Prescott says floods are 'wake-up call' for emergency planning

Global warming
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The Independent Online

John Prescott yesterday signalled massive Government investment to cope with extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.

John Prescott yesterday signalled massive Government investment to cope with extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.

The Deputy Prime Minister ordered an urgent review for dealing with emergencies, stressing that the severe weather had served as a "wake-up call for everyone".

In his first major statement since the gales and flooding, he said that Britain's infrastructure needed a major overhaul.

"We have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to cope with the new situation," he said. "Should our power lines come down every time we have such storms? Should 1,000 trees fall across railway lines in the South-east? Should we do more to prevent flooding? Is our drainage system adequate?"

Ministers, the emergency services, and the Environment Agency would look at possible changes to improve the present system, he said.

Leaders of central and local government will meet today to examine how the floods and storms were handled and see what lessons could be learnt.

"Our infrastructure should be robust enough and preparations rigorous enough to withstand the kind of weather we have just experienced," Mr Prescott told MPs.

"While you cannot say any one storm is due to global warming, there is growing evidence that the pattern of weather around the world is increasingly extreme. We must take practical action so that we are prepared for a future where extreme weather events are more frequent.

"This storm should be a wake-up call for everyone," he said. "We have the measures in place to deal with the immediate effects of this storm. What we need is to take a longer-term look at how we can be better placed to deal with extreme weather events, which we expect to be more frequent in future."

Mr Prescott said assistance for clearing up "uninsurable clear-up costs" would be made available to local councils under the so-called "Bellwin scheme".

Each local authority was responsible for expenditure on emergency work up to 0.2 per cent of its annual budget. Above this threshold, spending was eligible for 85 per cent assistance from central government.

Mr Prescott said that the Government's policy was to discourage "inappropriate development in flood risk areas," and new guidance would be issued in December.

Archie Norman, the shadow Environment minister, called on the Government to re-examine its plans for housing developments in the South, warning that building the "wrong houses in the wrong places and concreting over the countryside" risked contributing to the danger of flooding.

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