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Military to be sent to English flood areas

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The UK government said late on Tuesday it would deploy 100 military personnel to flood-stricken areas of the north and Midlands, just minutes after severe weather warnings for the region were downgraded.

An additional 100 members of the armed forces will be sent to help the recovery effort in Doncaster, the government said, after members of the Royal Air Force were sent to shore up defences in the region.

The decision, made during a meeting of government’s emergency Cobra committee, came soon after the Environment Agency downgraded five severe flood warnings — which indicate a danger to life — along the River Don. There remain 31 flood warnings in place across England.

Prime minister Boris Johnson called the meeting late on Monday, hours after Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, asked the prime minister in a letter to “take personal charge” of the government’s response to severe flooding in and around the town of Fishlake.

However, the government said on Tuesday that the decision to assemble the committee was taken before the letter was received.

Around 500 homes along the River Don have been flooded, more than 1,000 properties evacuated and one woman has died. The trouble began on Thursday, when some areas experienced a month’s worth of rain in a day.

Speaking in Blackpool on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn said the government’s response had “been woeful”.

He added: “If this had happened in Surrey instead of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, I think it would have been a very different story.” The Labour leader later visited the affected areas.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, speaking in Stainforth in South Yorkshire, echoed his concerns: “It is wrong that it seems to be just down to the local communities, important though this work is. This is clearly a national emergency and the government should be declaring it as such.”

Both opposition leaders have called on Mr Johnson to declare a “national emergency”, and each pledged to spend at least £5bn on flood defences.

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government said a grant of up to £500 per household would be made to local councils to help with the recovery effort.

Robert Duck, emeritus professor of geography and environmental science at the University of Dundee, said there was “no doubt” that climate change was contributing to more frequent and more severe floods.

But, as has happened in Doncaster, man-made defences can also contribute to floods: building on floodplains and constructing defences upstream can force large volumes of water downstream, causing banks to burst.

Making communities more resilient is “not just a question of money, it’s a political thing. We’ve got to look at the whole river system from source to sea,” Prof Duck added.

In 2010, the government’s flood strategy for the River Don noted that “changes in agricultural land management had the potential to decrease [water] flows by up to 10 per cent”.

Hugh Ellis, policy director at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the UK had been “critically unprepared for the last 30 years”. He said buildings and infrastructure needed to be made resilient to flooding — a process that should have been started with urgency following the severe floods of 2007 and 2013-2015.

“We’ve been warned, we’ve had time,” he said. Mr Ellis, who is based in South Yorkshire near the flooded regions, added that people in Doncaster were “bewildered” and angry, but would be “a damn sight angrier if they knew how badly they’d been let down”.

This year, the Environment Agency’s draft strategy for tackling flooding recommended that “all infrastructure” be made “resilient” by 2050. Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said the UK “cannot win a war against water” by building higher land defences.

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