UK weather: Flood-hit towns warned of more to come as 'barriers not installed in time'

Jamie Johnson
Temporary flood barriers hold back the river Severn in Ironbridge, Shropshire - PA

Towns across England and Wales already beleaguered by flooding have been warned to expect as much as a month’s worth of rain in the coming days, as experts say that temporary defences should have been installed earlier.

Last night, more than 100 flood warnings were in place across Britain, with six areas told that there is a threat to life. The downpour forecast for the next 24 hours could be upgraded to Storm Ellen as it develops over the Atlantic.

The Environment Agency has installed more than 6km of temporary flood barriers across the country protecting nearly 25,000 properties from the ongoing impacts of Storm Dennis.

All of them have held firm so far, but there have been complaints that they are too little too late.

Craig Whittaker, Tory MP for Calder Valley, said his constituency had been "really badly" affected, with 1,187 properties flooded.

"It's the third time in seven-and-a-half years that this has happened to us,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Last night, the Environment Agency told the Telegraph that in Calder Valley temporary defences had been deployed in and around Mytholmroyd. But it said the high levels of rainfall were "the main driving force behind the flooding."

“There has been a failure of planning,” said Simon Gaskell, a managing consultant at engineering and environmental consultancy company Ramboll.

“There needed to be more of an action plan in place, and there has been a lack of communication between the Environment Agency and people with local knowledge.

irefighters rescue staff and residents from a care home in the village of Whitchurch on the banks of the River Wye - getty

“If a form of defence has been proved to work, why is it not in place everywhere it’s needed?"

The EA said England had already received 141 per cent of its average February rainfall so far this month, as residents of flood-hit areas yesterday prepared for more bad weather.   

In Uckinghall, half a mile from the River Severn, locals were hoping their permanant flood defences would hold as waters reached 5.36m deep.

“There is no doubt that the entire town would have flooded if not for these defences,” said Judy Gibson, chair of the Uckinghall Flood Action Group.

Locals already know how devastating flooding can be. “In 2007, the water was up to here,” Mrs Gibson said, gesturing towards the top of her front door.

“I had to move out for two years and live in a caravan. Now, as a community, we are much more switched on.”

River levels in the Colne, Ribble, Calder, Aire, Trent, Severn, Wye, Lugg, and Derwent have all set new records in recent days.  

Weather forecast | Wednesday 19 February

Upton-upon-Severn was a hive of activity yesterday, as police, fire and ambulance services helped vulnerable residents worried about the rising river. A note outside one home read: “please don’t take my sandbags.”

In Tewkesbury, retired headteacher John Badham, 71, had installed removable barriers to protect the front and rear of his home from flooding which has reached his street and garden.

"We have been waiting since Sunday with the water getting closer and coming in,” he said.

Government was yesterday told that its forthcoming housing strategy fell short on standards to protect new homes from increasing risks of flooding.

The Committee on Climate Change said property flood resilience measures should be included in new homes, which could include automatic flood doors that close when flood warnings are issued and pumps to keep water out of homes.

South Wales Fire and Rescue take a resident through floodwaters in Monmouth, - AFP

It warned that retrofitting may be necessary on current and older buildings that were not made resilient to climate change.

There were growing calls for planning decisions to be overhauled to make it more difficult for developers to build traditional homes on flood plains. 

"There is an opportunity to have a dedicated body, committed to enabling climate resilience measures, which could oversee planning decisions and help to avoid building on flood risk areas," the Town and Country Planning Association said. 

While the Environment Agency advises developers on flood-risk areas, the decision on whether to approve falls to local councils, which the Town and Country Planning Association said was under increasing pressure to build more homes.

"It's not that the government doesn't understand flood risk; it does. But the bigger, weightier policy is 'get housing done'," Dr Hugh Ellis, TCPA policy director said. 

Malcolm Tarling, from the Association of British Insurers, warned that insurance premiums were likely to rise substantially for homes in flood-risk areas if more measures were not brought in to protect them.

"Flood risk is getting worse and land is running out. There's no point investing in new homes if they are likely to flood and become uninsurable," he said. "I'm not sure we have seen enough efforts to disincentivise developers from building on flood plains."