Whaley Bridge dam: heed flood defence warning, experts urge

The Whaley Bridge dam scare is a warning of the potentially disastrous consequences of failing to build new infrastructure to cope with the climate emergency, experts have said.

As the environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on efforts to make the dam safe, the government was facing calls for an urgent overhaul of flood defences and water infrastructure.

Villiers said the government was ensuring that “everything possible is being done to draw down water levels, fix damage to the dam and protect homes and businesses.”

Bob Ward, a policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: “This is an example where our infrastructure is not up to scratch and we are not acting quickly enough to upgrade it. It is a warning to Villiers that she has got to put climate resilience at the top of the government’s list.

“It is all very well worrying about Brexit, but without upgrading infrastructure we are going to suffer more and more grave consequences. If you delay on this, all you are doing is setting us up for disaster.”

Ward said the government had been “caught on the hop” by the two wettest winters on record, in 2013 and 2015. In response it promised a flood resilience review, but so far it has examined only river flooding and not the impact of surface water flooding.

In May the Environment Agency said an increase in extreme flooding events could force thousands of people to move away from coastal regions.