The eyes of the nation focused on Dacorum at the weekend with the emergence of the giant sinkhole in Hemel Hempstead, triggered by recent heavy rain. There’s a sense of relief that no one was hurt, nor any homes lost, but the sense of shock and terror for those affected must have been immense.
This sinkhole is one of a number of extraordinary stories related to the recent weather – Valentine’s Day diners disturbed by a waves smashing through a restaurant window, a railway line destroyed by the sea at Dawlish, the Somerset levels under water for weeks.
My constituency has not been immune. In particular, the village of Long Marston has been hit by floods twice – first on January 7 and, more severely, on a second occasion exactly a month later.
I learned of the second flood that Friday morning when the landlord of the Queens Head, Jon Reeves, called my office. I was already due to meet Long Marston residents that afternoon at my constituency surgery in Tring, to find out more about what was going on.
I also arranged to visit Long Marston on the Saturday morning to see for myself the impact of the floods.
Having your home flooded is traumatic, and living with the threat of a flood is a nerve-shredding experience.
Nonetheless, villagers demonstrated a thoughtful, practical approach. In particular, the meeting demonstrated a clear focus on establishing what caused the flood and how we stop it happening again.
One frustrating factor is that the village is not on the flood plain and, apparently, designated as low risk.
Before this year, the last significant flood had been in 2003.
What had struck villagers about the flood was how quickly it happened.
At 2am, there wasn’t a problem. By 4am, some homes were under six inches of water. Not unreasonably, this suggested that there may be a link with a release of water from one of the Tring reservoirs.
I’m certainly not qualified to make a judgement on this, although I have learned more about hydrology in the last few days than I ever thought I would.
However, Herts County Council has begun an investigation and should be appointing specialist consultants to advise on the issue this week.
As MPs, we are not in a position to order executive agencies or authorities to take a particular course of action.
But residents are faced with having to deal with a large number of organisations.
In this case, there is the county council, Dacorum Borough Council, the Environment Agency, the Canal & River Trust who run the reservoirs and Thames Water.
I’ve been in contact with all of them, pressing them all to try to address the immediate problems but also any longer term threats to what is a very lovely village.
In these columns in the past, I have often reflected on the role of the MP.
Sometimes, it is about developing government policy, or arguing the case for your party on the big national issues, whether in a television studio or in Parliament.
But there are other occasions when our role is to ‘bang heads together’ and provide a voice for our constituents.
The Long Marston flood is one of those occasions.
David Gauke is the MP for South West Herts. You can contact his office on 01923 771781 or visit www.davidgauke.com