Oral statement to Parliament

Latest position on the UK floods

Eric Pickles' Commons statement on government action in response to the UK floods.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles

Mr Speaker

As evident from the dark skies outside, we continue to face extraordinary and sustained wet weather.

COBR has met every day since my oral statement on Thursday – with all departments working closely together, including my colleagues at DEFRA.

We have made clear again that every resource is available to the local communities affected.

We will keep providing whatever immediate practical support and assistance is needed:

  • whether that is extra pumps and sandbags
  • military support on the ground
  • to emergency funds from the severe weather assistance fund for local councils. 

The Somerset Moors and Levels have been one of the hardest hit by the weather with 65 million cubic metres of floodwater on the land.

The rivers Tone and Parrett have been particularly affected by continued rainfall leading to heightened river levels.

In total people in 150 properties across the Somerset Levels, where there is a threat of severe flooding, have been advised to leave their homes.

A rest centre has been established at Bridgewater.

Military personnel have been tasked to work alongside local authorities, and are currently filing sandbags for deployment.

Pumping continues, but is challenging to keep pace with the inflow from the latest rainfall and levels are increasing in some areas.

It is likely to take weeks to remove the sheer volume of flood water once there is a significant break in the weather.

Across the Thames Valley and Surrey, the River Thames is rising, and bursting its banks in certain locations.

A sandbag programme is in place at key points of vulnerability.

A multi-agency Gold Command has been set up in Croydon to co-ordinate the response locally, and a major incident has been declared.

There is a high risk that the Thames, the Severn and the Wye will flood in the middle of next week.

Local responders are actively engaged in planning and preparation.

As I told the House on Thursday, I commend the hard work of the emergency services, local authorities, the Armed Forces and the on-the-ground staff of the Environment Agency.

As I said, there will be lessons to be learnt, including Environment Agency policies on issues such as dredging and how it spends its budget of £1.2 billion a year.

I note that the issue of international development funding has been touched upon over the weekend.

Let me say this.

Just as it was a false choice to cast town versus country, so it is wrong to pit helping the victims of flooding at home against those suffering abroad.

We can and should help both:

  • from helping the plight of those facing the awfulness of flooded homes in Britain
  • just as we take action to help malnourished children dying of dirty water abroad

But I do believe taxpayers’ money should be well spent.

And that applies to quangos just as much as it does to the international aid budget.

By spending money wisely, we can better meet our moral obligations first to Britain and then to the world.

But the first and primary obligation of Her Majesty’s Government is defence of this realm:

  • urban and rural
  • city and county

And that is what we are doing.

Published 10 February 2014