More misery in store for the Midlands and south-west

Lives could be in danger in parts of the south-west and in the Midlands, where the Environment Agency has issued nine severe flood warnings – its highest level of alert.

The Cornwall and North Devon coasts are expect to bear the brunt of the weather, along with the River Severn near Gloucester, and 178 more flood warnings have been issued across England and Wales.

Cobra, the government’s emergency committee, has met to address the issue amid growing calls for a permanent solution.

A month of torrential downpours has seen some parts of England suffer the wettest January since records began more than 100 years ago, and the start of February is not looking promising.

Kate Marks, the Environment Agency’s flood risk manager, said: “A low pressure system combining with high tides brings a risk of coastal flooding to many parts of England over the weekend.

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UK flooding: Environment Agency boss Lord Smith engulfed in crisis over his 11 jobs

Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, comes under fire over the floods

armer James Winslade stands in front of bales of animal feed as he surveys flooded land at his farm in Moorland

Farmer James Winslade stands in front of bales of animal feed as he surveys flooded land at his farm in Moorland Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Lord Smith’s leadership of the Environment Agencyis in crisis following the flooding gripping parts of Britain.

Sources have accused Lord Smith, a Cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government, of “keeping his head down” despite parts of the country being submerged for weeks.

Allegations that he is “too distracted” by having too many jobs — in all Lord Smith has 11 paid and unpaid posts — have added to the growing concern in Whitehall.

Although he is due to step down as chairman of the Environment Agency in June, a source said: “There is no way he would get back in even if he wanted to reapply for his post.”

Lord Smith has insisted the agency is doing all it can in the face of the wettest January in history and has pointed out that — unlike the North Sea floods of 1953 when more than 300 people died — lives have been protected through the hard work of his staff.

However, the agency has faced severe criticism, particularly over its alleged failure to dredge rivers on the Somerset Levels. One local MP accused the body of failing to spend its resources on flood defences and instead diverting millions of pounds to bird sanctuaries.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater in Somerset, said: “We’re just sick to death of it [flooding]. They [the Environment Agency] need to dredge these rivers, stop spending money — £31 million — on bird sanctuaries and spend £5 million, that’s all we want, to sort this out.

“What comes first is the humans. I’m afraid the birds will fly off elsewhere.”

The Telegraph can also disclose that the Environment Agency undertook detailed computer modelling on the impact of dredging in 2012, which showed that dredging would have “significantly reduce[d] the duration and depth of flooding” in the worst hit areas.

Residents of the Somerset Levels piled further pressure on the agency after tests showed stagnant flood water had left gardens “awash with unsafe bacteria”.

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