Officials have been considering placing flood-hit areas in Somerset in a state of emergency as plains struggle to be drained amid forecasts of more heavy rain at the weekend.
But as of tonight, Somerset County Council said the devastated low-lying farmland had not been declared a “major incident”, which would indicate lives were in danger.
The consideration underlines the huge concern for towns and villages on the Somerset Levels, with many communities having been marooned for weeks.
Yesterday, the Westcountry floods came under scrutiny in the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Environment Select Committee of MPs, amid deep criticism of the Environment Agency for not preventing the crisis.
Somerset MP Ian Liddell Grainger accused the “quango” of “unforgivable negligence” for not dredging, and told parliament: “On the Somerset Levels people are angry and scared.”
Mr Liddell Grainger alsso said it is “farcical” flood-hit Somerset communities are “carrying their bins out in boats”.
In Westminster Hall, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis told MPs the area had been declared a “major incident” by the local authority – which would indicate lives were in danger – though it was later confirmed this was not the case.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Environment Agency Paul Leinster promised to prioritise repairs to those flood defences which protect “people and property” following last month’s floods, which hit many parts of the country but notably the South West.
Mr Leinster made the claim as it was revealed that work to repair the country’s damaged flood defences is estimated to cost £30 million.
But MPs from across Somerset lined up to rebuke the Environment Agency, blaming its refusal to dredge rivers including the Parrot and Tone for the crisis.
Mr Liddell Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, said floods on the Levels were an “annual crisis” that only resulted in “listening to the same lame excuses”.
The MP added communities underwater were left with “homes uninhabitable, farms unworkable and jobs destroyed”.
Referring to the lack of dredging, he said: “This is not a freak act of nature, it is unforgivable negligence.”
He said people on the Somerset Levels were “angry and scared”, and said the Environment Agency has made “daft decisions” ever since it was conceived 19 years’ ago.
He said: “The Environment Agency thinks the Levels should be allowed to return to the swampy wilderness they were in the Middle Ages – and all in the name of managed flood risk.”
Mr Liddell Grainger accused the body of being led by “wet do-gooders and twitchers”, and accused former chairman and ex-Labour MP Lord Chris Smith of being “typically wishy-washy” and “a townie”.
He said: “I’m afraid we’ve had enough. We’re not going to put up with this year in, year out – it’s not a 100 year event now, it’s every year.
“Get these rivers dredged and give us hope.”
Jeremy Browne, Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane, said the economic cost of the floods included the “inability to get people to school, the inability to get to work, local businesses like pubs losing a large amount of their custom over a busy period like over the New Year”.
He said: “The number one priority of people on the Levels is dredging.”
David Heath, Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome, said: “The floods are worse than ever. There is a strong feeling that now is the time we have got to do something.”
Elsewhere in Parliament, an expert warning that inadequate flood defence spending risks causing £3 billion of unnecessary damage was dismissed as “out of date” by Floods Minister Dan Rogerson, also a Cornwall MP.
He rejected an analysis by the Government’s own climate advisers that current spending is more than half a billion short of what is needed.
At the same Commons committee, Mike Jones of the Local Government Association – which represents English and Welsh councils – complained that the Bellwin formula used to calculate emergency cash to areas hit by floods was “perverse” and needed to be reformed because areas including Cornwall missed out.