Residents living in Datchet, near Windsor, try to cope with the floods

Engineering advances key to flood-damage repairs

The Transport Secretary has highlighted the benefits improved engineering standards can have on the rebuild following widespread flooding.

Speaking to BBC1’s Breakfast, McLoughlin said: "Engineering techniques have changed a huge amount and when we rebuild walls we will build them to a different standard of engineering to what they were originally built to.

“The machinery of government [aims] to try to help and alleviate the problems that individuals face. When we do the repairs, we do them at a resilience that will last for future storms that come along.”

However, McLoughlin has also made clear that there would be "careful consideration" before any money is spent on the larger rebuilding exercise of restoring any damaged infrastructure after the water levels recede.

"I don't think it's a blank cheque," he said, when talking to ITV1's Daybreak. "I think what the Prime Minister was making very clear is that we are going to use every resource of the Government and money is not the issue while we are in this relief job, in the first instance, of trying to bring relief to those communities that are affected.

"Then we have got to do the repairs of the structures and the railway infrastructure that's been damaged and then the other long-term issues, which will need some careful consideration."

Since the beginning of December, a total of 5,800 premises have been flooded, although the Environment Agency has pointed out that 1.3 million buildings have been protected by defences.

Forecasters are warning that some of the strongest winds of the winter could hit on a "wild Wednesday" of severe storms and rising water levels, with gusts of up to 100mph on exposed parts of the Welsh coast.

And the Met Office has forecast 70mm (2.75 inches) of rain by Friday in the already sodden West Country - more than the region would normally get in the whole of February - with south Wales, western Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of southern England also expected to bear the brunt of the deluge.

At the Cabinet Office Meeting Room A (COBRA) gathering, Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster told the Prime Minister that flooding could reach levels last seen in 1947 in some parts of the UK, though he said improvements in defences since that point meant that fewer homes were expected to be inundated.

"Oxford to Maidenhead we think could rise over the next five days and may lead to more flooding in that area," Mr Leinster told the committee.

"Below Maidenhead, the levels are holding at the current level but potentially over the weekend and going into the beginning of next week they could rise to higher than the current levels."

Major General Patrick Sanders, who is coordinating the military response, told the meeting that around 2,000 military personnel are involved in the clean-up operation and support in Somerset was increased overnight.

He told the Prime Minister that "thousands" of extra military personnel were available in a short period of time.

About 100 properties remain flooded on the Somerset Levels, where extra pumps are being brought in from the Netherlands, and groundwater flooding is also expected in the coming days in Hampshire, Kent and parts of London. The Thames barrier closed again yesterday to protect communities to the west of the capital.

EA senior flood adviser Kate Marks warned it was "increasingly likely" that there would also be problems along the River Severn and River Wye.

Reflecting on the degree of flooding and the necessary plans for the future, Professor Will Stewart, Chair of the Communications Policy Panel for the IET, commented; “Engineering can do a lot to help us cope with flooding and other effects of climate change. Even in the case of the terrible immediate problems for people and communities in Somerset and the Thames Valley and around our coasts, modern engineering has helped.

“Greatly improved flood modelling and much better communications has helped provide warnings that may have saved lives and reduced damage. But from an engineering perspective the real challenge is the critical long-term management of our national infrastructure.

“To avoid the kind of long-term economic disruption we are now facing, Government, engineers and the entire supply chain need to work together to make the infrastructure as a whole more resilient and adapt it to cope with the anticipated increase in flooding as result of climate change.

“Tackling parts of the system in isolation, for example improving electricity network management and retrofitting buildings and infrastructure, will help, but the real challenge for engineers will be to find new ways to plan and manage the integrated system. This will include developing and manufacturing new engineering technologies, as well as finding innovative ways to develop multi-purpose infrastructure.”

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