Feb 11 2014
David Cameron has vowed that "money is no object" in the relief effort help flooded communities to recover from the devastation of recent weeks.
The Prime Minister announced that he was cancelling a planned trip next week to the Middle East in order to take personal charge of the ongoing relief operation.
With 16 severe flood warnings, 133 flood warnings and 225 flood alerts still in force, he told a Downing Street news conference that the situation could deteriorate further.
"There is absolutely no sign of this threat abating, and with further rain and strong winds forecast throughout the week, things may get worse before they get better," he said.
His warning came as the Environment Agency (EA) said rises in the level of the River Thames were set to cause more disruption for flood-hit areas.
Around 1,000 properties have been reported as flooded in the past week, including 800 along the Thames.
EA senior flood adviser Kate Marks warned it was "increasingly likely" that there would also be problems along the River Severn and River Wye.
Mr Cameron said every effort would be made to help those affected to get back on their feet.
"Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent," he said.
Mr Cameron said: "It is clear that the military can play a further role.
"By the end of the day we will have deployed 1,600 servicemen and women and there are thousands more now available.
"I have asked Major General Patrick Sanders to co-ordinate the military effort.
"They will be working with our gold and silver commanders to provide assistance and assurance to members of the public including by reinforcing sandbags and flood defences, getting medical assistance to the sick and inform and checking on a helping any other vulnerable people.
"I urge everyone in those affected areas to keep listening to the warnings and to work with the emergency services, the military and who is working to keep people safe."
The Prime Minister is setting up a new Cabinet committee to oversee the recovery, which he will chair on Thursday.
He said a tax deferral scheme would help businesses hit by flooding while up to £10 million in new funding is being found to support farmers. Grants for homeowners and businesses will be available to improve flood defences.
Mr Cameron said: "I'm setting up a new Cabinet committee to oversee the recovery and I'll be chairing the first meeting on Thursday.
"We'll be focusing on getting the insurance companies out there so people can make their claims quickly and the Association of British Insurers, together with the CBI and other business organisations, are meeting here in Downing Street as I speak to help us develop further measures to help businesses in affected areas.
"In the days ahead as homeowners, businesses, farmers think about how to piece their lives back together again we'll be announcing a number of new schemes to help.
"For homeowners support in the form of grants to build in better flood protection as they repair their properties.
"For businesses, a tax deferral scheme for businesses affected by the floods to give them longer to pay their taxes and again grants to help them improve flood defences.
"And for farmers, we'll be establishing new funding that will release up to £10 milliion to help them recover from the devastation to their livelihoods."
Mr Cameron said the "most serious developing" situation was in the Thames Valley and further action would be discussed at a Cobra meeting tonight.
Mr Cameron said the experience of being flooded was "ghastly".
"I've seen it in my constituency, I've seen it over the last couple of days," he said. "It's ghastly when your house is flooded with water, you've got to take all the plaster out, the furniture is wrecked, it takes a long time to recover, It is a really painful and depressing process.
"What we need in place is a full system. We need to make sure the insurance loss adjusters get into those houses quickly, carry out the assessment, and pay up the money fast.
"In most cases that is happening. If it isn't happening I want local MPs to be told about it, they can tell me about it and we can go after those insurance companies and make sure they pay up."
The premier said houses that were not insured could access "hardship funds".
He said: "That is where every local authority affected needs to have a hardship fund, and if there is a need to top up those hardship funds then they can come to us and we can have a look at that.
"Generally speaking, hardship funds have worked well for uninsured houses."
Mr Cameron said there would be a "bespoke grant system" of several thousand pounds per household in affected areas, so they could improve flood defences for the future as they rebuild.
Asked if there needed to be a rethink over building on flood plains, Mr Cameron insisted official advice from the EA and others was followed in 99% of cases.
Mr Cameron said his views on a link with climate change were the same as when he answered questions in the Commons, and said he "suspected" a connection.
"I think the point I would make is whatever your view about this issue, clearly we have had and are having some pretty extreme weather," he said.
"So whatever your view about climate change, it makes sense to mitigate it and act to deal with that weather. That is the view of the whole government."
Setting out the scale of the task of recovering from the floods, the Prime Minister warned: "It will be a long haul and it will require a stepped up national effort with the whole country pulling together.
"One of the most inspiring things I have seen over the past two days has been the incredible spirit of volunteers in our communities," he added.
"Amidst all of this as is so often the case, in the toughest of times we are seeing the best of Britain.
"It will take time but together we will deal with these floods, we will get our country back on its feet and we will build a more resilient country for the future."
He praised the work of the Environment Agency's staff in flooded or threatened areas but again offered only limited support for its under-fire chairman Lord Smith.
"Everyone needs to focus on the jobs that they do and the job in hand. We have to bring the whole of the Government and all of its resources together to help flooded communities.
"Of course there will be a time to discuss how the pendulum against dredging swung too far in the past and how we put that right in the future.
"But right now everybody needs every minister, every head of an agency, everyone involved, to work together to deliver the best possible response we can to these floods and that is exactly what is happening."
He added that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who apologised for following the EA's advice, was "right in saying what he said about being so sorry about what had happened".
"In terms of the Environment Agency I have said the staff of the Environment Agency, the people out there on the ground are doing a brilliant job, I have seen them hard at work they are getting huge amounts of praise from their communities and Eric rightly praised them in the House yesterday.
"I think that's what we need to focus on: focus on the future, getting these things fixed, everyone working together. Now is not the time for resignations and all the rest of it, now is the time for people to knuckle down, get on with the job."
The Prime Minister defended the money available for flood defences: "We have increased the money that's going in to flood defences. If you take the four year period 2010 to 2014 we will be spending £2.4 billion on flood defences, that's an increase on the previous four year period."
There was an extra £130 million announced last week, he added, but "the truth is that when you have these extraordinary weather events, the wettest winter for 250 years, it is very difficult to have all the protections in place that you need".
Mr Cameron denied his views on climate change had weakened and insisted the Government had a "very strong and clear green record".
He said: "My view has not changed. I think climate change is a serious threat and I'm proud to lead a government that is addressing it."
He added: "Whatever you think about this issue, there are different views in the country about this issue, whatever your view, it is quite clear that we are experiencing and have experienced over recent years some very tough weather challenges.
"I'll never forget the impact of the 2007 floods on my own constituency."
Mr Cameron said the country faces "challenges of extreme weather" and must find ways of making the country more "resilient".
"Whether you think this is linked to climate change or whether you don't think it's linked to climate change, we should all unite in a great national effort to deal with these problems and to address them head on and make our country more resilient because, whatever our views, it's clearly in the interests of everyone in our country."
Mr Cameron acknowledged that it would take a "depressingly long period of time" for the country to get back to normal.
Repairs to the West Country rail link at Dawlish were expected to take six weeks, while pumping the water from the Somerset levels would take "a lot of time" even if there was no more rain.
"The saturation of the ground, particularly across the south of the country, is so great that any additional rainfall can cause groundwater flooding," he said.
While he said that the military were always available to help in civil emergencies, he wanted to make it easier for local authorities to summon the armed forces for help.
"My message to them is if you need help, don't think twice, the military are there to help," he said.
The Prime Minister rejected calls to divert funds from the overseas aid budget to the flood relief effort.
"We don't have to make a choice about raiding the aid budget or spending the correct money here at home," he said.
"We will spend the correct money here at home, be in no doubt about it, and we will do that without interfering with our aid budget."
The driver of a van had to be rescued by firefighters after it became stuck in a flooded ford.
The man attempted to drive his vehicle across the ford at Plaitford, near Romsey, Hampshire, when it got trapped in 2ft of fast-flowing water.
A Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "Crews from Romsey and Lyndhurst were immediately dispatched to the scene.
"The man became trapped after entering around two feet of fast moving flood water.
"He was rescued by crews using water rescue equipment.
"Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service is reminding drivers not to drive into flood water. If you are unsure of the depth, do not attempt to drive through it and find an alternative route."