Benn promises big increase in spending on flood defences

The government is to increase spending on flood defences and risk management following the estimated £1bn devastation to 27,000 homes and more than 5,000 business after torrential rain last week.

The government is to increase spending on flood defences and risk management following the estimated £1bn devastation to 27,000 homes and more than 5,000 business after torrential rain last week.

The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told the Commons that a budget of £800m had been agreed for 2010-11, which will be overseen at ministerial level following the disaster.

The rise reverses recent government policy, which forced flood defence cuts in the roughly £500m granted to the Environment Agency. The agency said last week that an effective programme needed £750m a year for the next three years, rising to nearer £1bn annually if climate change affects flooding as widely predicted.

Mr Benn announced that the communities minister, John Healey, would coordinate immediate government support for local councils and other agencies involved in the current recovery effort. Mr Healey's Wentworth constituency, between Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley, is at the heart of one of the worst-hit areas.

Mr Benn said the consequences of the floods would have "a continuing impact for some months to come". Floodwater, meanwhile, finally started to drain into previously sodden ground in the last marooned communities, as troops and other emergency staff were stood down.

Helped by millions of gallons removed by 22 heavy-duty pumps along 10 miles of hose, the worst-affected village, Toll Bar in South Yorkshire, began to resurface after nearly a week as a string of islands.

More than 200 people were still camping in rest centres last night, but the Meteorological Office dropped severe weather warnings which have been in place for a week. Three severe flood warnings from the Environment Agency are still in place on the Ea beck and the river Don, which join above Toll Bar. The scale of the operation to drain the former colliery village was also underlined by Doncaster council, following criticism that the fight to save a fissured dam at Ulley reservoir, 18 miles away, had left Toll Bar and neighbouring Bentley forgotten.

Doncaster's mayor, Martin Winter, said the pumps were the biggest concentration of their type so far deployed in Britain and were clearing away the equivalent of a large swimming pool every 15 minutes.

Unsettled weather is due to stay over the UK for the next 10 days.


Martin Wainwright

The GuardianTramp

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