Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith blasted for saying Britain must choose between protecting town and country from floods

 

Environment Editor

The chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, was publicly rebuked today for suggesting that Britain should favour the town over the country when it came to flood defence spending.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, took issue with Lord Smith’s comments in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Britain must choose between “front rooms or farmland” because there wasn’t enough money to defend the whole country against flooding.

Standing in for Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is having emergency eye surgery, Mr Pickles said the government would spend an extra £130m to repair flood defences – an increase on the £100m pledged by David Cameron on Wednesday. He also promised to “work to defend both town and country”.

“For the record, I do not agree with the comments of Lord Smith who implied there is a choice between the two,” Mr Pickles said.

His comments echo those of the Prime Minister and add to the pressure on the Environment Agency, who has been heavily criticised for failing to visit the Somerset Levels in the month since floods began and for overseeing a policy of opposition to river dredging, which many critics say would have relieved the flooding. Lord Smith will visit Somerset today as he seeks to claw back some goodwill from residents, while David Cameron said yesterday he would visit “at the appropriate opportunity”.

The government also announced 42 new flood defences schemes, including one in the village of Willerby near Hull, to protect 8,000 properties, although these will be financed with existing funds.

The coalition came under further fire for its handling of the floods yesterday.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: “I think the government has been slack in its planning and slow to help the people affected. The priority is now to get all of the help possible to those who have been affected by the flooding and the storms.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh suggests the extra funding was relatively small when set against the costs of inadequate defences.

The damaged railway line on the coastal town of Dawlish in South Devon, which collapsed after huge waves whipped up by high winds smashed a 100ft section of sea wall, is costing the regional economy “tens of millions of pounds” every week, Ms Creagh said, and will take six weeks to repair.

Visit Devon, the tourist lobby group, said it was concerned for tourism, and that the poor weather has seriously affected the livelihoods of some in the industry.

Meanwhile, in the Somerset village of Fordgate, resident Maria Mae told Sky News she had moved out of her house after she and her husband woke up at 2am to find their cottage under three feet of water, with human faeces coming up from the septic tank.

“We couldn’t do it anymore, so we just decided to move out. It’s terrible. We moved to this beautiful place to retire, because we love Somerset.”

“It’s so devastating to see it going underwater. I am living like a refugee at the moment out of five bags,” she added.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage waded into the political debate yesterday, condemning the government’s “lethargic and inadequate” response to the flood and calling on it to immediately suspend its £11bn foreign aid budget.

Insisting that “charity begins at home”, Mr Farage argued that the budget should be diverted instead to help areas in the UK that have been devastated by the floods.

“The amount of damaged caused by the floods and storms across a large swathe of the south west and other regions too is colossal… People would be forgiven for thinking that the government don’t really care and that ordinary families are not their priority,” Mr Farage said.

Heavy rain and gale force winds continue to batter much of southern Britain yesterday, with the Environment Agency warned of “severe weather and continuing flood risk” over the next few days.

John Curtin, the agency’s head of incident management said: “We urge people to stay safe and not to walk or drive through flood water which can be dangerous and to take care near coastal paths and promenades for fear of being swept away.”

The Met Office is also warning of strong winds and heavy rains as yet more storms are forecast to hit England and Wales. Provisional figures out yesterday suggest it has been the wettest December and January combined for more than 100 years, the Met Office said – and that regional statistics suggested that southern England had experienced “one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high