Flooding woes continue as Environment Secretary warns situation is still a 'live incident'

Environment Secretary George Eustice warned flooding caused by recent storms is still a “live incident”.

Mr Eustice urged people living in at-risk flood areas to remain vigilant following record-breaking flooding caused by storms Ciara and Dennis in a statement in the Commons this afternoon.

He said water levels were due to continue to rise and added: “So we will continue to see effects this week.”

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He said 1,400 homes in England had been flooded but recent improvements to flood defence schemes had reduced the number of homes that could have been affected.

Environment Secretary George Eustice. Photo: PAEnvironment Secretary George Eustice. Photo: PA
Environment Secretary George Eustice. Photo: PA

He added: "Investment made in recent years has significantly improved our resilience but there is much more to do.

"We are investing £2.6bn in flood defences - over 1,000 flood defences schemes - to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021.

"To put this into context, in the floods of 2007, 55,000 properties were flooded but with similar volumes of water in place this year thankfully far fewer properties have been flooded and flood defence schemes have protected over 90,000 properties in England this winter."

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Mr Eustice said that 18 gauges across 15 rivers had recorded their highest water levels on record including the Colne, Ribble, Calder, Aire, Trent, Severn, Wye, Lugg and Derwent.

But Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard said although Mr Eustice’s speech was “a much better statement than the Government gave only a few weeks ago about Storm Ciara, that is certainly true, but not enough is being done, simply explaining what has happened doesn't stop it happening again.”

He said: “It's because I have so much time for the Secretary of State that I'm disappointed by the slow and pedestrian approach we've seen from ministers since the flooding hit. Where was the Prime Minister? Where was he? Why wasn't a Cobra meeting convened? Why was there no national leadership from this government?”

He added: “During the General Election the Prime Minister reluctantly visited flood-hit communities to win votes. He was out with his mop pushing water around shops, but now he's got his majority he's nowhere to be seen. He's missing in action. He was taking a break in a mansion.”

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Mr Eustice replied: “In a Government, you have a Cabinet, and you have Cabinet ministers who lead on particular issues. When the Prime Minister appointed me a week ago on Thursday, the first thing we discussed was the upcoming Storm Dennis, and we discussed how we would approach it. And he made clear then that he wanted me to lead on this, and that's entirely right.”

On Cobra he said the National Flood Response Center was convened instead, which he said was “also hosted by the Cabinet Office and is a similar mechanism to Cobra but dedicated to flood response, engaging all of the relevant authorities necessary to address a flood incident”.

Yorkshire MPs also questioned the Environment Secretary, with Halifax Labour MP Holly Lynch saying “whatever was stepped up at this time was absolutely not comparable [to the response to flooding in 2015] in providing the practical help that we needed very quickly in Calderdale on this occasion”.

Tory MP for Calder Valley Craig Whittaker said the Government was “toying with” its response in light of climate change.

And he called for “a more robust investment plan” for Calder Valley on flooding.