Feb 5 2014
An extra £100 million will be spent over the next year tackling the aftermath of the devastating floods that have hit Britain , David Cameron has announced.
Some £75 million will fund repairs, £15 million will go on maintenance and £10 million has been earmarked for "urgent work" in Somerset, the Prime Minister said.
Stormy weather has left thousands of homes without power and transport networks in chaos amid battering winds and severe flood warnings.
The Environment Agency has nine severe flood warnings in place - meaning a "danger to life" - covering much of the south coast of England from Cornwall to Dorset.
Western Power Distribution said about 44,000 customers in the South West had been affected by power cuts since yesterday and 5,000 homes remained without power.
Mr Cameron is to chair a meeting of Cobra - the civil contingencies committee that leads responses to national crises.
At Prime Minister's questions, he told MPs: "Whatever is required, whether it is dredging work on the rivers Tone and Parrett, whether it is support for our emergency services, whether it is fresh money for flood defences, whether it is action across the board, this Government will help those families and get this issue sorted."
Mr Cameron also told MPs that the Government would meet in full local councils' claims for funding under the Bellwin Scheme, which provides compensation to areas facing exceptional costs from flooding.
The claim period has been extended to the end of March to recognise the ongoing problems, he said, and action would be taken to ensure badly hit Cornwall would not miss out.
Its status as a unitary authority had raised concerns that it would have to spend huge sums before becoming eligible for help.
Town hall chiefs say the entire Bellwin Formula is outdated and must be reformed.
Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Commons: "Many of those affected feel the Government's response has been slow and that more could have been done sooner."
Weather forecasters MeteoGroup said the strongest gusts overnight were at Berry Head in Devon with speeds hitting 91mph.
The Met Office said yellow warnings of rain were in place for parts of Scotland, the East of England, London and the South East, the South West, Wales and the West Midlands.
In Dawlish, between Exeter and Cornwall, a section of seawall under the coastal railway line collapsed and two people were rescued from a car.
First Great Western said all lines between Exeter St Davids and Penzance had been closed and was unable to offer alternative bus services because of the disruption to the roads from the storms.
Residents were evacuated from 30 flooded houses in Kingsand, Cornwall, as well as on the seafront at Torcross in Devon as the high tide smashed the fronts of four properties.
There was further flooding in Looe, where people have been advised to stay away from the seafront amid fears of huge waves.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said changes to the Bellwin formula would help counter the "enormous" threshold some local authorities, such as Cornwall, had to pass before receiving the money.
He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "Remember, this is paid retrospectively, this is paid for the costs that local authorities will incur."
Shadow c ommunities secretary Hilary Benn told the programme : "When we had floods last year the Government paid Bellwin support at 100%, but Eric's department announced last month that it would only be paid at 85% and it's only today, as I understand it, they have decided to up it to 100%.
"Now I think that is a sign that they didn't quite get how severe this was and certainly people on the ground feel that help has been slow in coming.
"It's a sign of how seriously a government takes the crisis."
Downing Street said emergency financial assistance grants provided under the Bellwin Scheme will be increased from 85% to 100% for councils seeking help as a result of the weather and floods.
Councils, which normally have a month to make a claim under the Bellwin Scheme following an emergency incident, will be given until the end of March to assess the scale of damage in their areas and the amount of help needed.
The £100 million in additional spending on flood defences, maintenance and repairs comes from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' contingency fund for 2014/15, using money set aside for possible repayments to the European Commission in relation to EU-related expenditure.
Asked what would happen if Brussels demands money back from Defra, Mr Cameron's official spokesman told reporters: "They will have to wait."
Labour challenged the Government's data on spending on flood protection, insisting that official Defra figures show it has fallen under the coalition, rather than increasing as Mr Cameron claims.
Mr Cameron has repeatedly said the coalition is spending £2.4 billion over four years on flood protection, compared with £2.2 billion in the previous four-year period.
But Labour highlighted official Defra figures showing that total spending for 2011/15 is £2.34 billion, compared with £2.37 billion the previous four years.
Spending has fallen from £633.1 million in 2009/10 and £670.1 million in 2010/11 to £576 million in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and the planned spend of £615 million for next year will still be lower than in the last year of the Labour administration.
A senior Labour source said: "They have been shown to be wrong on this again and again and they keep on repeating it. They should stop playing with the statistics and provide a proper response to the floods.
"For the Prime Minister to keep repeating what is at best misleading does no service to the debate or to the people affected by the floods."
Downing Street sources said Labour had reached its figure by including the financial year 2010/11 as part of the pre-coalition period, when the coalition was in power for all but the first month of that year and used its budget in June 2010 to confirm planned spending on flood protection. Mr Cameron's figure included 2010/11 as the first of the coalition's four years in power.
Labour said Mr Cameron's decision to chair Cobra was a "humiliation" for Mr Paterson and raised questions over whether he was "up to the job".
"Given that the Prime Minister has taken personal charge of it, I think it is probably fair to describe this as a humiliation for Owen Paterson," said a senior Labour source.
"Owen Paterson is turning out to be the fool of the floods. Given his botching of the badger cull and failure on flooding, it is little surprise that people are wondering if he is up to the job."
The Environment Agency (EA) said this morning's high tide caused problems, particularly in Dawlish.
"We are now waiting for the next high tide, which will be at around 5pm," a spokesman said.
"We don't think it will be as extreme as the one this morning. We have a band of rain coming in now which could see some impact, particularly in Somerset.
"We are currently checking damage done by the wave action, making sure emergency repair work is done, making sure flood defences can stand up to any further wave action."
Devon and Cornwall Police warned residents to stay away from coastal areas as it dealt with a large number of calls relating to road debris, damage to property and flooding.
The Hoe in Plymouth experienced large waves and damage to some properties.
Cornwall Council said fire crews were dealing with flood reports and problems in Polkerris, Fowey, and up to 35 properties flooded in the Looe area.
The A390 at Lostwithiel was closed, with fire crews also dealing with fallen trees at Poughill, near Bude, Seaton, and the road between Constantine and Penryn.
Devon and Cornwall Police closed the pier at St Mawes and urged people to avoid the area, the council said.
A number of schools across Cornwall were closed as a result of power problems.
Devon County Council staff were working flat out to deal with the aftermath of the storms, having received more than 300 calls overnight.
Exmouth, Sidmouth and Seaton seafronts were closed, and the high tides flooded properties in Exmouth, Lympstone, Starcross and Topsham, the authority said.
There were also warnings of potential problems on minor roads and the possibility of landslips in coastal areas.
Stuart Hughes, the council's cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said: "These are some of the most horrendous conditions I can remember, and the combination of heavy rain and strong winds is causing disruption across the county.
"A number of roads are closed due to fallen trees and power cables and the weather is sure to have a severe impact on our already fragile network.
"People should be prepared for the risk of further disruption throughout today, and motorists are advised to stick to main roads where possible, not to drive through floodwater and not to drive through road closures.
"Our staff are working hard to deal with the damage that has been caused."
An amber warning for wind is in place throughout today and strong westerly winds are forecast to shift the focus to the north coast as the day progresses.
Further downpours are expected overnight on Thursday with the possibility of more storms on Friday evening into Saturday morning.