Cameron wants premium rate charges on floodline to be scrapped 'as quickly as possible'

Householders calling the 0845 number have to pay up to 41p a minute

David Cameron wants the use of premium rate telephone helplines for flooding victims to be ended "as quickly as it possibly can be", Downing Street has said.

Householders calling the 0845 number, which was set up by the Environment Agency (EA), are having to pay up to 41p a minute, with the money going to a private firm.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron's official spokesman insisted the Government was providing "very significant" funding for flood defences both in rural and urban areas.

His comment came after the chairman of the Environment Agency suggested that Britain might have to choose whether it wants to save "town or country" from future flooding because it is too costly to defend both.

Read more
Somerset floods : Thieves target victims
Britain's floods: We can save the town or the country, but not both, says Environment Agency boss
Why do we insist on building on flood plains?  

Lord Smith said "difficult choices" would have to be made over what to protect because "there is no bottomless purse" to pay for defences.

Speaking to reporters at a Westminster media briefing, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said the premium-rate helpline number would not be scrapped immediately, and victims of flooding should continue to use it.

But he said: "The Prime Minister is very clear that the use of premium rate lines should be scrapped as quickly as it possibly can be."

Britain has already been hit by gales of up to 71mph today, with forecasters predicting 30mm of rainfall over less than three hours later.

The sun sets over flooded fields surrounding the River Tone that has burst its banks on the Somerset Levels viewed from Windmill Hill, in Stoke-St-Gregory on 2 Febuary 2014. Now thieves have been cashing in on the misery The sun sets over flooded fields surrounding the River Tone that has burst its banks on the Somerset Levels viewed from Windmill Hill, in Stoke-St-Gregory on 2 Febuary 2014. Now thieves have been cashing in on the misery The Environment Agency has issued two severe flood warnings - meaning "danger to life" - in the Midlands, with 88 flood warnings warranting "immediate action" across the UK.

A yellow warning for wind is in place for the Western Isles of Scotland, where the Met Office recorded a 71mph gust of wind this morning.

There is also a yellow warning of rain for Wales and the South West, with parts of Pembroke and Cornwall expected to see up to 30mm of rain from midday.

A spokeswoman for the Met Office said: "It is going to remain dry in the eastern and most central parts for some of the day.

"We have sunny spells in parts of the South East, and rain and strengthening winds in parts of the west.

"There will be gales on the western coast, which will gradually lessen as the day goes on. There's still a risk of coastal flooding, particularly during high tides.

"It will be generally clear tonight, with parts of the south possibly seeing frost and ice."

Temperatures could drop to 2-3 degrees Celsius in some parts of the UK tonight, she added.

Rainfall of between 20 and 30mm is expected in Cornwall and Pembroke from midday, with 5-10mm predicted further east.

The humanitarian support boat operated by a crew from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service arrives from Muchelney, a village near Langport in Somerset still cut off by flood water The humanitarian support boat operated by a crew from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service arrives from Muchelney, a village near Langport in Somerset still cut off by flood water Data collected between midnight and 10am today showed gust of winds reaching 71mph in the Western Isles, 68mph on the Isles of Scilly and 63mph in Argyll.

Over the same period, Cornwall saw 5.6mm of rain, with Londonderry receiving 4.8mm.

"We are trying to get people away from coastal paths and cliff edges," the Met Office spokeswoman added.

"Waves are exciting but a 50mph gust of wind coming at you on the top of a cliff - that's a serious risk to life.

"These are very real risks, we really want people to be aware of that."

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the Floodline phone number, which costs 10.5p a minute from landlines and 41p from mobiles, was due to be phased out but that this was unlikely to happen until the summer.

David Rooke, director of flood and coastal risk management at the EA, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We don't make any money out of that.

"We have plans in place to switch. What we are doing is developing a communications plan, because clearly that number has been in use for some years. People have got used to it and they know what number to ring.

"So there is a plan being developed, has been for some time now, to switch over and we think summer is probably the best time to switch rather than... the winter period."

Flooded fields around the River Tone seen from Windmill Hill, Somerset. Some parts of England have suffered the wettest January since records began Flooded fields around the River Tone seen from Windmill Hill, Somerset. Some parts of England have suffered the wettest January since records began Lord Smith defended the EA after a week in which it has come in for heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis, which has left large swathes of the Somerset Levels underwater for more than a month.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: "Yes, agricultural land matters and we do whatever we can with what we have to make sure it is protected. Rules from successive governments give the highest priority to lives and homes, and I think most people would agree that this is the right approach.

"But this involves tricky issues of policy and priority: town or country, front rooms or farmland?

"Flood defences cost money, and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend on different places, communities and livelihoods - in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, or East Anglia? There's no bottomless purse, and we need to make difficult but sensible choices about where and what we try to protect."

Asked whether Lord Smith was right to suggest that a choice had to be made over protecting towns or countryside, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "This Government over its four-year period will have been spending more than in the preceding four-year period - £2.4 billion versus £2.2 billion - and there is a forward programme of capital investment on flood defences all the way through to 2020.

Farmer Roger Forgan uses a boat to cross farm land in front of his flooded farm which has been cut off by flood waters at Muchelney near Langport in Somerset Farmer Roger Forgan uses a boat to cross farm land in front of his flooded farm which has been cut off by flood waters at Muchelney near Langport in Somerset "These projects are covering spending in rural communities, in coastal communities and in urban areas as well, and you would expect that...

"There is investment going in, in terms of flood defences, across the full range of communities, and that is the right thing to do."

He added: "The immediate priority must be, of course, to provide relief to those communities that are currently very, very seriously affected by flooding, particularly in the Somerset area.

"There will, of course, be an opportunity to learn lessons, but the immediate priority is flooding relief."

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will chair a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency planning committee, which has convened on a daily basis through much of the flooding crisis, this afternoon.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living