Environment bosses have promised a “complete rethink” of how to prepare for flooding and its impact as forecasters predicted Storm Frank could bring more misery today.
The Government has ordered a major review of flood prevention strategy after the latest disaster saw over 500 troops deployed in the region to help clean up after thousands were evacuated and many left without power after flooding hit Yorkshire.
David Rooke, deputy chief executive of the Environment Agency said it would have to look at ways to flood-proof homes as well as traditional defences as the UK was “moving into a period of unknown extremes”.
“We will need to have that complete rethink and ... move from not just providing better defences – and we have a £2.3bn programme to do that over the next six years – but looking at increasing resilience,” he told the BBC.
That would include solid floors, waterproof plaster, electrics moved up the walls and better early-warning systems, he suggested.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron defended the funding available for defences as he met people in York taking advantage of a brief respite from the weather to start cleaning up.
He dismissed a complaint from the council leader in flood-hit Leeds that the North was being neglected, claiming it got more per head than the South.
But he conceded the regularity with which homes were now being flooded made a review of what was being spent where a vital exercise.
Mr Cameron said: “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.”
In York yesterday Environment Agency staff were continuing to work on the closed Foss Barrier, which was opened rather than risk it getting stuck. The decision has been at the centre of a debate ever since but the Agency estimated if the barrier remained closed, with the pumps stuck running, many more homes would have flooded.
The Met Office has forecast heavy rain throughout the day in the region today.
Yesterday, Lord Krebs, a member of the panel that advises ministers on climate change, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One said the Government needed to rethink its whole strategy for managing the risks of flooding.
Lord Krebs said the independent Climate Change Committee had highlighted flooding as the “number one risk” in its report to Parliament but claimed that its advice had been rejected by ministers.
He said too many homes were being built in at-risk areas – with 4,500 new properties in areas at high or medium risk of flooding.
At the same time the paving over of “soft” urban grass areas and changes to the upland landscape were making it more difficult for the ground to absorb water, exacerbating problems during high rainfall.