UK flooding: Britain needs a 'complete rethink' of its flood defences says Environment Agency

UK is moving from 'known extremes' to a period of 'unknown extremes' says deputy chief executive David Rooke

Matt Dathan
Online political reporter
Monday 28 December 2015 11:36 GMT
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Temporary flood defences on the River Ouse in York City centre
Temporary flood defences on the River Ouse in York City centre (PA)

Britain needs a “complete rethink” of its flood defences in the wake of the record levels of flooding to hit parts of northern England, the Environment Agency has said.

Flood defences were overwhelmed after downpours over the Christmas weekend caused rivers to burst their banks in Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and Lancashire and 27 severe flood warnings remain in place, meaning there is danger to life.

The Environment Agency’s deputy chief executive David Rooke said a fundamental review of the way the UK prepares and protects itself against flooding must include making homes more resilient.

He said Britain was experiencing a period of “known extremes” but warned we were moving to a period of “unknown extremes” and said the Government-ordered review into flood defences would decide whether existing assumptions remained valid when it reports in the summer.

Asked whether the country needed a new response to flooding, Mr Rooke told the Today programme: "We will need to have that complete rethink and I think we will need to move from not just providing better defences - and we have a £2.3 billion programme to do that over the next six years.

"But looking at increasing resilience so that, when properties do flood, they've got solid floors, we have waterproof plaster, we've moved the electrics up the wall, people can get back into their homes, their businesses, very quickly and that we continue to improve our flood warning systems so that, in the event of defences overtopping, people have time to take action and we can save lives.”

Water levels are expected to fall back on Monday but more heavy downpours are forecast for later in the week.

Insurance companies have estimated the cost of the floods to reach at least £1.5bn.

David Cameron is visiting areas of northern England affected by the floods on Monday, where he has come under fire for neglecting investment in flood defences.

Local newspaper editorials accused him of prioritising areas of the South with "state-of-the-art flood defences" and claimed the "completely avoidable" levels of flooding witnessed by Yorkshire would not be allowed to happen in London and the South East.

Ministers have also been urged to divert foreign aid spending to northern England to help guard against flooding.

Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk added his name to the calls, questioning why money was being sent abroad when it was needed in Britain. "Why do we spend money in Bangladesh when it needs spending in Great Britain?

"What we need to do is to sort out the problems which are occurring here and not focus so much on developing countries; that has to be our priority," he told BBC Manchester.

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