Floods: Protect homes, not nature, Cameron orders officials

Bob and Maria Cowling of William Holt Greengrocers and Fish Merchants, cleaning up following the floods in Hebden Bridge on Boxing Day. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Bob and Maria Cowling of William Holt Greengrocers and Fish Merchants, cleaning up following the floods in Hebden Bridge on Boxing Day. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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BRITAIN needs an “attitudinal change” on the issue of flood protection, which shifts the focus away from protecting nature and towards protecting property, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Mr Cameron told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that ministers had told the Environment Agency to give priority to protecting human lives and homes in flood situations.

His remarks follow extensive flooding to homes in Hebden Bridge, York, Leeds, and other towns across Yorkshire and the north.

He cited the example of the Somerset Levels, where dredging of rivers has resumed in a bid to prevent a repeat of the inundation experienced in the winter of 2013/14.

The Prime Minister said: “You’ve seen quite an attitudinal change in the Environment Agency that in years gone past, I think, were trying to balance up the effects on nature on the one hand and protecting property on the other hand.

“We’ve said to them: ‘The time for that is over. This is about protecting human lives. This is about protecting our homes.’

“I want to see that continued shift. You saw that very directly in Somerset, where there is a man-made environment and it was ridiculous those rivers weren’t being dredged. I threatened to go and drive the dredger myself. Those rivers have now been dredged.

“Do we need an attitudinal change in the way we approach flooding? Yes, we absolutely do.”

Mr Cameron denied claims that the official response to floods seen in Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland over the past two months had been “inadequate”, but acknowledged that more needed to be done.

The Prime Minister said: “On flooding, there’s no doubt that we need to do more. We’ve seen what are called one-in-100-year events or one-in-200-year events, and they happened in 2007, 2013 and 2015, and the country wants us to do more and we will do more.

“The truth is we need to do more of everything. We need to build more flood defences, we need to get better at river management, we need to look at the way whole drainage and area systems work. We had a Cabinet meeting this morning where we discussed this extensively.

“I think we’ve got a team of ministers who are absolutely on that.

“If you look at the response to the floods this time, the military came in more quickly, the money was disbursed more rapidly, the flood prevention that we have put in place protected something like 20,000 homes.

“But if you are asking can we do more, do we need to do more? Yes, we absolutely do.”

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