Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Wednesday, 13 February 2008

UK 'ill-prepared' against floods

Aerial shot of Tewkesbury under water
Tewkesbury was one of the worst affected areas in last year's floods

The UK's weather forecasting needs to be improved, according to the man leading a government review into last summer's downpours.

Sir Michael Pitt told a meeting of the Local Government Association that preparations and warnings for surface water flooding were not in place.

He called for more resources to prevent a similar disaster from recurring.

Thousands of homes and businesses were affected by the flooding, generating insurance claims of more than 3bn.

We need to have a much clearer understanding over which streets are likely to be flooded
Sir Michael Pitt

Sir Michael said preparations and warnings for surface water flooding were not in place in the same way as for coastal and river flooding.

"We need to invest more in weather forecasting," he said, "so that we can identify not just the county but the town or locality where the flooding is going to take place."

"We need to have a much clearer understanding over which streets are likely to be flooded and therefore what action can be taken," he added.

"It's important to identify and map the hotspots".

People are frightened during a flood - they need to have reassurance
Sir Michael Pitt

In an interim report into the floods last December, Sir Michael said planning for flooding should have the same priority as terrorism or flu prevention.

Last summer's flooding followed several weeks of downpours in spring, among the wettest since records began.

According to the Environment Agency, 55,000 homes and businesses were flooded.

Among the worst affected areas were Yorkshire and Gloucestershire, where 140,000 homes were left without water when treatment works flooded.

The disaster also forced the closure of the M1, M4 and M50 motorways and many railway lines.

Sir Michael said the flooding highlighted how vulnerable some electricity sub-stations and water sources were, and he called for utility companies to become involved in risk planning.

He praised local councils for the part they played in the clean-up operation, although he said "we were incredibly lucky because it could have been a lot worse".

'Greatest natural disaster'

"People are frightened during a flood. They need to have reassurance about what to do."

The meeting also heard from Tewkesbury Borough Council's strategic director, Chris Shaw.

Mr Shaw said that seven months on from the flooding, there are still 437 displaced households, of which 95 families are living in caravans.

"The situation is pretty poor for them," he said.

"The biggest single impact is their health suffering; families living in cramped space and the stress that brings."

John Charlton, from Sheffield City Council, described last summer's floods as "by far and away the greatest natural disaster Sheffield has ever had to deal with".

He put the cost of damage to local infrastructure at 10m and said the clean-up would cost 2m.

The government and insurers met on Tuesday to review the way insurance is offered to those most vulnerable to flooding, following a record number of claims.

Their conclusions are expected in the summer.




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