Storms Desmond and Eva flooded 16,000 homes in England

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members of the armed forces helping distribute sandbags to residents following flooding in CarlisleImage source, Owen Humphreys
Image caption,
The Army was called in to help with efforts to protect homes against floods in some parts of the UK, including here in Carlisle

About 16,000 houses in England were flooded during the wettest December in a century, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has told MPs.

Defending the government's response to the crisis, she said flood defences had protected more than 20,000 homes.

Financial aid was provided in "record time", and there are plans to further improve flood defences, Ms Truss added.

But Labour accused ministers of not spending enough on defences, calling measures a "sticking plaster response".

Making a statement in the Commons, Ms Truss said record rainfall meant meant rivers in Lancashire rose to some of the highest levels ever seen, while Yorkshire rivers like the Aire and the Wharfe were up to a metre higher than previous records.

'National priority'

"This resulted in the flooding of about 9,000 properties, which together with the earlier flooding in Cumbria brings the total to around 16,000 flooded properties in England," she said.

"Whilst of little consolation to those who have been flooded, it's important to note that flood defences have protected over 20,000 properties."

Timeline: December flooding

Image source, Joe Giddens

5 December: Storm Desmond brings more than a month's rain to parts of Cumbria, leading to flooding in Carlisle and other towns

12 December: River levels remain high and more than 70 flood warnings are issued amid more heavy rain

22 December: Communities in Cumbria flood again - some for the third time in less than a month

25 December: More than 100 flood alerts and warnings are issued across England and Wales as Storm Eva brings torrential rain

26 December: Residents in West Yorkshire and Lancashire are evacuated from their homes and flooding hits Leeds, Greater Manchester and York

27 December: Police in York advise hundreds of people to evacuate their homes as 24 severe flood warnings remain in place in the north-east of England

30 December: Storm Frank hits, with Scotland and parts of northern England worst affected by fresh flooding.

4 January: Heavy rain in Scotland causes yet more flooding, particularly in the North East. Residents are evacuated and some roads collapse.

She added the government will continue to do "what it takes" to get the affected areas "up and running".

This included making repairs to Tadcaster Bridge in North Yorkshire - which collapsed in the severe floods - a "national priority", she said.

The town is now split in two, with residents having to take a 10 mile detour to get from one side to the other.

It is estimated repairs will cost £3m and could take a year to complete.

Media caption,

Footage showed the moment a bridge collapsed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire

Ms Truss said a plan for the bridge's repair would be in place by early next week, and that funding would then be provided "promptly".

The National Flood Resilience Review, which aims to improve protection, will "ensure the Leeds scheme would cope with the new levels of rainfall we're now seeing", she added.

However, shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said the government "chose to ignore warnings" that an increasing number of homes were at risk of flooding.

'Vague promises'

Ms McCarthy questioned whether the government's £2.3bn capital budget over six years for flood defences was enough "given the government has underestimated the climate change risk".

"Rather than a sticking plaster response every time the floods hit with vague promises and random numbers that are forgotten by spring, we need a long-term co-ordinated approach.

Image source, AFP / Getty
Image caption,
Waves crashed against Newhaven Lighthouse in southern England on 30 December as "Storm Frank" swept across Britain

Ms Truss said the government had learnt lessons from previous floods, and said the response to the recent flooding had been swift and effective.

She criticised the previous Labour administration's approach to flood defence spending and insisted a long-term plan is now in place.

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