Britain may have to choose whether it wants to save “town or country” from future flooding because it is too costly to defend both, the chairman of the Environment Agency said.

To send a link to this page to a friend, you must be logged in.

Lord Smith said “difficult choices” would have to be made over what to protect because “there is no bottomless purse” to pay for defences.

His warning comes as it emerged victims of the flooding are having to pay up to 41p a minute to call a government helpline for advice.

The Sun said all money from the 0845 premium-rate number, which was set up by the Environment Agency (EA), went to a private firm.

Meanwhile householders have been told to brace themselves as further wind and rain threatens to bring more chaos to waterlogged communities across Britain.

Around 180 homes were flooded during during a busy weekend for the emergency services and EA workers up and down the country.

But as flood-hit communities enjoyed a break in the bad weather yesterday, forecasters warned there may be worse to come.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Smith defended the EA after a week in which it has come in for heavy criticism over its handling of the crisis, which has left large swathes of the Somerset Levels underwater for more than a month.

He said that the sea surge in December reached higher levels than the east coast surge of 1953, which cost more than 300 lives, but without the loss of life because of advances in flood warning and risk-management.

But he said that “there are no quick fixes in the face of this kind of extreme rainfall”, and tough decisions lie ahead, not just for the EA, about how protection from flooding is managed in the future.

Lord Smith said: “Yes, agricultural land matters and we do whatever we can with what we have to make sure it is protected. Rules from successive governments give the highest priority to lives and homes; and I think most people would agree that this is the right approach.

“But this involves tricky issues of policy and priority; town or country, front rooms or farmland?

“Flood defences cost money; and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend on different places, communities and livelihoods - in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, or East Anglia? There’s no bottomless purse, and we need to make difficult but sensible choices about where and what we try to protect.”

Following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said that 73,000 homes in England had been protected from flooding since Friday, and that the EA continued to protect communities by deploying demountable flood defences, sandbags and clearing waterways.

He said: “I have enormous sympathy for those who have been affected again this weekend and the government is working with all local councils to help communities recover. All requests for assistance have been met.”

News that the EA’s Floodline phone number costs 10.5p a minute from landlines and 41p from mobiles was met with fury by residents in flood-stricken communities, The Sun said.

Bryony Sadler, a member of Somerset’s Flooding on the Levels Action Group, told the newspaper: “We are extremely grateful to the Environment Agency’s people on the ground, who are doing their best to help us.

“But this is just another example of staggering mismanagement form their pen-pushing bosses.”

Residents in Somerset were also left on edge following the discovery by a microbiologist that flood waters contained more than 60 times the safe level of bacteria.

EA staff have been working around the clock to alleviate the flooding hell that people in the county have endured for five weeks, pumping 1.5 million tonnes of water a day off the Levels.

Two specialist all-terrain vehicles have been sent to the county along with extra pumping equipment.

But with further rain expected following the wettest January on record in some places, saturated ground and high river levels could lead to further river flooding this week.

Weather forecasters are expecting winds of up to 70mph today, and up to 30mm (1.2in) of rain.

Officials say fresh flooding could affect the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall today as well as Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

As of this morning the EA had three severe flood warnings in place, one covering large parts of Cornwall and Devon, and two for the River Severn in the Midlands. There are also 95 flood warnings and 233 less severe flood alerts.

The River Severn in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, the Frome and Avon in Dorset, the river Thames and its tributaries in Oxfordshire, West Berkshire, Reading, Slough and Hampshire and the Medway in Kent are all of concern this week.

The agency’s flood risk manager, Kate Marks, said that as high tides and large waves threaten the south coast, further rain on already saturated ground could lead to river flooding.

She said: “With further severe weather conditions expected in the coming days, the Environment Agency is likely to issue further warnings so people should check their flood risk and get early warnings so they can take action to protect their property.”

Meanwhile, the atrocious weather has taken a human toll.

A 67-year-old woman died after being swept out to sea near the mouth of the River Arun at Littlehampton Pier, West Sussex on Saturday.

She was pulled from the water by a lifeboat crew after being carried out to sea by strong currents, but died later in hospital.

In Wales more than 50 mountain rescuers had to battle atrocious weather conditions on Saturday to rescue a group of students who got lost attempting to tackle the 752m Pumlumon mountain in the Cambrian Mountains.

In Newgale, west Wales, 10 people had to be plucked from a bus in the dark after it got stuck on the seafront.

Coastguards said the vehicle was hit by a large wave before being surrounded by flood water.

Six French fishermen off the coast of Cornwall also managed a lucky escape after their boat was hit by a giant wave. Five were winched to safety by helicopter, while a sixth was rescued by lifeboat.

And in Scotland fears are growing for an angler who went missing on the Aberdeenshire coast in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The man was night fishing at Tangle-Ha, north of St Cyrus, when he disappeared from rocks in what were described as “exceedingly rough” conditions.

However, nature’s frightening power did not deter a group of 30 daredevils who rode the waves of the “five-star” tidal surge the Severn Bore yesterday.

People took to the water in canoes and on surfboards, despite official warnings to stay away.

15 comments

  • People who live in North and North East Norfolk may do well to see if there are companies sea dredging in their area because this is making matters much worse. Where in the Somerset levels dredging the rivers would improve the wicking away of water dredging has the opposite effect off the Norfolk coast. Intensive dredging and removal of aggregates which have slowed coastal erosion is having the opposite effect.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • what a joke .our sea defences shown on tv recently must be the laughing stock of the world. When we see billions still be used for asylum ,immigration and foreign aid which nobody voted for Dont want or need then questions have to be asked . At the end of the day you only get what you vote for

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • In Norfolk the anti dredging, as Daisy calls it, was due to the irresponsible dumping of industrial mercury waste for 40 years into the Broad system, now requiring special dumps for the spoils. The methyl mercury stuck in the mud, would have been dispersed into the water column. Further the EA was always held on tight purse strings, dredging only done when navigation absolutely demanded it. Sea defences have been sticky plastered when money was available, not an ongoing and growing concern as they should be. After each winter a rolling programm with responsible contractors, should get active and repair damage. Unless we debate and plan for a prioritised program, I admit is only buying time, we will not succeed; letting land go is an option for some, I'd rather enpower insurance companies, so they can actively show how much socially respopnsible they really are, firstly, by keeping all of our policies down, not exposed to continued risks from avoidable flooding claims and by being able to generate energy from tidal schemes they built in return. I would safeguard the Fenlands at all costs, any large scale inundation with saltwater would see vegetable prices double overnight and the land ruined for 5 years. So how about it? It would generate much needed jobs and apprenticeships in building sea defences in a world with rising sea levels.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • By the way it is interesting to see that Daisy's comments were at one point removed but have been put back again. What is Archant up to?

    Report this comment

    andy

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • when we see the enviroment agency building defences with thousands of sand bags and calling them sea defences we know them and the goverment have lost the plot and are no longer fit to be in charge

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • Just love the polticians " Difficult decisions have to be made " speech. No, making the decisions is easy ,living with the consequences is the hard part.Why are we always short of money for the UK and its welfare? There is always an adequate supply of taxpayers money to scatter aroung the world in the guise of foreign aid. A bottomless pit it seems. £35 -60 billion for a high speed railway that is unnecessary. Except to the constructors. Billions available to give to the French and Chinese to build a nuclear power station, the French will reap the profits when it is up and running. And do not get me started on the daily consumption of taxpayers money, swallowed up by the EU. All these are deemded more important than saving our shores and people within.

    Report this comment

    norman hall

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

  • Stop all foreign aid and cut the MP's and Lords by at least three quarters, then there will be plenty of money for the defences

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • I understand that the EA did some empire building in Somerset and took over the internal drainage boards which had been doing a good job, and then the EA sat on their hands and cosied up to the RSPB and other environmental groups.They are also trying it on in this part of the world. I heard this week an opinion from someone with a long experience of drainage, that if the east had had as much rain and if the winds and tides had been unfavourable as in the SW, the Fen rivers would have struggled to get the water away and there might well have been extensive flooding here. I am told that under the Labour government, the EA refused to listen to those with a lifetime of experience, became to influenced by theorists and became very anti dredging-even of watercourses which were completely artificial and those which had been artificially managed for hundreds of years as part of a drainage network. It is also anti weed removal and pro wilding- which will affect the land around the lower reaches of rivers like the Nar. Even if there was plenty of funding the practical work of the EA has to be questioned and it is to be hoped the mess on the Levels will give East Anglian drainage boards and land owners a bit of leverage.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • In Norfolk the anti dredging as daisy calls it, was due to the irresponsible dumping of industrial mercury waste for 40 years into the Broad system, now requiring special dumps for the spoils. Further the EA was always held on tight purse strings and sea defences have been sticky plastered when money was available, not an ongoing and growing concern as they should be. Unless we debate and plan for a prioritised program which, I admit is only buying time, we will not succeed, letting land go is an option for some, I'd rather enpower insurance companies, so they can actively show how much socially respopnsible they really are, firstly, by keeping all of our policies down, not exposed to continued risks from avoidable flooding and by being able to generate energy from tidal schemes in return. I would safeguard the Fenlands at all costs, any large scale inundation with saltwater would see vegetable prices double overnight. So how about it?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • to call thousands of sand bags flood defences is like calling a sinclair spectrum a top of the range computer

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • The island of Britain is tipping to the East and slowly sinking, Norfolk first, into the sea. Always has been. The sinking may take thousands of years but the raising of the sea levels is accelerating the effect. I cannot see the EA making much of an effort past a managed retreat.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • The EA are spending £31.000.000 yes thats right 31 million on a bird reseve in Somerset. That is where all the money is going.The EA is not fit for purpose.

    Report this comment

    Johnny Norfolk

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • Daisy, you are spot on with your comments. The choice set out by Smith is not the only one - the EA should put people and communities first rather wildlife schemes, that is the first choice that has to be made. There are too many academic conservationists with too much say plus of course Natural England and RSPB putting their agenda forward too. Last year we saw the problems in Cumbria and the locals there were quite clear that their warnings about the impact of not dredging the rivers was being ignored. The responsibility, and funding, should be taken away from the EA and placed back in the hands of the rivers authority with a clear mandate and ring fenced funding for dredging the rivers. Similar ring fenced funding should be put in place for coastal defences. We should then cut back EA even further once it has been decided what their role should be.

    Report this comment

    andy

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • In Norfolk the anti dredging, as Daisy calls it, was due to the irresponsible dumping of industrial mercury waste for 40 years into the Broad system, now requiring special dumps for the spoils. The methyl mercury stuck in the mud, would have been dispersed into the water column. Further the EA was always held on tight purse strings, dredging only done when navigation absolutely demanded it. Sea defences have been sticky plastered when money was available, not an ongoing and growing concern as they should be. After each winter a rolling programm with responsible contractors, should get active and repair damage. Unless we debate and plan for a prioritised program, I admit is only buying time, we will not succeed; letting land go is an option for some, I'd rather enpower insurance companies, so they can actively show how much socially respopnsible they really are, firstly, by keeping all of our policies down, not exposed to continued risks from avoidable flooding claims and by being able to generate energy from tidal schemes they built in return. I would safeguard the Fenlands at all costs, any large scale inundation with saltwater would see vegetable prices double overnight and the land ruined for 5 years. So how about it? It would generate much needed jobs and apprenticeships in building sea defences in a world with rising sea levels.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Monday, February 3, 2014

  • Rather than spend £80 billion on replacement Trident missiles,invest this in long-term flood defence.This is money that simply cannot NOT be spent.They should suspend the EA job cuts too.It would not surprise me if the EA is advertising for people who have just taken redundancy to take up their old,slightly amended,job soon as demand picks up.The cuts are very much a false economy.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Homes24
Jobs24
Drive24
MyDate24
MyPhotos24
FamilyNotices24
Weddingsite

loading...

Classifieds, browse or search them online now

The Canary magazine
Order your copy of The Canary magazine

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT