Failure to boost flood defences exposed as 1,000 are evacuated

Plans approved four years ago are still not in place – while minister warns drought could get worse

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The Independent Online

Measures promised by central government to help bolster Britain's flood defences have still not been completed five years after the flooding that prompted them, it emerged yesterday, as continued downpours led to more than 1,000 people being evacuated from their homes.

With more rain forecast, flood defence specialists said some important measures agreed by the former government in 2008 – such as plans to stop drainage systems being overloaded – were still not in place.

"There are things which should have been dealt with more promptly to develop infrastructure and stop the damage caused by the worst of the flooding," said Professor Lena Dominelli of Durham University's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience.

Flood warnings remain in place across England and people are warned to stay away from swollen rivers as continued heavy rainfall – following the wettest April on record – gave rise to fears of further inundations, with South-west England most at risk.

Despite the downpours, the environment secretary Caroline Spelman warned yesterday that families may eventually have to rely on standpipes in the streets for their water. Ms Spelman said that another dry winter would make it "more likely" that standpipes would have to be used in drought affected areas.

Meanwhile, the residents of a caravan park near Northampton abandoned their homes after the Environment Agency issued a severe flood warning for the area. Police said yesterday that there was still a "significant risk of flooding".

The Northampton Boat Gathering, which was initially threatened by potential drought, has now been postponed for the first time in 15 years for the opposite reason.

Professor Dominelli also claimed that some measures were either incomplete or were being scaled back in less densely populated areas because of a lack of funds. She said: "One of the worries is that it can go down the road of community resilience; that would mean some flood defences being the responsibility of the 'Big Society' – hoping the local people and volunteers will do everything. They cannot. On one new housing estate I saw piping 12 inches in diameter being installed to carry water away. That is just not going to be able to cope."

She continued: "To be fair, the Government would need a long, ongoing process to implement all of the recommendations. Some of them are complicated and just take time; you need to consult with groups and get legislation through Parliament.

"We are not living in an ideal world – if the Government says it doesn't have the money, then it doesn't, and people will have to do what they can. Some people are digging ditches but these are just stop-gap measures."

The recommendations – which include making all new or refurbished buildings in high-risk areas flood-resistant – were made by Sir Michael Pitt after flooding in 2007, which left towns such as Tewkesbury devastated.

All except one of his 92 proposals were accepted by the Government in December 2008, but some will not be completed until December 2014, according to the latest progress report.

Now Tewkesbury is preparing for the worst again, with the Environment Agency warning that future downpours could lead to localised flooding. However, there were hopes that the high water mark has been reached after no significant flooding of property was reported despite a weekend of storms, more downpours of up to 30mm overnight on Monday and throughout yesterday. A spokesman said: "The Environment Agency is continuing to keep a close watch on river levels as well as checking defences and clearing any potential blockages to reduce the risk of flooding. While the Met Office has been forecasting some heavy rain throughout [yesterday] morning – which could lead to localised flooding – there are no significant concerns."

But the Agency warned there could be additional flood warnings as water moved down through river catchments. The River Severn looked set to peak in Gloucestershire today but "no major problems" were expected.