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Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw highlights flood defence urgency

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

By Anne Byrne

  • Ben Bradshaw

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EXETER MP Ben Bradshaw said the city escaped "by a whisker" being seriously flooded as torrential rain brought chaos to the region.

And the Environment Agency has revealed improving the city's flood defences is now one of its top priorities across the country.

Although the heavy rain which caused chaos across the county has now stopped, forecasters are predicting a new problem – a big freeze.

Temperatures are set to dip below zero overnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, making many roads treacherous for drivers.

Gritters are being deployed across the region. Devon's cabinet member for Highways and Transportation Stuart Hughes said: "Obviously, with all the recent flooding, and so much water running off from the surrounding land, freezing temperatures could bring extremely icy conditions."

Train travel also continues to be disrupted, with major delays to services in and out of Exeter St David's.

The floods brought fresh calls for money to be made available to improve Exeter's flood defences as a matter of urgency.

George Arnison, the Environment Agency's team leader for flood risk management, said: "It was a serious event last weekend and the flood defences we have got did what they were designed to do – but you could still see the state of chaos transport and some low-lying areas were in.

"You can imagine what it would be like if there had been a much more serious event.

"Everything is saturated and it doesn't take an awful lot of rain then to cause flooding.

"If you look back at the 1960 floods in Exeter, there were two or three floods then and they were also after a really wet summer. Exeter's flood defence scheme performed well – but the agency does believe we need to improve the scheme if it is to cope with more serious events, and that is something we are actively pursuing."

Mr Arnison: "We have taken a really big step forward from the last time the Echo looked at this, with the city and county councils each putting in £3m to the project.

"There is still a big gap to fill so far as funding is concerned, but it gives us sufficient confidence in that we can progress the scheme while looking for further funding.

"Improving Exeter's flood defences is still one of our top priorities in the country and we are progressing this with a heightened sense of urgency."

Mr Bradshaw said: "Exeter escaped by a whisker. We might not be so lucky next time.

"The Environment Agency says our 1960s flood defences are no longer adequate for the more frequent and serious flooding caused by climate change. Upgrading Exeter's defences is the agency's top priority for the South West, but is being held up by the failure of Government to help fund the scheme.

"Cuts of 30 per cent in flood defence investment mean schemes like Exeter's which used to be paid for nationally now require partial local funding. Both Exeter City and Devon County Councils have agreed to contribute, now the Government must step up to plate."

Mr Bradshaw added: "Cutting flood defences is a classic false economy.

"The Government must also deliver the deal it promised in July to renew Labour's agreement with the insurance industry to guarantee affordable flooding cover for households and businesses."

In response, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson who visited Exeter on Monday, said: "I pay tribute to his constituents, who have rallied round magnificently in very difficult circumstances, particularly all those in the services whom I met. I met his council leaders and stood on the bridge looking at the scheme, which has protected 6,000 properties in the heart of Exeter. We should pay tribute to that scheme, which is most effective.

"I was interested to learn councils are thinking of taking up our offer of a partnership and are working with the Environment Agency, topping it up and making a scheme that is targeted at the local requirements.

"Such schemes will be decided on in the coming months."

City council leader Pete Edwards claimed Exeter had a lucky escape during the weekend deluge.

"I think this was a warning shot across our bows, that we have to do something," he said.

"Surely it would be far better to spend a relatively small amount now on improving the flood defences than do nothing.

"The costs after a flooding would be far greater. If the defences don't hold it would have a devastating short term impact on the economy of Exeter.

"We were very, very lucky last weekend that the Exe did not completely go, but what would have happened if the rain had persisted?"

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