Low-lying Britain faces uncertainty over flood insurance

Author: By Ian Herbert North of England Correspondent

The inhabitants of large areas of low-lying Britain entered the new year facing imminent flood damage and uncertainty over whether they could renew their insurance cover.

Eighty flood warnings were in place from York to Kent yesterday, with the North-east, South-east, East Anglia and the Midlands hardest hit. The Environment Agency fears worse will follow today if sequences of short, heavy showers fall on already saturated ground. Further downpours would “almost certainly” flood many more homes, according to the agency.

It indicated that 500,000 people saw in the new year uncertain whether they could renew their cover, after an industry agreement to provide cover for everyone ran out at midnight. A new regime means insurers are no longer obliged to provide cover for homeowners whose flood defences do not meet the Government’s minimum standards. Each will be considered case by case.

John Parker, head of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI), said that from today the new advice on insurance premiums could see the bill for flood protection rising by 25 per cent for house owners in some areas.

He told Today on BBC Radio 4 that the ABI was advising its members to ensure that premiums reflected the different levels of flood risk around the country. This could mean a rise of 20-25 per cent for some house owners. “If you live in a flood plain area you are going to have to pay a premium which reflects that risk ? and most people think that is a reasonable thing to do,” he said.

In Yalding, Kent, the Medway had already reached the thresholds of homes by last night after more than an inch of rain fell on Monday.

“After the last floods we are more apprehensive. It does not look too promising but we will have to wait and see. It is the worst it’s been since 2000,” said Philip East, a shopkeeper in the village. Barry Reynold, a builder who has lived in Yalding for 18 years, said: “It is not too bad at the moment. I’m generally optimistic but then again I was optimistic in 2000 and look what happened then.”

Kent Fire Brigade received more than 170 calls in the 24 hours to midday yesterday, including some from people trapped in cars.

The worst affected areas were Tonbridge, Edenbridge, Yalding, Maidstone, East Peckham and Ashford.

Though the number of flood warnings was down and many parts of Britain relatively dry, several rivers remained swollen in East Anglia. The Cam at Cambridge and the Great Ouse, which runs through Cambridge, were both causing concern. Among those people rescued was a 65-year-old woman, who accidentally fell into a river at Norwich.

Fire officers appealed to the public to dial 999 only if they were in fear of their lives and not if they wanted floodwater pumped from their property. That had already been a heavy burden on brigade time.

Last night 41 flood warnings were in place in the West Midlands, where the Severn and Avon threaten to overflow. Farmland and roads along the Avon between Evesham, Worcestershire, and Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, were badly affected.

Some areas ? particularly the north of England and central and southern Scotland ? are likely to see snow today. “The UK is literally under siege from the rain for the next few days,” said the Met Office. Ewen McCallum, head of forecasting, said: “On their own these spells of rain wouldn’t be particularly eventful but, with little let-up between each one, the risk of localised flooding will continue.”

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