British prime minister David Cameron has defended flood prevention funds amid calls for a “complete rethink” of preparations for more and more extreme weather.
Cameron hailed the efforts of the emergency services and volunteers on a visit to York, which was among the places inundated when rivers burst their banks over Christmas.
The Environment Agency (EA) still has nine “extreme” warnings in place, indicating a possible loss of life, in and around York and at Croston, south of Preston.
The government has ordered a major review of flood prevention strategy after the latest incident saw 500 troops deployed to help clean up after thousands of people were evacuated and others were left without power.
EA deputy chief executive David Rooke 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 [€3.1bn] 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.
Lord Deben, chairman of the government’s advisory committee on climate change, renewed demands for curbs on homes being built in flood-risk areas, accusing successive governments of ignoring warnings.
And the council leader in flood-hit Leeds, Judith Blake, warned of what she said was a growing perception the north of England was getting less help with its defences than the south.
Cameron rejected any suggestion of a north/south divide, insisting the government spends “more per head of the population on flood defences in the north than we do in the south”.
And the £2.3bn earmarked for capital schemes to 2020 overall was more than over the previous five years, he said, adding
: “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.
“We need to look at the whole picture, as the Environment Agency say.”
According to the GMB Union, the number of staff at the Environment Agency able to deal with flooding out-of-hours is due to be reduced in the new year.
Cameron did not comment when asked if he would be halting the cuts to out-of-hours services.
Emergency financial assistance is being put in place for affected areas, and homes and businesses damaged by flooding will have access to the same package of support announced for those affected by Storm Desmond.