6 Feb 2014

UK floods: more money pledged as army sent in

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, announces the government will spend an extra £130m to bolster Britain’s flood defences, as the army is finally deployed to help in Somerset.

The extra money will help councils deal with the damage caused by severe weather, Mr Pickles told the House of Commons.

He said 42 new flood defence schemes are also planned for 2014/15, adding that the government planned to spend £3.1 billion on flood defences in total over five years – more than any previous government.

Troops deployed

Later it was announced that Royal Marines from 40 Commando were being sent on Thursday evening to help with the work to strengthen flood defences at Stanmoor Bank near Burrowbridge in Somerset.

Royal Marines manpower has been deployed this evening to bring fresh energy and extra support Police Chief Superintendent Caroline Peters

They expect to be putting out nearly 1,000 sandbags along a 1-2km stretch of the retaining wall, which is being reinforced to prevent overtopping by flood waters. The troops will be supported by two Pinzgauer vehicles and the work is expected to take a few hours. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that 40 marines would also help with moving householders’ property to higher levels.

Police Chief Superintendent Caroline Peters, Gold Commander, said “Staff from many different agencies have been working tirelessly to fill and put out sandbags… Royal Marines manpower has been deployed this evening to bring fresh energy and extra support which is very much appreciated.

‘Rapid review’

In his announcement to MPs on Thursday morning, Mr Pickles said: “In the short-term, I can announce that the Government will provide an additional £130 million for emergency repairs and maintenance, £30 million in the current year and £100 million next year.

“This will cover costs incurred during the current emergency response and recovery, as well as essential repairs to ensure that defences are maintained.”

Mr Pickles delivered the statement on behalf of the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who is undergoing emergency eye surgery on his retina.

He told the Commons: “Emergency work and repairs started during December’s coastal surge, however, the full picture of the damage caused to the flood defences has not yet emerged and the weather conditions are still savage.

“The Government will carry out a rapid review of the additional work needed to restore our flood defences and maintain them in target condition.”

Mr Pickles said his department was making changes to the Bellwin scheme, which gives emergency financial assistance to local authorities hit by emergencies and natural disasters, so councils could claim more.

The announcement of a 'rapid review' by Eric Pickles is not the first pledge this year to carry out a review:

On 8 January, during prime minister's questions, David Cameron agreed with a proposition by Ed Miliband that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should produce a report by the end of the month, providing a "full assessment of the future capacity of our flood devences and flood response agencies and of whether the investment plans in place are equal to the need".

On 27 January, during a visit to the Somerset Levels, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson promised that within six weeks a new plan would be drawn up to deal with flooding in the region and that national guidelines on dredging were not appropriate for the Somerset Levels.

Mr Pickles said: “We’ve already put in place investment plans to improve the protection of at least 465,000 houses by the end of the decade. And in addition, we are today announcing 42 new flood defence schemes for 2014/15.

FactCheck: Government flood spending claims - a dishonest attempt to rewrite history?

“Together with other projects under construction in 2014/15, we will protect more than 42,00 households; this includes schemes in Salford, which will improve protection for more than 2,000 homes and businesses; Clacton where more than 3,000 homes are currently at risk; and Willerby in East Riding of Yorkshire where more than 8,000 properties will be protected.

“There are also smaller but no less important schemes in Lincoln, Stockton and Todmorden. We will work to defend both town and country.”

Joining the fray, the Environment Agency tweeted a map of the flood and coastal risk management scheems starting construction in 2014-2015, with the words: “This year more money than ever before will be spent protecting people from flooding – £3.1bn.”

It was unclear what comfort this would be to those currently flooded out their homes in the South West as only one project – in Bournemouth – was marked on the map in that region.

‘Conveyor belt’ of storms

There are no signs of immediate respite from the gale force winds and heavy rain that has battered Britain for weeks.

The Met Office warned that more heavy rain will hit southern England and Wales on Thursday morning, with up to 1.6ins (40mm) of rain predicted to fall in the south coast, where many areas are already reeling from recent storms and floods.

Pete Fox from the Environment Agency said people face a “conveyor belt of storms”. Hundreds of flood alerts have been issued, including two severe warnings, signifying a danger to life.

Prime Minister David Cameron will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee later today, Mr Pickles said.