Army put on stand-by for winter floods

British soldiers getting briefed in Carlisle street Image copyright MOD
Image caption British soldiers helped evacuate flooded residents in Carlisle during Storm Desmond in December 2015

More than 1,000 UK troops have been put on 24-hour stand-by to help in the event of flooding this winter.

The government is also investing £12.5m in new temporary flood defences for its "most comprehensive winter plan yet".

This follows a review of the handling of the problems caused by Storm Desmond in parts of the UK late last year.

The Met Office issued a warning of icy conditions, as snowfall in parts of northern England and Scotland caused travel problems and school closures.

Leeds Bradford Airport was forced to close its runway as snow was cleared, causing flight delays and cancellations. But the deepest snow level was 13cm (5in) in Barnard Castle, County Durham.

Highways England issued a severe weather alert, urging motorists in the North of England and the Midlands to check conditions before setting out and to ensure they had a winter kit in their vehicles.

A taxi driver escaped with minor injuries when his vehicle overturned in Huddersfield, while an elderly man was rescued near Sheffield on Tuesday after he got lost in worsening weather.

South Yorkshire Police said bad weather conditions on Tuesday evening had meant helicopters could not be used and mountain rescue teams were called in to find the 77-year-old in the area of Langsett Reservoir, to the north of the city .

'Keep safe'

The winter preparations follow a Ministry of Defence review of the handling of floods which caused blackouts and forced people from their homes across the North of England and Scotland in late 2015.

Storm Desmond wreaked havoc across Northern Ireland, north Wales and southern Scotland, but especially in north-west England, where record-breaking amounts of rain fell in Cumbria, prompting the county to declare a major incident.

The battalions - totalling 1,200 troops - will be on stand-by throughout the winter months and ready to be deployed across the country.

Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer said: "We want to make sure that people across the United Kingdom keep safe, warm and healthy this winter.

"That is why we are working together to prepare for all that winter may bring, from providing flu vaccinations to specialist equipment and resources to deal with winter flooding.

"With the Army standing by, we have the most comprehensive winter plan yet to keep people safe and the country moving."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Storm Desmond caused severe flooding across the north-west England in December 2015

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced £12.5m for new temporary flood defences, including mobile barriers and high-volume pumps, to be deployed at strategic locations around the country.

But environmental campaigners said the government should be tackling climate change and investing in flood defences.

Guy Shrubsole, from Friends of the Earth, said: "Crisis management isn't a substitute for tackling the root causes of worsening floods: dealing with climate change, investing properly in flood defences and working with nature to slow the flow of water.

"And by failing to do our fair share to cut our emissions, the UK government is helping to drive floods and extreme weather around the globe - affecting millions of people who lack the resources to prepare for the climate crisis."

Last week the government faced criticism from a committee of MPs who called for major reform of the system for managing flood risk, including stripping the Environment Agency of its powers.

Image copyright PA
Image caption A woman walks her dog in County Durham after a cold snap hit parts of the UK overnight on Tuesday

Other winter preparations from the government include working with energy companies to manage demand and rolling out NHS England's flu vaccination earlier to at-risk groups.

On the roads, local authorities and Highways England have stockpiled 1.7 million tonnes of salt - 500,000 tonnes more than in the severe winter of 2010/11.

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