Storms and flooding not over, warn forecasters

Locals examine the storm damage on the promenade at Aberystwyth. Picture: Reuters
Locals examine the storm damage on the promenade at Aberystwyth. Picture: Reuters
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Large parts of Britain remain at risk of further flooding today as forecasters warn of more heavy rain.

The Met Office has extended its severe weather alert until tomorrow morning, warning that the already saturated ground and swollen rivers in the south of England and Wales might not cope with more rain.

Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP said flood-risk management in Scotland was a “priority” after recent problems in areas such as Dumfries and Galloway.

The yellow warning for rain, while the lowest of the Met Office’s three levels, forecasts “periods of heavy rain” in the south-west of England and Wales for today and into tomorrow, with 30mm to 40mm falling in the wettest spots.

A spokesman for the Met ­Office said: “The public should be aware of the potential for ­further flooding, especially in the areas which have been ­affected recently.

“Given current sensitive ­hydrological conditions, there is a risk of further surface water flooding in Wales, and both river and surface water flooding in Cornwall, Devon and ­Somerset.”

There were no longer any severe flood warnings in force last night, the Environment Agency (EA) said, but 105 flood warnings urging people to be prepared for adverse conditions remained in place across the country, including in Dorset, south Wiltshire, Hampshire and along the River Thames in Oxfordshire, while 195 low-level alerts had been issued.

Paul Mustow, flood risk manager at the EA, said: “The risk of flooding continues this week, with communities in the south-west and south-east urged to stay safe and sign up to free flood warnings.”

The danger from the huge waves that have battered Britain for the past few days has now receded, with students who were forced from their seafront residences in Aberystwyth allowed to return.

But the threat posed by the tides was illustrated on Monday night when the EA’s flood siren in Dorset was sounded for the first time since it was installed 30 years ago, warning of extreme danger to people and property.

The alarm was raised after waves and spray breached defences at the village of Chiswell, Portland. Chesil Beach itself has been reshaped by the storms. Residents were back on alert yesterday morning but high tide passed without incident.

Seven people have died and more than 1,700 homes and businesses have been flooded in England since the beginning of the Christmas period, with around 550 properties inundated since the New Year. Some 140 properties have been flooded in Wales.

Flood defences protected 220,000 properties over the Christmas period and another 800,000 were safeguarded during the coastal flooding in early December.

High winds over Christmas also left 250,000 homes without power, with some families waiting days for electricity to be restored.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson yesterday said that the Westminster government was working closely with local councils, the insurance industry and others to ensure that people could quickly get the help they need.

Some areas of the country were focused on recovery after storms and flooding, while others remained at significant risk of floods, he told the Commons.

Mr Paterson also admitted that a few energy network companies could have been quicker at restoring power to thousands of homes affected by the storms and floods over Christmas.

MPs fear £300m budget cuts will affect ability to respond to flood emergencies

MPs have raised concerns at the government’s ability to respond to emergencies such as flooding because of swingeing budget cuts.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) parliamentary committee said £500 million had been cut from Defra’s budget since 2010 and a further £300m was earmarked over the next two years.

Committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh said: “Ministers must clarify how further budget cuts over £300m over the coming two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies.

“Recent flooding events over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the committee’s concerns about cuts to the Defra budget and how these will be realised.”

The NFU called on the government to ensure a balance between funding for large capital flood defence projects and river maintenance.

Deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “Without adequate funding being made available to maintain waterways, flooding problems will only increase.”

The political row, which followed a Friends of the Earth challenge to government claims that it was spending more than ever on flood defences, came as the misery continued for some communities in the UK.

Flooding in the Somerset Levels has left villages cut off and roads and buildings damaged, and waves of up to 27ft have been recorded at Land’s End, Cornwall.

Waves at Portreath washed away a 100-year-old stone hut on the breakwater, and at Porthcothan Bay, between Newquay and Padstow, a huge rock collapsed under the force of the waves.