Flooding: PM’s ‘Enormous Sympathy’ For Victims
David Cameron has admitted a “long-term” action plan is needed to reduce the devastating impact of flooding on communities.With heavy rain, large waves and strong winds expected to create a “significant risk to life” in parts of south and west England this weekend, the Prime Minister said he had “enormous sympathy” for people whose homes had been swamped.
He insisted the Government was doing “everything we can to help people recover as quickly as possible”.
However, he admitted there was work to do, especially in Somerset, where some residents remain cut off after the wettest January on record.
In a letter to the Western Daily Press, Mr Cameron said: “Like everybody across the country I feel enormous sympathy for the people who live on the Somerset Levels and are suffering from the devastating impact of the flooding.”
He added: “We need long-term action to reduce the risk of this happening again. That is why (Environment Secretary) Owen Paterson is working with the Environment Agency (EA) and local agencies in Somerset to deliver a robust plan for the next 20 years.
“Flooding wreaks havoc in communities and businesses. And the impact on people’s lives cannot be underestimated.
“I want to reassure people in Somerset that I am making sure everything that can be done is being done – every resource is being made available to keep Somerset moving and make it a prosperous place for those that live and work there.”
The Prime Minister said plans to dredge rivers will begin “as soon it is safe to do so” and the EA will spend “the coming months improving river flows” across the south west, dredging and weed clearance.
Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis has claimed a lack of river dredging for the past 40 years has worsened the impact of the flooding in Somerset.
“The EA decided to abandon the dredging for the sake of the river bank and they sold the wonderful dredging machines for scrap,” said the dairy farmer.
“Can you believe it? That was 40 years ago. This (flooding) is the result of that decision.”
He said it only used to be that the area flooded every 20 years. “There is flooding every year now; it’s a serious disaster, a serious problem. It’s impossible to live there and run the whole dairy industry.
“We’ve been campaigning for years to get this sorted out. Finally, I think the Prime Minister is going to deal with it and get the money to do the job, but it’s taken a long time to get there.”.
Mr Eavis, who farms at Pilton, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, spoke out after its was announced that Prince Charles will visit flood-stricken communities in the South West.
The visit, on Tuesday, had been planned in advance of the floods for Charles to learn how communities coped with similar problems in 2012.
He is likely to receive a warmer reception than Environment Secretary Owen Paterson who received a hostile reaction from locals when he visited on Monday.
Residents said they were living in “Third World” conditions – with “overflowing” septic tanks and water in their homes.
Military personnel are currently on standby to move in to flood-hit Somerset, with further heavy rain and high tides due to hit parts of the UK in the next 48 hours.
An amber severe weather warning has been issued by the Met Office for southwest England, parts of which have been flooded for more than a month.
The public has been warned of significant disruption from flooding across the Somerset Levels.
Pat Flaherty, deputy chief executive of Somerset County Council, said: “With potential for high winds and high tides and more rain… falling on an already soaked catchment we have potential for further flooding over the weekend.
“And with that, ongoing flooding for a number of weeks to come.
“We’re still working very closely with the military who remain in Somerset, planning with us and we also have the resilience of knowing that their equipment and personnel are ready to be mobilised should we require them.”
The Ministry of Defence has tweeted that personnel involved in helping with Somerset floods are drawn from all three services, with the majority from Taunton-based 40 Commando Royal Marines.
In addition to vehicle crews, up to 100 military personnel are on stand-by for duties likely to include sandbag filling and loading.
The Red Cross has also sent its 7.5-ton Unimog, an emergency supply vehicle capable of driving through deep floodwater.