David Cameron promises to reassess flood defence spending

The Prime Minister has admitted flood barriers “don’t always do enough” as he visited stricken communities in the north of England struggling to cope with flooding devastation.

David Cameron meets flood relief workers in York after the river Ouse burst its banks. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

But David Cameron, who was heckled by victims including a woman who shouted “no more cuts to public services”, defended funding for flood prevention. He rejected suggestions of a north-south divide insisting the government spends “more per head of the population on flood defences in the north than we do in the south”.

Mr Cameron, visiting areas of York where entire street have been submerged in murky flood water and where the River Foss’s barrier was overwhelmed by rising water levels, also said the £2.3 billion earmarked for capital schemes to 2020 overall was more than over the previous five years.

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“But the key thing is to spend the money where it’s needed,” he added.

“We need to sit down and look at what we are planning to build, what we are planning to spend and see if more can be done.

“You don’t just protect people of course through the flood defences, although they are important, and of course while some flood defences haven’t worked this time many flood defences have worked and protected thousands of homes.

“We need to look at the whole picture, as the Environment Agency say.”Mr Cameron also spoke to a range of people including soldiers helping with the flood relief effort in York city centre and members of the Scarborough mountain rescue team.

However, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the Prime Minister’s response was “wholly inadequate”.

“It has been clear since its election that this government hasn’t grasped the reality of the climate change we’re already experiencing – which the experts tell us will result in more extreme weather, and extremes happening more often.

“We urgently need to not just consider flood defences, but land use across catchments, plus the protection of urban areas through sustainable drainage and similar management schemes, while ending the construction of new 
housing estates in vulnerable areas.

“And we urgently need the government to adopt the policies that will ensure we play our part in restricting climate change to a total of 1.5 degrees warming.”

A number of unions highlighted the effect staff cuts had in coping with emergencies.

According to the GMB Union, the number of Environment Agency staff able to deal with flooding out-of-hours is due to be reduced in the New Year.

Mr Cameron did not comment when asked if he would be halting the cuts to out-of-hours services.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of Fire Brigades Union, said fire station closures was having a “big impact” on residents’ safety in emergency situations such as major floods.