some of those flood defences repaired…

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