Paterson issues storm pledge

A little boat about to be swamped as severe gales and heavy seas batter Portstewart
A little boat about to be swamped as severe gales and heavy seas batter Portstewart

Ministers will be working closely with power companies to make sure they are prepared for further storms, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said today.

Mr Paterson said Britain was facing “exceptional” bad weather, with nearly 50 flood warnings across the west and south coasts.

The Environment Agency is set to issue severe flood warnings - the highest category - for coastal areas, as strong winds combine with high tides and large waves from early tomorrow morning.

The Thames Barrier in London has closed today to protect people and property along the river, the agency said.

Bosses of the energy network companies are due to face questions from MPs over the length of time it took to restore power to homes affected by storms over Christmas. More than 150,000 homes were cut off after strong winds, torrential rain and flooding caused damage to power networks.

Speaking after a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee in London, Mr Paterson said ministers were now working with power companies, as well as councils, to ensure they were prepared for the storms.

Mr Paterson told Sky News: I have just chaired a further Cobra meeting as we have further bad weather coming in. We are looking to have a combination of exceptional rain, wind and a surge in sea and high tides and so there are nearly 50 warnings put out around the whole of the west coast and south coast.

“We had a range of ministers from right across Government attending the meeting, who will be working very closely with local councils, power companies, utility and transport companies, making sure that all of those organisations are absolutely prepared for the bad weather that is coming.”

Severe flood warnings are issued when there is a danger to life and property. Areas particularly at risk include the Isles of Scilly, the north and south coasts of Devon and Cornwall, Dorset and the coastline of Wales, the Environment Agency said.

It said recent heavy rain, saturated ground and high river levels meant there was also an increased risk of rivers flooding.

Pete Fox, head of strategy at the agency, said: “We are expecting flooding along the west and south coasts of England and Wales, due to a combination of strong winds, large waves and high tides, from the early hours of Friday and into the weekend.

“Coastal paths and promenades could be highly dangerous as there is an increased risk of being swept out to sea. People are warned to stay away from the shoreline.

“The Environment Agency is monitoring the situation closely, working alongside partners including the Met Office and local authorities. Environment Agency teams are out on the ground making sure that flood defences are in good working order, monitoring sea levels and preparing to issue flood alerts and warnings.”

There should be a brief respite today, but heavy rain is expected in western areas of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland tomorrow as a low pressure system moves in from the Atlantic.

Winds will gust to 50-60mph, the Met Office said, and a combination of lowering pressure and high tides, together with already high levels of ground saturation, bring the risk of flooding.

Flooding affected a number of train services this morning.

South West Trains said flooding meant no services were running between Teddington in Richmond, south-west London, and Shepperton in Surrey.

Replacement buses are being brought in and are accepting rail tickets.

There is also a reduced service between Redbridge in east London and Romsey in Hampshire, and disruption between Fareham and Southampton Central/Easleigh in Hampshire, because of flooding at Hedge End and Botley, Southern said.

There are delays between Gloucester and Swindon and between Taunton in Somerset and Westbury in Wiltshire.

South West Trains said there were no services between Portsmouth and Fareham in Hampshire because of electrical supply problems.