Weathering the storm: Ministers in flood talks as criticism of No 10 rises

Cobra meeting held as more rain and strong winds set to batter UK

The miserable Christmas weather that many in Britain have suffered looks set to continue tonight as more heavy rain and high winds are expected to batter parts of the country, increasing the risk of further flooding and piling more pressure on an already-stretched relief effort.

Up to 40mm of rain, approaching half of the average total for December, is expected to fall over south-west England and Wales into Monday morning, while areas of Scotland could face between 50mm and 60mm. Most areas will have between 15mm and 30mm of rain.

Gale-force winds will also hit Wales, and south-west and southern England, with the possibility of gusts of up to 80mph across exposed areas such as the Isles of Scilly, west Cornwall and west Wales.

The Environment Agency said there is a "heightened flood risk" in areas of southern England as river levels stay high and ground remains "already saturated over much of this region". More than 70 flood-alert warnings were still in effect last night, alongside more than a dozen flood warnings across England and Wales, with further calls for immediate preventative action to be taken. There were also about 20 warnings still in effect in Scotland with little chance of large areas of the UK drying out until the New Year.

Downing Street hosted a Cobra meeting yesterday morning as it faced mounting criticism over its handling of the adverse weather effects. Housing minister Kris Hopkins, Energy minister Baroness Verma, Business minister Lord Livingston and officials from the Environment Agency were at the meeting chaired by Defra minister George Eustice.

David Cameron later tweeted: "I've asked the Dept for Communities & Local Govt to ensure councils have robust plans in case of bad weather and flooding over New Year."

Approximately 4,000 homes could still be without electricity tomorrow. Power companies in Cumbria and North Wales, areas which saw 2,000 families affected by power-outs, said they expected the vast majority of homes to be reconnected overnight.

UK Power Networks, which owns electricity lines and cables in London, the South-east and East of England, said it will increase payments for 48- to 60-hour outages from £27 to £75 for those affected on Christmas Day as "a gesture of goodwill". Additional payments – up to £432 – will be made to customers who have been without electricity for longer.

Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, was said to be insisting that UK Power Networks provide a clear public timeline to get power back on. Mr Hopkins has also activated the Bellwin Scheme, to deal with funding for emergency situations, and is speaking to councils to ensure they are adequately responding to victims of the wet weather.

The Government has asked Environment Agency representatives who are assisting those affected by the floods to identify which insurance firms are not moving fast enough.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was criticised by Mary Creagh, his shadow, for not being involved in the Cobra call, especially since ministers from the department had been "conspicuous by their absence" over the past few days. She said: "I'm surprised [he] wasn't part of the planning over the weather because disruption on the road and rail networks has been one of the massive problems over the last week."

The flooding and travel disruption caused by the Christmas storms was still being cleared yesterday with agencies working to limit the problems. Closures on the train line between London Waterloo and Portsmouth are set to go on until at least 6 January, especially between Petersfield and Haslemere, after four landslips, while trains between Horsham and London Victoria were disrupted following a landslip at Ockley. On the Isle of Wight, the Island line from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin was suspended after major flooding.

A spokesman for Network Rail said that it was waiting for word from the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) on the final decision about the money it can spend to combat problems such as flooding, which it will receive in the New Year.

He said: "We are funded in five-year cycles and the next period runs from 2014 to 2019. Part of our submission to the [ORR] was for... money specifically to deal with making the railway more resilient when it comes to extreme weather... if we get that money, great, if not, we will still need to do the work and invest the money to make the network more resilient."

Network Rail officials have said a "high-level strategy" includes a £31m plan targeting high-risk flood sites, if the money is sanctioned.

Ms Creagh called on ministers to ensure that the money is available quickly. She said: "I think ministers need to make sure that the money goes to Network Rail to help them tackle climate change and flooding incidents. Ministers need to speed that up and make sure it is adequate."

Tree safety

Every cloud has a silver lining and storm clouds particularly so, especially if you are tree specialist. The storms lashing the UK have resulted in one of the trade's busiest periods in recent memory.

Graham Kenward, director of South East Tree Surgeons, which covers an area hard hit by the storms, said: "There has been a massive rise in call-outs, our services are hugely required." The strong winds across the nation led to uprooted trees and broken boughs, causing havoc and disruption as they fell across roads, cars and houses.

Dan Ashton of Heritage Tree Specialists said: "The Christmas period has been a busy time. We've been a bit overrun." A rise in "extreme weather" had weakened the trees in the Norfolk area that his company covers and the recent storms were "the straw that broke the camel's back".

Network Rail estimated that more than 200 trees had to be cleared as it battled to restore its services. And Southern Electric said that falling trees had brought down power lines.

In Buckinghamshire, tree specialists Salcey provided three teams to deal with 71 reports requiring emergency tree removal. These included one tree blocking the A40 and another that fell across the River Thames downstream from Marlow, blocking the busy waterway.

Nick Clark

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
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

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Design and Technology Teacher ...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Head of Affiliate Sales for Emerging Markets

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you looking for your next role ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past