The political row over the handling of flooding in the UK has escalated, as floodwater in the Thames reaches record levels – with experts warning of even higher levels still.
The Environment Agency has issued 14 severe flood warnings – meaning there is a danger to life – along the banks of the Thames in Berkshire and Surrey, with two more in place in the already heavily flooded Somerset Levels.
Several gauges that were installed along the Thames in the 1980s and 90s are detecting the highest water levels they have ever recorded.
After the wettest January on record and a weekend of heavy rain and strong winds, forecasters have said that Monday will be the driest day of the week. However, experts warn that rivers in the south-east might continue to rise as rainwater makes its way downstream.
As the crisis continues, the debate over who is to blame has worsened. Over the weekend, communities secretary Eric Pickles accused the agency of giving ministers bad advice, and said the government should have dredged rivers more often than it has.
Agency chairman Lord Smith responded, saying, “I have kept my counsel up to now, but when I hear someone criticising the expertise and the professionalism of my staff in the Environment Agency, who know 100 times more about flood risk management than any politician ever does, I’m afraid I’m not going to sit idly by.
“The Environment Agency is bound by the rules laid down by government so when someone says they are bound by the advice laid down by the Environment Agency what they are actually doing was following the Treasury rules that are laid down setting out how much we can spend and now much we cannot spend on any individual flood defence scheme.”
He added, “Dredging is part of the answer, I’ve always said that.”
Meanwhile, the shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle has called for an end to the “blame game”.
She said, “In the middle of a flood crisis, when the water is rising, it is not the time for government ministers to embark of blaming each other and blaming civil servants and officials for what has or hasn’t gone right.”
More heavy rain is expected on Monday night and Tuesday, with forecasters warning that more flooding should be expected.
This weekend, a new report from the Met Office said that all the evidence suggests that the prolonged flooding crisis has been partly caused by climate change.