Prime Minister in pledge over severe flooding

Preparations at the Docks area of Belfast after  Police  issued a warning of flooding in parts of Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland on Friday
Preparations at the Docks area of Belfast after Police issued a warning of flooding in parts of Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland on Friday

David Cameron has pledged that lessons will be learned after flooding hit parts of the UK.

The Prime Minister also insisted that the Environment Agency has been given the funding to protect frontline services.

The UK is enduring the worst series of winter storms in more than 20 years, weather experts have said, as the country prepares for even more flooding.

The Environment Agency has issued 73 flood warnings throughout England and Wales urging people to take immediate action, while a further 218 areas are on flood alert.

Coastal areas - particularly in southern England - are most at risk as they cope with a combination of unusually high tides and another Atlantic storm today.

When questioned about the Environment Agency’s ability to fund flood defences on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Cameron replied: “We’re spending £2.3 billion in this four-year period on flood defences which is more than the previous four-year period.

“We have also enabled them to access other sources of money - partnership funding - so I think we’re going to see record levels of spending on flood defences and we have guaranteed that right out into 2020 so they can really plan for the future.

“Local authorities have had to make difficult decisions. The Environment Agency does have to make sure it controls its budgets carefully but we are making sure they invest in the frontline.”

Mr Cameron went on: “Huge sympathy to anyone who has had their house flooded. Anyone who has had a house or an office flooded knows it is absolutely dreadful.

“I think the community response has been incredible. I saw for myself how people come together and help and the emergency services have done an absolutely great job.

“There are always lessons to learn. I think we’re doing a lot more things better.

“I think flood warnings are better, I think the flood defences have protected tens of thousands of homes but there will always be lessons to learn and I’ll make sure they are learned.”

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he will be chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee this afternoon “to ensure everything is being done on the ground to prepare for bad weather ahead”.

Forecaster Matt Dobson for MeteoGroup said the rain “simply has nowhere to go” after weeks of severe weather has saturated the ground and swelled rivers.

He added: “It’s very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time - we haven’t seen anything like this since about 1991.

“The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk.

“Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves. The water simply has nowhere to go.

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption mainly in south Wales and the south west and south east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall in higher ground.

Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, endangering nearby communities including those along the River Medway in Kent, the River Thames in Oxford and Osney and the River Severn Estuary in Gloucestershire.

The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river.

The strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted to the batter the UK for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather.

More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline battered and roads and fields across the country left under water.

Meanwhile, searches resumed 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.

Two people have already died in the storms. A 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year’s Eve night, and a woman died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.

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 onto land.

A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.

Police pulled a man from the sea who had been drinking at Towan Beach, Newquay, after he had ignored warnings about the fierce storms.

In Aberystwyth, Dyfed, a man was rescued by lifeboat after he became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty.

Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north west Wales, the River Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire for the second day running and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales.

Part of the sea wall behind the Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe collapsed because of the storms.

The coastal surge in recent days has tested over 3,000km (1,864 miles) of flood defences in England and over 205,000 properties have been protected.