Environment Agency: 'Could have done better over flooding'

The Environment Agency chairman has admitted to ITV News that "we could have done better" in tackling the flooded areas in Somerset. But Lord Smith defended the agency's priorities, saying they were working with a "purse that was not limitless."

Latest ITV News reports

Environment Secretary: 'We can always do better'

As well as the chair of the Environment Agency, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson also admitted today that his department "can always do better" in dealing with the flooding crisis.

Mr Paterson had come under pressure from Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle, who told the Commons: "People are increasingly asking if the Secretary of State is up to his job."

ITV News political correspondent Carl Dinnen reports:

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Lord Smith: 'We have not done as much as we should'

Lord Smith said dredging of the Tone and Parrett (pictured) rivers would have to be "an element" of future plans. Credit: PA

Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith has admitted "we probably have not done as much as we should have done" to dredge the rivers around the Somerset Levels.

He told Sky News: "I haven't yet been, in the last four weeks, to the Somerset Levels but I have been to the Somerset Levels on three occasions in the course of the last year and will be going back there."

Asked if the Environment Agency had been wrong up until now he said: "We probably have not done as much as we should have done up to now and I regret that. But we have had very difficult choices to make, reducing budgets to cope with.

"What we now need to do is work together with others, because it is not something just for the Environment Agency, we need to work with others in order to address the issues for the future."

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Paterson praises 'excellent response' to flooding

Owen Paterson went on to praise the under-fire Environment Agency for its response to widespread flooding:

Since the start of last December, the UK as a whole has experienced a period of exceptionally unsettled weather and there is no sign at present of its abating.

Many parts of the country have been subjected to flooding from the sea, rivers, surface water or groundwater, and I am extremely grateful for the excellent response by the emergency services, the Environment Agency and flood forecasting centre staff and the leadership shown by many local authorities in responding to the floods.

– Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary

Thieves target flood victims in the Somerset Levels

Thieves, thought to be travelling in boats, have been targeting flood victims on the Somerset Levels, police have said.Around 600 gallons of domestic heating oil was stolen from a farm in Moorland overnight from Friday to Saturday.

Thieves have been targeting flood victims in the Somerset Levels. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Two fire service quad bikes were taken from Burrowbridge on the same night.

Chief Superintendent Caroline Peters, of Avon and Somerset Police, who is heading the response to the floods major incident, said: "We are aware of reports in the community of suspicious people and vehicles being seen in the area, particularly after dark.

"We have also heard rumours of people being out in boats at night, but at this stage we have no information to substantiate that."

Last night, the national police air service (NPAS) helicopter flew over the flood-hit area as a "proactive crime prevention exercise".

Police horses have also been deployed and officers will make regular patrols for a "high-visibility presence" and to reassure residents.

'No bottomless purse' on flood defences

Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith said there is "no bottomless purse" on flood defences, meaning that "difficult decisions" had to be made on which areas to protect.

Yes, agricultural land matters and we do whatever we can with what we have to make sure it is protected. Rules from successive governments give the highest priority to lives and homes; and I think most people would agree that this is the right approach.

But this involves tricky issues of policy and priority; town or country, front rooms or farmland?

Flood defences cost money; and how much should the taxpayer be prepared to spend on different places, communities and livelihoods - in Somerset, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, or East Anglia?

There's no bottomless purse, and we need to make difficult but sensible choices about where and what we try to protect.

– Lord Smith, Environment Agency chairman writing in The Daily Telegraph
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