The chairman of the Environment Agency (EA) has defended his decision to remain on holiday in the Caribbean while home and business owners battled the worst flooding to hit communities for decades.
Sir Philip Dilley arrived back at Gatwick airport yesterday morning after a fortnight’s sunshine break in Barbados.
His decision to return only now, several days after families were forced to flee their homes over Christmas, was criticised by those who said he ought to be visiting those areas worst affected by the storms.
Arriving at his home in central London yesterday, Sir Philip said he would be “very happy to speak” with people during his factfinding visit to the north. Emerging from his flat in an Edwardian mansion block in Marylebone some 50 minutes later to begin his trip north, Sir Philip –who reportedly earns around £100,000 a year – said the quango has been “very effective” in handling the floods crisis.
Asked if he should have visited the worst-affected areas sooner, Sir Philip said: “Well, I’m going up there today, as you appreciate.
“My focus really is to go and see what’s happening, to see the good work that’s been going on, but most importantly to see the communities who have been affected.”
Sir Philip said he had been “in very close contact” with senior EA staff throughout his break.
Asked about his whereabouts during the floods, he said: “Everybody can’t be everywhere at the same time. I think we’ve been very effective and efficient in what we’ve been doing. There’s obviously some lessons to learn.” He said his itinerary would “evolve” as the day went on.
His return to the UK comes after criticism over his decision to holiday in Barbados at a time when the country faces some of the worst floods it has experienced in decades.
The EA previously released a statement saying he had spent Christmas with his family on the Caribbean island, but would be back soon.
A spokesman said Sir Philip had been in “regular contact” with the body regarding its response to the current situation. The agency also highlighted that he visited Cumbria earlier in the month, in the aftermath of the Storm Desmond floods.
Sir Philip’s predecessor as EA chairman, Lord Chris Smith, faced severe criticism during flooding when he was accused of failing to visit flood-hit Somerset soon enough.