THERE is never a good time for your home to be flooded, but Christmas must be the worst possible time, and the stormy weather over the past week has caused major disruption for many families.
More than a thousand homes along the south coast suffered from flooding on Christmas Day, around 50,000 people had their electricity supply disrupted and many more faced difficult journeys, with serious disruption at Gatwick and major problems on the road and rail network.
Managing flood incidents is one of the responsibilities of the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs, where I am a minister, so I spent Boxing Day at Byfleet, which was one of the towns worst affected after the River Wey burst its banks.
There I was able to see first-hand some of the good work being done by the Environment Agency to manage the risks and try to get things back to normal, and to hear some of the concerns of local people.
The management of flood risk has come a long way in recent years but it has needed to, in order to keep pace with the increasing prevalence of inclement weather and high rainfall.
Investment in flood defences is the largest single area of expenditure for Defra, with billions spent in recent years and plans for more investment in the future. Schemes range from pumping facilities and flood channels to take the pressure of high-flowing rivers to larger projects such as the Thames barrier and similar schemes to protect coastal areas from tidal surges.
There is also a robust system in place to manage a crisis or major flooding incident. Regular meetings at Defra to prepare for the floods started several days before the rain even fell, because our ability to forecast flood events has developed considerably in recent years.
The Environment Agency then set up a response team in affected areas which operated 24 hours a day over the Christmas period. As a result of this improved planning and the investment made in flood defences in recent years we were able to protect 80,000 homes that would otherwise have suffered from flooding, and I pay tribute to all the hard work done by Environment Agency staff in recent days to manage the risk and to ensure that flood defence assets were working properly and that rivers were not getting blocked by debris.
When you have high winds and stormy weather, it is always going to be inevitable that trees will fall and that these will damage electricity cables, causing disruption.
The problems this year were particularly severe because electricity engineers were finding that once they had fixed one problem another one would emerge further down the line, so getting power restored took a few days: but, again, there were people working around the clock to put things back to normal.
So, while it has undoubtedly been a bleak Christmas for some families as a result of the bad weather, it is also important to remember all the people – from electrical engineers to the police, fire brigade and local authorities – who have worked so hard over the Christmas period to restore things to normal.