A Cabinet minister admitted there was “no blank cheque” for flood repairs, triggering claims from Ed Miliband that Government policy was in confusion.
Flooding fears spread into the capital today as rains from inland swelled London’s rivers just as 60mph winds were heading for London on a “wild Wednesday” of storms across Britain.
The Met Office today issued a red weather warning – the most severe level of threat – for “exceptionally strong winds” of up to 100mph in western parts of Wales and some north-western parts of England this evening.
One London borough declared a “critical situation” as it began pumping thousands of litres of flood water into makeshift reservoirs to protect hundreds of homes.
The “gold command” at Croydon, which includes the emergency services and Environment Agency chiefs, requisitioned a church car park and school playing field to use as temporary “overflow ponds” to reduce the risk to 400 homes and businesses in Kenley and Purley.
The 16 severe flood warnings along the River Thames are shown in this Environment agency graphic
Council leader Mike Fisher said: “We are in a critical situation and this means having to make extremely difficult but necessary decisions. If we don’t act now hundreds of homes in the area could be flooded and we are trying to stop that from happening.”
Firefighters have been in the area since Thursday evening to pump 5,000 litres of water a minute from the River Bourne away from stricken waterworks in Kenley. It supplies water to 47,000 homes and desperate efforts are being made to prevent it being contaminated.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey emailed constituents in Kingston-upon-Thames warning of the risk of homes flooding, and asking them to keep a watch for vulnerable people becoming victims.
London Fire Brigade issued a warning that people wading through floodwater by the Thames were risking their lives. “It’s vital that you stay well away from flood water outside as there can be hidden dangers under the water,” said Assistant Commissioner Steve Hamm.
A Nasa satellite image shows three storms approaching the UK ( Atlas Photo Archive/NASA)
“Water often looks harmless but it’s impossible to see how powerful the current is until it’s too late.”Higher tides are due later this week, which means Central London yet again relying on the 30-year-old Thames Barrier to prevent catastrophe.
Winds were forecast to gust at over 60mph in central London today – and over 100mph on the Welsh coast, in some of the worst storms of the winter.
Meanwhile, a political storm erupted over comments made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, which Labour said contradicted the Prime Minister’s commitment to give maximum help victims of the weather.
Last night, in a rare press conference at No 10, Mr Cameron said: “Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it will be spent.”
Floods in Runnymede on Thames today Picture: Jeremy Selwyn
But Mr McLoughlin stressed that pledge applied to relief work “at the moment” and was not an open ended commitment for spending on repairs and prevention.
“I don’t think it’s a blank cheque,” he said on ITV Daybreak. “I think what the Prime Minister was making very clear is that we’re going to use every resource of the Government and that actually money is not the issue at the moment while we’re in this relief job in the first instance to those communities that are affected.
“Then we’ve got to do the repairs of the structures and the railway infrastructure that’s been damaged. And then the other long-term issues that will need some careful consideration.”
He twice declined to say if his department would get new money for dealing with flooding. The Treasury refused to clarify the issue, saying the issue was being handled by No 10.
Labour leader Mr Miliband who expected to accuse ministers of disarray at his weekly Commons clash with the Prime Minister. A Labour source said: “They have been slack in their preparations and slow in their response. Now ‘money no object’ has turned into ‘no blank cheque’ within a few hours.
“This is typical of their uncoordinated and chaotic response.”
Two people struggle to save their belongings in floods in Egham Picture: Jeremy Selwyn
Downing Street rejected the charge, saying there was no contradiction between Mr Cameron’s pledge and Mr Mcloughlin’s words. “Mr McLoughlin very clearly says that money is not the issue in terms of how the Government responds to the flood effort, which is exactly what the PM said,” said an official.
The Ministry of Defence denied reports that soldiers in Berkshire had set up roadblocks to prevent looting of abandoned homes. Soldiers have been seen accompanying local residents on security patrols but the MoD spokesman said: “Our remit is assurance and assistance on flood relief, we have not got as security remit.”