UK weather: Scientists say Government's obsession with deregulation and cost-cutting responsible for Somerset flooding

 

Deputy Political Editor

Scientists rounded on the Government on Monday over its “kneejerk” handling of the flooding emergency following stinging criticism by Eric Pickles of the Environment Agency’s performance.

Water specialists condemned ministers for aggravating the crisis by cutting spending on environmental work and warned that dredging overflowing rivers in the Somerset Levels, which is now advocated by the Government, would make little difference to the problem.

The comments by Mr Pickles, the Communities Secretary, also provoked a Cabinet rift with Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who complained to Downing Street over his Tory colleague’s “grandstanding”.

He protested after Mr Pickles attacked the Agency for providing poor advice on dredging and making clear he believed its chairman, Lord Smith, should resign.

The angry peer hit back in a series of interviews, insisting the Agency’s staff knew “one hundred times more about flood management than any politician ever does”.

David Cameron, who visited communities in the South West affected by flooding on Monday, has ordered that dredging – the removal of silt from the riverbed to speed the flow of water – begins as soon as floodwaters recede.

However, scientists said Monday there was no evidence that dredging would provide a long-term solution to flooding or would have prevented the disaster in Somerset.

Hannah Cloke, associate professor in hydrology at the University of Reading, said: “Ministers’ continuing kneejerk reaction is worrying.

“It’s crazy to be trying to command-and-control very local dredging operations from Whitehall without any consideration of the scientific evidence of flood risk or value for money.

“The idea that dredging on its own would have made the critical difference over the last month is fanciful.”

Richard Ashley of Sheffield University, who wrote a report on flooding risk in 2004 for the Blair government, said its findings had been ignored by “short-term politicians who don’t take notice of the science”.

He said: “The current government, especially the Department for Communities and Local Government, is obsessed with deregulation.

“They are also obsessed with cutting the [Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] budget at great risk to people in communities at risk of flooding. For them to rubbish the Environment Agency is frankly disingenuous and frankly stupid.”

Roger Falconer, professor of water management at Cardiff University, said he believed dredging would have only a marginal effect in Somerset as its rivers had only slight gradients.

He argued it was more important to speed the flow of water by increasing the gradient – possibly by building a lagoon off the coast where water levels could be kept low at times of flooding.

“There are rivers where dredging would be a big help, but I can’t see how dredging without other steps is going to solve the problems in the Somerset Levels,” he said.

The Government moved Monday to cool its internal battle over the crisis as well as end the “blame game” with the Environment Agency (EA).

Mr Cameron rejected calls for Lord Smith, who is due to step down in July, to be sacked immediately and said everyone, including different government departments, should “get on with their jobs” of helping the flood’s victims.

He said: “Right now everybody’s got to focus on the job in hand. That is the EA, every department in government. And let's not forget the emergency services and the army, who are doing a brilliant job.”

In the Commons, Mr Pickles sought to play down his clash with Mr Paterson, describing the Environment Secretary as his “brother from a different mother”. He also insisted: “My admiration for the work of the Environment Agency exceeds no one.”

But Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: “It is a disgrace you have Government ministers pointing the finger at each other when they should be rolling their sleeves up and helping those who are affected.

“The Government needs to explain why their response to the flooding has been so slow to help the victims and why their planning has been so inadequate.”

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
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

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories