UK flooding live updates: Britain needs 'complete rethink' of flood defences

The Prime Minister has been accused of neglecting the north: 'Such flooding is unthinkable in London and the South East'

Alexandra Sims
Monday 28 December 2015 08:58 GMT
Hundreds of people in York were evacuated after river levels reached record highs
Hundreds of people in York were evacuated after river levels reached record highs (PA)

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Environment officials have said a “complete rethink” of the UK’s flood defences is needed as areas of northern England continue to struggle against unprecedented flooding.

The Environment Agency’s deputy chief executive David Rooke said increasing the country’s resilience against flooding was vital as we move “into a period of unknown extremes”.

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to visit stricken communities in the north of England as more rain is forecast for the middle of the week and more than 25 severe flood warnings remain in place - meaning there is still a danger to life.

The worst-hit areas will have some respite from rain today but the crisis looks set to continue as more bad weather sweeps in.

Rain will batter the north of England on Wednesday with up to three inches (80mm) falling on high ground and potentially in excess of 4.7ins (120mm) in exposed locations - with most places seeing up to 1.5ins (40mm).

Some 500 military troops have been mobilised to aid emergency services, with another 1,000 on standby should the situation worsen.

The Met Office has issued yellow warnings for rain on Wednesday in North West England, North East England, Yorkshire and Humber, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Amber warnings for rain are in place for parts of Scotland on Wednesday too.

Military personnel were mobilised on Sunday to help people in Yorkshire and Lancashire as they battled to keep rising flood waters from the doors of their homes and businesses.

But sandbags were not enough to save some, and hundreds of people had to be evacuated from their homes after rivers in York, Leeds and Manchester burst their banks after "unprecedented" rain in recent days.

The EA has 24 severe flood warnings in place for the North East and three severe flood warnings in place for the North West.

There are almost 200 other flood warnings and alerts in place across the area and other parts including Wales and the Midlands.

The Government has vowed to look again at the quality of the UK's flood defences as home and business owners face up to a miserable start to the new year.

Emergency financial assistance will also be put in place for affected areas, and homes and businesses damaged by flooding will have access to the same package of support announced for those affected by Storm Desmond.

Mr Cameron praised the efforts of the emergency services and said that with the prevalence of such extreme weather events on the rise, investment in flood defences would continue.

Shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said the Government must "drop its complacency" over the need for climate change adaptation.

One of the worst-hit areas was York, where large swathes of the city are under water after the Foss and Ouse rivers topped their banks.

The Ouse stabilised this morning at 5.7 yards above its normal level, a spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said.

The barrier gate on the Foss was raised after water entered the Foss barrier building, and engineers are examining how to restore power to the site.

Around 500 properties were flooded in the city on Sunday. Troops spent the day stacking sandbags but the flooding was so bad the council ran out and begged nearby councils for help.

Hundreds were forced to leave their homes as residential streets were turned into muddy rivers, taking shelter in emergency rest centres as waters reached record levels.

Thousands of homes in northern England were left without power, with almost 6,000 hoping to be reconnected today.

One of the flooded substations was in Rochdale, which five years ago had its flood defences given a £470,000 upgrade to protect power supplies against a "1-in-200-year" flood.

The floods also affected transport links in the North. Some 16 road closures were in effect in Cumbria, while Northern Rail urged passengers not to travel in Cumbria, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire unless their journey is "absolutely necessary".

Many places have seen record river levels over the past 24 hours, including the River Aire in Leeds, and the rivers Calder and Ribble, affecting places such as Whalley, Hebden Bridge and Ribchester.

West Yorkshire Police declared a major incident after responding to what it said was the "worst flooding in 70 years" in the area.

Some 100 soldiers were deployed to the county to help emergency services in the hardest hit areas of Calderdale and Leeds.

Dozens of rescues have been carried out across northern England, including one in the town of Mytholmroyd, where an elderly man was hauled through the sunroof of his 4x4 by rescuers just as flood waters reached the roof of his vehicle.

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council, said the authority had warned the Government that flooding in Leeds was a "catastrophe waiting to happen".

She called for "significant investment" in additional flood defences for the city to prevent future flooding.

News of the flooding has even reached space, where Major Tim Peake passed over the UK on Sunday in the International Space Station.

He tweeted: "Passed over UK today - thoughts are with all those affected by flooding in northern England."

Charlie Croft, from York City Council, confirmed that river waters in the city had peaked, telling the BBC: "We have to say that we are still in the middle of a major incident, though tentative positive news is that the river may now have stopped rising at this point."

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