The spiralling cost of the prolonged flooding that has disfigured the West Country landscape could be exacerbated as thousands of people face the prospect of losing their insurance cover.
The bombshell comes as Environment Agency bosses argue that the case for dredging key rivers in Somerset has yet to be made, although the closure of the A361 Taunton-to-Glastonbury road alone is said to be costing the county’s economy £25,000 a day.
With dozens of other roads also either closed or damaged due to the deluges of late last year and in January the cost of the floods is thought to be greater than previously estimated.
And the Association of British Insurers will today warn of the severe consequences of letting a deal between the Government and insurers that ensures people in high-risk areas continue to be insured against flooding expire.
The deal runs out in June and the ABI will call at a major flooding summit organised by Labour today for a replacement to be signed and for new planning controls against building on flood plains to be agreed.
Experts who have started analysing the economic case for renewed river dredging in Somerset will look at the effect the closure of the A361 is having on the M5 and the A39.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that flooding led to a tailback several miles long from the turn-off to the M5 at Bridgwater on the first morning that the A361 was closed again last month.
Months of flooding on the Levels has forced farmers to sell livestock, at least one business to move and dozens more to suffer disruption.
The Environment Agency has accepted that dredging sections of the rivers Parrett and Tone could alleviate the situation but the economic case is not strong enough to meet Government guidelines.
The Regional Flood and Coastal Committee has instructed a multi-agency team to investigate the economic damage more closely. The team, led by the Environment Agency, includes Somerset County Council and the Parrett Drainage Board, part of the Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards.
The agency was castigated at the weekend when its chairman Lord Smith suggested the flooding that has hit Britain is due to a ‘new’ type of rain.
Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said his constituents wanted to see rivers dredged.
Iain Sturdy, chief engineer for the drainage consortium, said yesterday: “We have to show that it is worth doing. Costs include the rural economic damage, devastation of designated environment and of all the other things which are part of the Levels and Moors. Wider transport disruption is a part of that.”
A deal between Government and insurers to ensure people in high-risk areas continue to be insured against flooding expires in June, and Labour has warned that 200,000 homeowners across the country will face difficulties getting insurance once it ends.
Labour is urging the Government to end its “brinkmanship” in negotiations with the insurance industry and secure a new deal. to provide certainty for at-risk households and businesses.
Despite concerns that climate change will increase flood risk, building in the flood plains has increased by 12 per cent in a decade, compared with seven per cent in the rest of England. The ABI is also demanding sustained, long-term flood defence spending.