David Cameron overrules Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to order urgent dredging in Somerset to combat the flooding
Prime Minister also pledged to spend an extra £100m on flood defences
David Cameron ordered the Environment Agency to abandon its opposition to river dredging as he pledged an extra £100m for flood defences this year.
In an attempt to stamp his authority on the crisis, the Prime Minister took over from the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, at the helm of the Cobra emergency flood committee.
Mr Paterson was due to resume his chairmanship of the committee today after facing heavy criticism for his handling of the emergency. But it was announced that he would be absent to due to emergency eye surgery for a detached retina.
Downing Street said Mr Paterson was expected to be off “for a few days” and the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will now be “in charge” of the Government’s flood response with Mr Cameron remaining “very closely involved”.
Before the developments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted Mr Paterson was doing an “excellent job” and that Mr Cameron was taking personal charge of Cobra because the storms had inflicted damage and caused disruption affecting several government departments, as the Somerset Levels remain underwater after more than a month.
The situation in the South-west worsened after storms caused a section of sea wall in Dawlish, Devon, to collapse, leaving the railway to Cornwall hanging in mid-air. Rail service west of Exeter is likely to face weeks of disruption.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron pledged to do “whatever is required” to help homes and businesses get back on their feet. He announced an extra £100m for repairs and essential maintenance of flood defences over the next year.
The Prime Minister hit out at the Environment Agency – and its chairman, Lord Smith – arguing that a “new approach” was needed to deal with flooding. He said: “From the late 1990s – far too long – the Environment Agency believed that it was wrong to dredge. Those of us with rural constituencies affected by flooding have seen the effectiveness of some dredging.
“Now if it is good for some places, we need to make the argument that it would be good for many more places. I have said that we are going to see dredging on the [rivers] Tone and the Parrett in the Somerset Levels because that would make a difference. But I believe it is time for Natural England, the Environment Agency and the departments to sit round the table and work out a new approach that will make sure that something that did work, frankly, for centuries is reintroduced.”
The Prime Minister’s promise to step up dredging comes after both Mr Paterson and Lord Smith played down its effectiveness. Lord Smith has said dredging “would not have solved the problems we are facing” and would make only a “small difference”.
Many experts also believe dredging makes little difference. This is because the process –which seeks to speed a river’s flow by deepening or widening its banks – can increase erosion and siltation by removing bank vegetation.
It is also an expensive remedy because dredging must be repeated after every major flood as the river silts up.v
Dolphins ‘deliberately get high’ on puffer fish nerve toxins by carefully chewing and passing them around
Three-quarters of extremely hot days influenced by man-made global warming, scientists say
Lynx to be reintroduced into wild in Britain after a 1,300-year absence
Stunning images of Antarctica
Have you heard 'the hum'? Mystery of Earth's low droning noise could now be solved
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 4 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
- 5 Yazidi sex slaves undergoing surgery to 'restore virginity' after being raped by Isis militants
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful IT reseller bas...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the Country's leading di...
£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...