It’s like living in a ‘third-world country,’ flood-hit residents tell Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on his flying visit to Somerset Levels

Visit of the Environment Secretary to the Somerset Levels lambasted as a ‘publicity stunt’ by angry campaigners

The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, has been angrily rebuked by the people of Somerset, who accused the Government of running a “third-world country” as parts of the county remained under water nearly a month after flooding began.

The day got off to a bad start when the Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger, lambasted Mr Paterson and his Environment Agency on the BBC over their failure to dredge local rivers.

But matters took a considerable turn for the worse when a hastily convened appearance by the Environment Secretary, designed to soothe the concerns of local residents, succeeded only in angering them further.

Bryony Sadler, a member of Flooding on the Somerset Levels Action Group, dismissed Mr Paterson’s flying visit as “a publicity stunt”.

“It was a waste of taxpayers’ money,” she said. “He hasn’t told the community what’s going on. We needed a glimmer of hope and he has just driven off. We are here, we have lived like this – like a third-world country – for three weeks.”

 

Resident Sue Crocker, of nearby Fordgate, also drew a comparison with the developing world. “The term third-world country comes to mind. We have one portable toilet, we have no septic tanks, or overflowing ones and there is a lot of sewage running around the roads. It’s like Chinese torture,” she said.

“Homes have been flooded and we’re frustrated and we feel abandoned. We’re human beings and this is the 21st century and we’re not feeling part of it any more,” she added.

Mr Paterson visited the Northmoor Pumping Station yesterday lunchtime, where he held a press conference for the BBC, ITV and Sky News – but was reluctant to talk to local media or residents, who were asked not to approach the minister as he left the site.

Exclusive: Climate scepticism blamed as Owen Paterson slashes spending on global warming  

During the press conference, the Environment Secretary promised to draw up a plan within six weeks to deal with the flood-stricken Somerset Levels. However, he did not pledge any immediate action.

The moors host rivers such as the Tone and Parrett and are prone to flooding because around 100 square miles are below sea level. But locals argue that the problems have been exacerbated due to a lack of proper dredging over the past two decades.

Mr Paterson did not go into details, but said his plan would “almost certainly” involve a project to “clear” the two rivers. A spokesman for the Environment Secretary said it was too early to say what method would be used, but the options include fully fledged dredging involving a widening and deepening of the river, to “desilting” (removing a layer of mud from the river bed) and other “maintenance activities”.

It has not yet been decided whether the Government will make additional funds available for the project.

John Osman, the leader of Somerset County Council, said: “Although I am hugely disappointed that central government has not announced any additional funding, we will continue to keep the pressure on to secure a fair deal for Somerset’s residents.”

Defra concedes flood defence figures were inaccurate: Spending falls from £2.37bn to £2.34bn under the Coalition despite repeated claims to the contrary  

Councillor Julian Taylor, of Sedgemoor District Council, called the lack of dredging a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, adding: “We’ve had conspicuous neglect for 20 years where they have not maintained the rivers properly. If you do not maintain the rivers properly, you’ll get water more quickly off the moors.”

The village of Muchelney and the nearby hamlet of Thorney have become “islands” separated from the “mainland” by flood waters as deep as 4m (13ft) since 2 January.

Mr Liddell-Graigner dismissed as the Environment Agency’s claims that the rain would have overwhelmed the river system even if it had dredged the waterways as “pathetic”.

He said: “It’s an absolutely ridiculous excuse. Once it’s dredged we can then maintain it but the Environment Agency has to stop this mucking around and get on with it.”

Mr Paterson said he understood the strength of feeling in the area. “It is absolutely shocking and horrifying to people’s private lives, to their business lives. It is incredibly disruptive,” he said.

“They are quite right to be angry, it’s absolutely legitimate and that’s how our political system works.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'