UK weather forecast: Flooding to cause Christmas travel chaos as Britain lashed with heavy rain

Warnings come as Boris Johnson urged to invest millions in northern flood defences

Andy Gregory
Monday 23 December 2019 11:48
UK weather: The latest Met Office forecast

Hundreds of locations across England face being flooded before Christmas, the Environment Agency has warned, as travellers gear up to navigate likely travel disruption.

There are 80 flood warnings in place, stretching from Yorkshire to the south coast, with a further 192 alerts issued – highlighting a risk of flash flooding and standing water amid forecasts of rain and plunging temperatures.

Dozens of properties in southern England were hit by floods over the weekend, as heavy rain disrupted rail and road transport across the coastal region.

Meanwhile, politicians from flood-stricken northern regions have called on Boris Johnson’s government to invest millions in better flood defences and set up a new emergency response unit dubbed “Cobra for the north”.

Speaking to The Guardian, northern leaders warned that in order to avoid “catastrophe of the same scale” seen last month, multimillion-pound investment was needed.

The Environment Agency warned that with more rain likely on Monday and Tuesday, the flood threat would continue for the next few days in southern and central England.

On Monday morning, roads were mainly clear and most rail services were running smoothly, but a landslide likely caused by excess water was blocking tracks in Surrey, and was expected to do so for the rest of the week.

South Western Railway services remain affected by the RMT strike, with timetable changes continuing to impact some trains between Liverpool and Edinburgh. Network Rail’s planned engineering works will also affect services across the country during the festive period.

Forecasts for Christmas Day suggested sunny but chilly conditions, although temperatures should remain above 0C. By Boxing Day, the weather will become more “unsettled”, the Met Office said, with more rain and strong winds expected.

People are advised to stay away from swollen rivers and not to drive through standing water, as just 30cm of flowing flood water is enough to stop a car.

So far this autumn, rainfall records have been broken for South Yorkshire, Nottingham and Lincolnshire and across the country it has been the fifth-wettest autumn since records began.

The government needs to establish a new unit that would kick into action as soon as flooding strikes, chaired by communities minister Robert Jenrick, Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis told The Guardian.

The army was called in to assist stricken communities after towns and villages around Doncaster and Sheffield, and parts of the Midlands, were drenched by heavy downpours last month. Doncaster Council said more than 900 homes and businesses in the town were affected.

Mr Johnson was criticised for his slow response to the crisis, with one resident memorably telling him “you took your time” as he observed the relief efforts in south Yorkshire six days after floods hit.

Mr Jarvis said the PM had privately agreed to help convene a dedicated emergency response group to react quicker to flooding after the wave of criticism he faced in November.

He added this new unit should bring together local and national government agencies for a detailed post-mortem of last month’s devastation.

Simon Greaves, the Labour leader of Bassetlaw council, also told The Guardian that the system of allocating funding to flood defences was “rigged against” places such as Worksop in Nottinghamshire.

He added: “It would be a scandal if the government response to this crisis is simply devoted to a mopping-up exercise and a grant here and a grant there when actually there are people’s homes that need to be saved from flooding in the future.

“There will be a need for multimillion pound-investment for flood defences without any doubt if we’re going to avoid a catastrophe of the same scale.”

Drivers in Hayle town centre in west Cornwall battle floods on 19 December

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “Recent flooding in Yorkshire had terrible consequences for people and businesses.

“This is why we are investing record amounts to help protect communities across the nation from the threat of flooding, using both natural flood management techniques and traditional defences.

“We spend money where it is needed most – with similar funding heading to high-risk areas across both the north and south of England.”

Additional reporting by PA

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