Prime minister defends government handling of crisis on visit to Upton-upon-Severn, one of UK’s most frequently flooded towns.
David Cameron will aim to visit every flood-hit area around the country “to try to learn lessons” after speaking to residents in one of the country’s most flooded towns.
The prime minister defended the government’s handling of the crisis and hit back at criticism that he was visiting places such as Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire, where the army was deployed after the town was cut in two by flood waters, only after the damage had been done.
Earlier, he described the floods as a tragedy while unveiling £10m of support for flood-hit businesses to help them keep trading.
Cameron said it was not fair to suggest the government was on the back foot over its handling of unprecedented national flooding, adding that the Cobra emergency committee had been meeting since water levels started rising before Christmas.
“I don’t really think that’s fair at all,” he said of criticism. “When the bad weather and flooding started before Christmas in Norfolk, we had Cobra – the emergency committee – meet then.
“Then it met again after Christmas to talk about the problems in Kent and Somerset.
“I visited Norfolk and I’ve been up in Blackpool, here now in the West Midlands, and in the West Country.
“I’ll try to get to every part of the country that’s been affected so that we can learn all the lessons.
“But here in Worcestershire we can recognise that the flood investment that went in after 2007 has made a real difference, with hundreds of properties protected.”
He added that government spending on flood defences had been increased to £2.4bn in the current four-year period – a rise of £200m over the previous spending period under the Labour government.
Cameron praised the impact of the defences, including those in Upton, where a £4.5m barrier and road protection scheme built after floods devastated the town in 2007 has successfully protected 64 homes and businesses from being inundated during the recent winter storms.
On Sunday, the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, defended the government’s “proper response” to the storms but he also conceded the military could have been brought in sooner.
He said the Royal Engineers would now be sent in for fast-track inspections of flood defences damaged by the flooding, tidal surges and gales of up to 100mph that have battered the UK and left large areas of the south-west and the Thames valley under water.
Many communities in the worst-hit areas remain on high alert, with rivers and flood plains still swollen with water, and more bad weather is forecast.
Hammond added that about 3,000 troops had been deployed to assist flood-hit communities, with another 5,000 on standby.
Among those soldiers are B company of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, who have been using high-axle troop carriers to run residents in Upton across the river since Saturday morning.
Cameron met members of the unit and praised what the locals affectionately call the “Upton Express”.
Addressing the troops, he said: “I’ve been hearing about your fantastic bus service – it’s very popular, I gather. I’m glad you’re here.”
Upton has the unenviable record of being one of the most flooded towns in England and has been inundated more than half a dozen times in the past 11 years and almost 80 times since 1970.