Anger at environment chief in flood-hit Somerset

Media caption,
Somerset farmer Julian Green told Lord Smith he should resign his post

Residents of the flood-hit Somerset Levels have accused Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith of "letting everyone down", as he visited the area.

Lord Smith said he had "no intention" of resigning in the face of criticism for not doing more to help but resident Jim Winkworth said he was "bloody mad" not to get an apology from the peer.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who also visited the area, promised: "Everything that can be done will be done."

It comes amid more UK weather warnings.

The prime minister travelled to the Somerset Levels and admitted there were "lessons to learn" from the situation.

Media caption,
David Cameron: "There are lessons to learn... but right now the priority is that everyone in Somerset who needs help is getting help"

Mr Cameron, who met farmers and walked through flood water in Wellington boots, said: "One of the big ones is that the pause in dredging that took place from the late 1990s, that was wrong, and we need to get dredging again."

He pledged help to those affected by floods, saying: "Clearly, people have faced a very tough time and continue to face a tough time, and that's why we have to do everything we can to help."

He added: "Everything that can be done will be done and I will make sure that happens."

The Met Office has severe weather warnings in place for rain and wind in southern England and Wales, with further rain warnings issued for the Midlands, east of England and Northern Ireland.

The Environment Agency has two severe flood warnings - meaning "danger to life" - in the Somerset Levels, at Salt Moor and North Moor including Moorland, and at A361 East Lyng to Burrowbridge.

There are also more than 180 flood warnings across England and Wales, and about 300 flood alerts.

In other developments:

  • There has been flooding in other areas of the country, including parts of Essex, Kent, Oxford, Surrey, London and south Buckinghamshire and in Guernsey.
  • Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has chaired a meeting of the government's emergency committee, Cobra, and vowed to make an an estimated £15m available to meet the immediate costs associated with protecting lives and properties
  • Fire crews rescued 37 secondary school pupils after their bus got stuck in flood water near Faringdon, Oxfordshire
  • About 40 Royal Marines from 40 Commando, based in Taunton, were sent to the Somerset Levels to provide help sandbagging and moving householders' property to higher levels; meanwhile soldiers have helped put out sandbags in Saffron Walden in Essex
  • Police arrested three alleged fuel thieves on the Somerset Levels
  • The small Kent village of Bridge is under water for a second time in a week. Flood water was pumped out at the weekend but a torrential downpour on Thursday night and the bursting of a riverbank means groundwater levels are rising. Some properties have spring water coming through floorboards, others have sewage seeping in
  • Network Rail has announced plans to improve the "resilience" of coastal rail lines in Wales due to "extreme weather and changing climate"
  • Railway engineers working on section of railway track damaged by storms at Dawlish in Devon will continue with attempts to protect the track from the next bout of bad weather
  • Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has called on train companies to lower fares to help people affected by the floods
  • Drivers had to be rescued by the emergency services and the Army in Suffolk after several cars became stranded in flood water following heavy rain overnight
  • In Somerset, train lines have been blocked by flooding at Bridgwater, and at Fordgate with no Bristol-Exeter services now running
Image source, Oxfordshire County Council
Image caption,
A school bus was stuck in flood waters in Oxfordshire
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A property completely surrounded by flood water in the Somerset village of Moorland
Image source, MOD
Image caption,
Marines have helped the emergency services deal with flooding in Moorland
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Royal Marines from 40 Commando lay sandbag water defences in the village of Moorland.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Farmer Hayley Matthew reacts as she leaves her property in the village of Moorland
Image source, Elaine Bryant
Image caption,
There was flooding in other parts of the country, including Woolmer Green in Hertfordshire
Image source, SWNS
Image caption,
The damaged section of track in Dawlish, Devon, which was wrecked by crashing waves, has now been cut away

Making his first visit to the Somerset Levels since floods hit, Lord Smith said he had "no intention of resigning because I'm very proud of the work the Environment Agency and its staff have been doing right round the country in the face of the most extreme weather".

He said the residents he met had "made very clear" to him the distress they had experienced and difficulties they had faced - and how Somerset could be better protected in the future.

His visit came as about 80 homes in the village of Moorland in Somerset were evacuated.

The local water level rose by about one metre overnight, breaching temporary flood defences in the early hours.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said a "handful" of other residents had chosen to stay, amid the latest bout of flooding in an area which has effectively been cut off for a number of weeks.

Lord Smith added that £10m of extra government funding allocated to Somerset would enable the Environment Agency (EA) to dredge 8km (4.9 miles) of the rivers Tone and Parrett.

Following his visit, Lord Smith said: "On the Somerset Levels I met with people who had experienced terrible weeks of flooding and was able to express my sincere sympathies.

"Flooding has a dreadful impact on people's lives and my heart goes out to them. I have talked with residents about the future of the Somerset levels and how we can work together with partners to deal with the flooding."

But farmer Julian Green confronted Lord Smith during his visit and claimed he should resign, telling him: "We've had this for too long now. We've had this for five weeks."

And speaking to reporters after meeting Lord Smith, Mr Winkworth said: "He is letting himself down, he is letting his organisation down and he is letting us down.

"He hasn't come down here to apologise, which is what he should be here for."

Media caption,
The BBC weather's Helen Willetts has the forecast

Mr Winkworth said Lord Smith told him the reason the area was not dredged, as was promised a year ago, was because the £400,000 set aside was not enough and they were waiting for other agencies to contribute.

"So my question was 'why didn't they use the £400,000 to make a start?' He said it wouldn't work and there was no point starting a job and not finishing it."

Ahead of Lord Smith's visit, Conservative Mr Liddell-Grainger, who represents Bridgwater and West Somerset, said: "I will tell him what I bloody well think of him - he should go, he should walk."

Police said it was uncertain how long people who were evacuated would be out of their homes.

Plans are being put in place to decide which homes need to be evacuated in nearby Fordgate.

BBC weather forecaster Jake Cope said rain and gusty winds were moving across south-west England throughout Friday evening.

On Saturday rain will be more widespread with 10-20mm falling in many regions. It Scotland it will fall as snow over high ground, he added.

"Winds will pick up more strength with gusts of 70mph over exposed coasts in the South West and South Wales," said Mr Cope. "Speeds could reach 80mph in isolated spots."

The Met Office said it was the wettest combined December and January for more than 100 years. Rain fell on 23 out of 31 days in January across the UK.

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