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Friday, October 2, 1998 Published at 04:23 GMT 05:23 UK


Flood report condemns agency

Central and eastern England were swamped

Five MPs have called for the resignation of the chairman of the Environment Agency after a report criticised the its handling of the Easter floods.

Five people died as 75 millimetres of rain fell in 36 hours on parts of central and eastern England.

Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: "A damning indictment"

The report, commissioned by the agency, says: "Lack of public awareness of the warning systems, inconsistent application across regions, and misunderstandings between the agency and emergency services, resulted in poor overall performance."

Northampton North Labour MP Sally Keeble said all five Northamptonshire MPs were calling for the resignation of the chairman, Lord De Ramsey.

"I do not think that someone who has shown these kind of leadership failures can take the Environment Agency through to implement this kind of complex programme," she said.

It was the "last straw" for the MPs when Lord De Ramsey failed to attend the news conference at which the report was unveiled, she added.

Northampton South MP Tony Clarke said the report contained "major criticisms" of the EA's response to the emergency in Northampton.

"It is quite clear that vast numbers of people were flooded because of the incompetence of the Environment Agency."

[ image: The insurance bill ran into the millions]
The insurance bill ran into the millions
The agency's director of operations, Archie Robertson, said: "We were disappointed that we could not meet our own standards."

The Environment Agency was made responsible for flood defences and warnings in 1996. He said that it had inherited a system in very poor shape.

Mr Robertson promised that all of the report's findings would be urgently reviewed in the next few weeks and said £1m would be taken from other Environment Agency budgets to pay for better flood defence and warning systems.

"Given the scale and suddenness of flooding, we believe we did many things well," he said.

"But faced with such extreme conditions, we acknowledge that our actions did not always meet our own standards or satisfy the public and others.

"In Northampton, in particular, the quality of our response fell short of public expectations."

The report says that in that area flood plain maps, forecasting and recording equipment had been "inadequate."

[ image: Worst floods in living memory]
Worst floods in living memory
The communities of St James and Far Cotton in Northampton were worst affected.

Polluted water swept through 2,500 properties without warning, bringing "acute fear of death by drowning" and "widespread distress".

"The security of homes assembled over many years was shattered in a terrifying hour or two of cold, wet, pitch-blackness," said the report.

Some of the conclusions had already been made public in an interim report issued by the review group.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said "decisive" action had been taken on some of the findings of this report, including rebuilding flood defences.

More than 4,000 homes were damaged in the flooding, which hit towns such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

The insurance bill for the flooding ran into hundreds of millions of pounds.

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