Monday, 17 February 2014

PM Visits Flood-Hit Areas Ahead Of More Rain

Businesses have told Sky News they fear David Cameron's £10m fund to help them recover from devastating floods will be "too little too late".
The Prime Minister confirmed some of the details of the package aimed at helping flood-hit traders to clean up and stay in business as he met volunteers, residents and troops in the west of England.
Speaking in Worcestershire, he said: "We've announced that we're going to have a grant system of up to £5,000 for businesses that have been flooded so they can help to better protect themselves in future but we also need this £10m fund, which will be distributed to local authorities so they can help businesses that have been directly or indirectly hit by the floods."
But some businesses have raised concerns that the emergency funding will not reach them in time.
David Cameron visits flood-hit areas
David Cameron toured the banks of the Severn with local MP Harriet Baldwin
Boatyard owner Michael Dennett has lost vital equipment including a forklift truck, circular saw and planing machine to flooding after the Thames burst its banks.
Even the electric gates are broken at his business in Chertsey, Surrey, which has been underwater for around a month.
He told Sky's Clare Fallon he was "sceptical" about the Prime Minister's pledge.
He said: "It sounds good but it will be too little, too late by the time the Government decides who qualifies and how much.
"It will be months down the line, which is no good for now. Most of our heavy machinery is out of commission and the place is wrecked - we need immediate help."
In Burrowbridge, Somerset, Gillard Transport say they are losing £2,000-3,000 a week because of diversions their lorries must take to avoid flooding.
David Cameron meets flooded community members
The Prime Minister also met members of flood-hit communities in a pub
The company's manager Roger Hutchings told Sky's Isabel Webster: "We've been in this business 40 years and I don't take much truck on a politician's pledge.
"If he just passes that money over to the local council, we won't see any of it." 
The Prime Minister visited Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire, where the army was deployed after the town was cut in two by floodwaters, and defended the Government's handling of the recent crisis.
He said: "I'll try to get to every part of the country that's been affected so that we can learn all the lessons.
"But here in Worcestershire we can recognise that the flood investment that went in after 2007 has made a real difference, with hundreds of properties protected."
Floodwaters in UK after winter storms
Soldiers wade through flood water on Chertsey Meads
Mr Cameron spoke to members of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment who have been using high-axle troop carriers to run residents in Upton across the river since Saturday morning.
Later, he went to the Queen's Head in Longford, near Gloucester, to meet local residents who have set up a flood warden scheme.
Sky's David Crabtree in Upton-upon-Severn, said Mr Cameron was "well-received" by local people as he toured the swollen banks of the Severn.
"He held a private meeting with members of the community and members of the Environment Agency and 1st Battalion Royal Irish here as well, there's about 100 of them in this region, ready to help out in a supporting role," Crabtree said. 
Under the £10m Business Support Scheme, small and medium sized businesses will be able to access funds to cover clean-up costs in the wake of the winter storms.
Floodwaters in UK after winter storms
Floood water surrounds houses near Walton on Thames
A helpline is also being set up to provide advice, and those who are late filing accounts because of the flooding will not incur penalties.
Mr Cameron also rejected criticism that the Government had been on the back foot over its handling of the flooding crisis, pointing out that the Government's Cobra emergency committee had been meeting since water levels started rising before Christmas.
It came as unions warned the Environment Agency would press ahead with slashing up to 1,700 jobs after the floods had retreated.
The GMB said a meeting had been set for Thursday, where it believed a timetable for future redundancies would be discussed.
A spokesman said: "This is ludicrous. Has the Government learned nothing from the current floods?"
Swathes of the UK remain on high alert as people battle to protect their homes and communities from the floodwaters, which are still expected to rise in places despite a respite from the storms.
Floodwaters in UK after winter storms
Firemen adjust a pump in Staines-upon-Thames
Sporadic rain is expected in the coming days, bringing fears of the possibility of water levels rising once again, but forecasters are predicted a largely drier week ahead.
The Environment Agency (EA) has 16 severe flood warnings in place for the South West and the Thames Valley, with nearly 130 flood warnings and more than 180 flood alerts.
It came as police launched round-the-clock boat patrols to assist residents and prevent crime on the flooded Somerset Levels.
Two inflatable lifeboats will be crewed by the RNLI and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, with two officers from the police's underwater search unit aboard.
And groups of offenders have been helping fill hundreds of sandbags to protect homes in Somerset.
Flood warnings
Sixteen severe flood warnings are in place across the UK
The Probation Service is supervising the work at a council depot in Bridgwater, which is being carried out by offenders on Community Payback schemes.
Police have also warned the public to be on their guard after the recent storms washed up wartime explosives on beaches in Devon, Somerset, and Dorset.
Officers are urging anyone who comes across a "suspicious device" along the coast to call 999 immediately and not to approach it.
Meanwhile, police have been called to a huge sinkhole, which opened up in the garden of a home in Croxley Green, Hertfordshire.
Four homes, a house and three flats, were evacuated in the street after the 20ft deep hole appeared. Structural engineers and the fire service were assessing the situation.
Another large sinkhole, in nearby Hemel Hempstead, opened up last week.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has already admitted the military could have been brought in earlier to help deal with the winter storms that have wracked the country and claimed a number of lives.
He said Royal Engineers were now being tasked to carry out a high-speed assessment of "serious" damage to the UK's flood defence infrastructure, but conceded that in future the Government would involve the military earlier in the process and be more "aggressive" in urging local authorities to use troops.
Damaged rail track at Dawlish
The rail line at Dawlish has suffered more damage and could delay repairs
More than 3,500 troops are currently involved in the flood relief effort, with thousands more on hand if needed.
Among those killed in the recent storms were James Swinstead, 85, an elderly passenger on a cruise ship in the English Channel, and minicab driver Julie Sillitoe, 49, whose car was hit by falling masonry in central London.
There is still widespread disruption to many rail services including CrossCountry, First Great Western (FGW), and South West Trains.
Network Rail has said more damage was done to the coastal railway line at Dawlish over the weekend, which could delay reconstruction of the track.
Insurance companies are to attend a meeting in 10 Downing Street on Tuesday to discuss their response to the flooding crisis with Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and Jo Johnson, head of the Prime Minister's policy unit.

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