Heavy rain threatens more floods

Hampshire Chronicle: People watch and photograph enormous waves as they break on Porthcawl harbour, South Wales. People watch and photograph enormous waves as they break on Porthcawl harbour, South Wales.

The Government has insisted tackling flooding is a "real priority" as communities around the country struggled with yet more bad weather.

Roads were closed and train services cancelled or delayed in some areas in the face of the latest storms, causing disruption for many people returning to work after the Christmas holidays.

Forecasters are warning that coastal areas could see more flooding as the heavy rain and gusts of wind continue to batter Britain.

Three severe flood warnings - the highest level of warning indicating danger to life and property - have been issued by the Environment Agency in England, for Preston Beach, Chiswell and the Lower Stour in Dorset.

More than 100 flood warnings are also in place across the country, and communities in Dorset, Oxfordshire, south Wiltshire, Hampshire and along the river Thames are being urged to remain prepared for more flooding tomorrow and the rest of the week.

Unsettled weather over the next few days will see rain falling on already saturated ground, increasing the chance of flooding, the Environment Agency said. The Met Office has issued warnings of heavy rain for some parts of the country.

Seven people have died and more than 1,700 homes and businesses have been flooded in England since the beginning of the Christmas period, with 300 properties flooded since the New Year. Some 140 properties have been flooded in Wales.

High winds over Christmas also left 250,000 homes without power, with some families waiting days for the electricity to be restored.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the Government was working closely with local councils, the insurance industry and others, to ensure that people could quickly get the help they need.

Some areas of the country were now focused on recovery after storms and flooding over the Christmas and New Year period, while others remained at significant risk of floods, he told the Commons.

Mr Paterson admitted that a few energy network companies could have been quicker at restoring power to thousands of homes affected by the storms and floods over Christmas.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey would be meeting with regulator Ofgem and the Distribution Network Operators to see how improvements could be made in the future, Mr Paterson said.

He also said the response from some agencies in helping people whose homes had been affected by the severe weather had been "patchy" and was "well worth investigating", though he praised the response of most of those involved in dealing with the storms.

He told MPs: "Flood management is a real priority for this Government. It has a vital role to play in protecting people and property from the damage caused by flooding and in delivering economic growth."

But environmentalists challenged the Government's claim that it was spending more than ever on flood defences.

Friends of the Earth said analysis of Defra figures showed that some £2.32 billion was being spent over the current spending review period, slightly lower than the £2.36 billion spent in the period 2007-2011.

And with the cost of inflation, the figure was a drop in real terms, the environmental group claimed.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "Worse still, the coalition's chronic under-investment in flood defences is completely failing to keep pace with climate change, which is increasing flood risk - as the Government's climate envoy Sir David King recently pointed out.

"Protecting British households from the destructive impacts of climate change is essential - the Prime Minister must intervene to ensure flood defence spending rises to meet the challenge."

Mr Paterson's statement on the floods over the holiday period came as the misery continued for some communities.

Flooding in the Somerset Levels has left villages cut off, roads and buildings have been damaged, and waves of up to 27ft have been recorded at Land's End, the most southern tip of the UK.

In Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, seafront properties along the promenade were again evacuated to a rest centre at a local school.

Meanwhile, searches are continuing in south Devon for missing 18-year-old university student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather - with more than 100 people volunteering to look for him.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a 20-mile stretch of coastline - 10 miles either side of the 18-year-old's home at Newton Ferrers - has been extensively searched as well as inland areas with the help of a range of groups and emergency services.

Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away as dozens put their lives at risk by going to coastal areas to watch as the storm brought waves of up to 40ft high crashing on to land.

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