'Alarm' over winter flood prospects in England

By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent

  • Published
Stratford Upon Avon
Image caption,
The Royal Shakespeare Company's famous Stratford theatre is being lapped by flood water

The Environment Agency's director of flood risk management says he is "alarmed" by the prospect of further flooding across England this winter.

John Curtin said there had been so much rain this Autumn, the land is saturated in many places.

He is concerned that floods are going to "get worse, more frequently, more often."

The three months from September have seen near-record levels of rain with 900 properties flooded across England.

Mr Curtin said 21,000 homes in the current flooding period had been protected due to existing defences and operational activities.

"I do sound alarmed because we are in the middle of November and everywhere is saturated," he told reporters.

"All the flood storage areas are full. We have to be really vigilant because what I don't want is that horrendous 900 number to become a 10, 15, 20,000 number."

Mr Curtin encouraged people living on or near floodplains to sign up for Environment Agency flood warnings - only half of people living in these areas had done so to date, he said.

Last week saw 50-100mm of rainfall in an area from the Humber to Sheffield, the same amount as would normally be expected in the whole of the month of November.

"After another 30-40mm yesterday across large parts of Yorkshire and the Midlands, some locations are close to having their wettest Autumns on record and we still have two weeks of November to go," said Will Lang from the Met Office.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The flood water at Fishlake, in Doncaster, South Yorkshire

In the worst-affected village of Fishlake in Yorkshire, there are now 38 pumps helping to drain the flood waters away.

Some 200 troops were deployed to South Yorkshire to help in the relief efforts.

They were on the ground until the early hours of Friday morning helping to erect temporary flood barriers and distributing sandbags to residents.

Mr Curtin said that around 50% of the homes were still inundated but he expects all of them to be clear of water by Sunday.

Over the past 24 hours the focus of concern has shifted southwards from Yorkshire to Warwickshire and Worcestershire where the River Avon was expected to peak at 4m.

Twenty-five to 30 properties have been flooded and the Environment Agency said any further rise in the river above 4m could see around a hundred more properties under water.

The Environment Agency is deploying temporary flood defences around Evesham and Stratford to prevent more damage.

On criticisms that houses continue to be built on floodplains, Mr Curtin said that England had been building on wet areas for hundreds of years - and there was no problem with building new houses on floodplains as long as they were made flood resilient.

"We have a huge amount of locked-in flood risk. If you were to never develop again on the floodplains, you'd freeze development in many major cities," he explained.

He gave as an example new-build houses by the river in Derby.

"The access is above the river level and the car park is down below; that is development in the floodplain but it is safe and it keeps the economic hub of Derby going.

"If you develop it, you make it flood-resilient and you don't take away storage from the flood plain."

Around 140 flood warnings remain in place across England with some 170 alerts also in place. To put this in context, the Environment Agency said the highest number of warnings on record is 200.