Flood response in Somerset took 'too long', Labour claims

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The shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, has claimed that the response to severe flooding in Somerset could have been put into action more quickly.

She said it took "far too long" to provide the area with pumps, sandbags and other assistance, and asked the environment secretary, Owen Paterson: "Do you still think that calling for a report within six weeks as you did when you visited Somerset last Sunday is an adequate response?"

She called on him to "admit that you knew a year ago of the specific threat of very serious flooding in the Somerset Levels from the Association of Drainage Authorities".

But the secretary of state, responding to an urgent question from Ms Eagle on 3 February 2014, highlighted a range of measures the government had taken to deal with the flooding.

He told MPs the government is spending an extra £100,000 a week to pump water from flood-affected areas and that a cheaper helpline for flooding victims has been opened for calls from the public.

"I can't think of any activity spending central government money that better delivers than what we are doing on flood spending," he stressed, before inviting Labour to match his funding pledge on flood management.

Conservative MP for North East Somerset Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to take aim at the Environment Agency when he referred to "unelected quangos taking decisions that favour environmentalism".

His party colleague and chair of the Environment Committee, Anne McIntosh, cautioned against using the agency as a "political football".

She said there was a need to "revisit the balance of spending between urban and rural areas", and Mr Paterson agreed: "There is a balance to be struck."

Lib Dem and former Environment Minister David Heath expressed bemusement at the "number of armchair experts from hundreds of miles away" and thanked the environment secretary for listening and responding to local concerns.

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