Government flood defence spending criticised


The Government was forced to defend its spending on flood defences today as the clean-up from a weekend of more flooding continued.

More than a thousand homes and businesses were flooded after torrential downpours across the north on Friday night, with a month's rain falling in 24 hours in some places.

Despite a brief respite over the next few days, forecasters have warned of the risk of more flash flooding as another band of heavy rain arrives later in the week.

With more rain forecast, the country could be on course for one of the wettest Junes of the last 100 years.

Labour demanded the Government rethink its 30% cut in the spending budget for flood defences after Cumbria, Lancashire and West Yorkshire became the latest areas to be hit by flooding in the washout summer.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "Communities that have been devastated by flooding should not have to go through that terrible experience again."

She said that investment on flood defences was 30% down on 2010 levels, and urged the Environment Department to resist any Treasury attempts to cut even more from the flood defence budget.

And she demanded more cash for prevention measures, saying: "Every pound invested in flood defences saves £8 in costs further down the line.

"This weekend we had a reminder once again that floods are the greatest threat climate change poses to our country," she said.

But Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman insisted prevention was "a vital area of the work of Government" and that ministers were spending £2 billion on measures to stop floods.

Answering an urgent question on the floods, Mrs Spelman told MPs that around 1,200 properties were hit last weekend.

"I do understand the devastation that is caused to people whose homes and businesses are flooded. It has happened to me," she said.

"My thoughts go out to all those who suffered flooding, especially those in the worst-affected areas."

She insisted that the country was better prepared than ever for flooding but admitted that in the changing climate it would be impossible to completely prevent floods.

Drought conditions across swathes of England caused by two dry winters and an unusually hot March were followed by the wettest April on record for the UK, and more rain in May and June which have caused flooding in a number of places.

The latest threat of flooding has receded and the Environment Agency currently has just one flood warning and 11 less serious flood alerts in place.

A spokesman said the focus was now on working with local authorities and communities to clear up after the devastation the weekend's floods caused.

But with the Met Office warning of another band of heavy rain on Thursday, which looks set to hit southern and central Scotland and Northern Ireland, people are being urged to be prepared for more floods.

Some areas could see up to 40mm to 50mm (1.6 - 2 inches) of rain as warmer temperatures spark thundery downpours.

The EA said it was in a state of high alert for more flooding and had teams on the ground taking measures such as clearing culverts to try to reduce the risk of more floods.