Highlights from a contribution made by David Cameron to a debate in Westminster Hall on flooding in West Oxfordshire.
The need for early warning systems: "Clearly, there is a need for better early-warning systems. The Minister should know that such systems really matter on the small rivers as well as the big rivers. Telemetry systems are needed. Both the Windrush and Evenlode rivers flooded progressively, going all the way down the river. There was no early-warning or telemetry system, and they could have made a difference. For example, people in Ascott-under-Wychwood were flooded to a depth of almost 5 ft, yet they had no warning from the Environment Agency or Met Office. Again, those people are not naïve: they know that that level of rainfall will cause a flood. However, as the district council concluded in its very good report on the floods, “half an hour can make a significant difference to saving property and safeguarding homes and lives”. That is why those early-warning systems on small rivers are needed."
Environment Agency weaknesses: "On the Environment Agency, when one talks to people who have been flooded, one question keeps coming up again and again: why has so little has been done to clear out the ditches, dykes and culverts, and why is there so little dredging of rivers and streams compared with the past? I am not a scientist and I am happy to listen to the arguments, but I am not convinced that they are all old wives’ tales. There is truth in them, and such activities can make a difference."
Who should coordinate flood prevention?: "There is a case for looking again, as I know the Government are, at how we co-ordinate responsibility for flood prevention. Although the Environment Agency does that at national level, it is less able to do so at local level. It might be more appropriate for district councils to co-ordinate, as they have the knowledge, the ability and the passion about their local areas to sort it out. I do not want to be unfair to the Environment Agency—it has been very helpful locally with meetings, it has worked closely with some of the groups set up and it has real expertise—but as we read in today’s report by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there is a critical shortage of field engineers that must be put right."