Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 18:30 UK

Flooding 'action plan' promised

Flooded street in Catcliffe, South Yorkshire
Flooding left much of England under water during summer 2007

An action plan to combat the "ever-increasing threat" of flooding will be published in the autumn, the environment secretary has said.

Hilary Benn was responding to Sir Michael Pitt's review into the 2007 summer floods, which called for tighter building rules in flood-prone areas.

Mr Benn said the England-wide plan would see 5m spent on surface water management and 1m on new reservoirs.

The 2007 deluge left 13 dead and 44,600 homes flooded.

Yorkshire and the Midlands were among the worst-hit last year, and the Humber and south-west England were also severely affected.

Nearly 5,000 people have still not returned to their homes, which Sir Michael said was partly due to building standards.

He said the materials and techniques used to build them were inappropriate for a flood-risk area and so they had taken a long time to dry out.

Climate change

In his response to the official review, Mr Benn also said that 250,000 would be spent on a flood response exercise and an "opt-out" telephone flood warning system would also be set up .

Anyone living in a flood-prone area, apart from those who are ex-directory, will automatically be signed up for notification by the Environment Agency.

Mr Benn said: "We can never eliminate the risk of flooding, particularly as climate change takes hold, but all of us - government, water and electricity providers, local councils and individuals - must take flood risk seriously and be as prepared as we can be deal to with it."

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Sir Michael said "urgent and fundamental changes" were needed to improve flood defences, along with a longer-term, 25-year plan to tackle the issue.

He said it was "unacceptable" that so many homes lost power and water last year and utility companies must do more to safeguard supplies.

Mr Benn told the Commons the electricity industry had identified just over 1,000 grid and primary sites which were in flood zones, and was now working with the Environment Agency to see which might need additional protection.

Overall, the government has allocated 34.5m to implement the recommendations of the Pitt Review.

The secretary of state said he would produce an outline for the "national flood emergency framework" by the end of next month and a draft Floods and Water Bill would be brought forward in the next parliamentary session

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But shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth complained that previous warnings had been "largely ignored" by ministers and "more dithering" would simply not do.

"Sir Michael's interim report said that the floods were a wake-up call, but having made a bit of progress on some of the recommendations, somebody seems to have hit the snooze button," Mr Ainsworth said.

"Is it not the case that vital infrastructure is as vulnerable today as it was a year ago?"

Mr Benn's action plan applies specifically to England, although Sir Michael stressed the need for UK-wide preparedness in his report.

Floods Bill

The Environment Agency's chief executive Paul Leinster welcomed Sir Michael's recommendation - and Mr Benn's vow - to give it overall strategic control of flood planning.

But he said: "We now need the Floods Bill to give us the proper tools and legislation to finish the job."

Sir Michael also recommended that each local authority be explicitly given control of flood management in their area.

Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council, said he would welcome that opportunity.

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"What we saw last summer were the unintended consequences of water privatisation almost 20 years ago, with different agencies responsible for different areas of surface drainage," he said.

"No-one was legally responsible for holding that together."

Mr Minns said a targeted study should be carried out by each authority because "every area flooded for very different reasons".

Sir Michael said the Environment Agency should work more closely with the Met Office to produce more accurate flood forecasts.

John Harmer, from the Met Office, said it was introducing "a new package of science" which would better predict where the heaviest bursts of rain would fall.



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