Flooding minister Richard Benyon to visit Whitlingham

A government minister will visit Norfolk today to announce the findings of a report which says the nation is better prepared than ever to respond to a major flood emergency.

Flooding minister Richard Benyon will be at the Whitlingham Outdoor Education Centre at Trowse, near Norwich, to watch a rescue demonstration involving an RAF helicopter and new rescue boats and equipment.

His arrival coincides with the publication of the report on Exercise Watermark, Britain's biggest-ever civil emergency drill in which 10,000 people rehearsed responses to a series of disaster scenarios.

The report concludes that emergency services in high-risk zones like Norfolk are well prepared to keep people safe in a major flood, but also makes 36 recommendations for improvements.

Since last March's exercise, Defra has awarded �2.5m in grants to improve emergency responses, triple the number of national response teams and provide vital new equipment and training.

The largest award, 10pc of the total, came to Norfolk to match the county council's �250,000 investment towards five new rescue boats, upgraded fire engines and new response teams for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

Mr Benyon said the grant was a recognition of the east coast's particular vulnerability to flooding and its leading role in co-ordinating national emergency efforts.

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'Norfolk is particularly interesting for us in Defra, because firstly we are mindful of the tragedies down the east coast in the 1950s,' he said. 'One of the parts of Exercise Watermark was another tidal surge and we wanted to make sure that we would be able to cope with similar circumstances if they re-occurred.

'We are more prepared than ever to protect peoples' lives, homes and businesses from the devastating effects of floods. Staging Exercise Watermark was a true test of how we react to flooding and keep people safe and, while there are lessons to be learnt, I'm pleased to say, it is a test we all came through. Particularly across East Anglia, we were pleased by the way emergency services worked together.'

Roy Harold, assistant chief fire officer for Norfolk, and chairman of a national water rescue group, said the 'near-miss' tidal surge of 2007 prompted the Norfolk County Council investment which assured the Defra grant.

He said Norfolk played a leading national role in co-ordinating emergency responses by armed forces, councils, police and other flood response agencies. 'We got more funding than any other agency and that is really a recognition of the risk we face and the amount of work that's already been done.'

Community claims it is being prevented from building its own coastal defences – Page 24.

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