The environment secretary has been criticised for not meeting residents of Ironbridge who were evacuated from their homes beside the River Severn after flood defences were overwhelmed.
George Eustice spent 45 minutes in Ironbridge but was whisked in and out of a fenced-off compound and did not visit a hotel a few minutes walk away, where evacuees were being looked after.
Eustice defended Boris Johnson for not visiting flood-stricken areas along the Severn and said he was in close contact with the prime minister and keeping him updated regularly.
Roy and Mary Guest, who had to leave their home on the Wharfage in Ironbridge, said they were disappointed Eustice had not visited them. “He was only down the road. He should have come here and heard our stories,” Roy Guest said. “Boris has sent one of his top people but he hasn’t come to see us.”
Jennifer Alexander, who has been out of her home, the Boat Inn in the nearby village of Jackfield, for four nights, said: “He really should have come to see us. It’s disappointing he hasn’t.”
Alexander was among a number of evacuees being looked after at the Valley hotel, close to the compound where Eustice met Environment Agency and emergency services workers.
Eustice spoke to three residents while in Ironbridge. None had suffered flooding in their homes or been evacuated. One told him that two of her businesses had been flooded.
The leader of Telford and Wrekin council, Shaun Davies, said: “I think it’s a mistake that he didn’t speak to residents who have been impacted. The hotel where some of them are staying is only 100 metres up the road.”
Residents of the Wharfage were evacuated as 400 tonnes of water per second sped through the narrow gorge.
The council is calling for a £60m scheme that includes replacing the temporary barriers with permanent ones. It has expressed concern about plans to extract sand and gravel from a site just upstream and build new homes there.
Asked if the government would commit to the £60m scheme, Eustice said: “We’ll be spending over £4bn in the next five years [across the country] on flood defences. Some of that is going to be on nature-based solutions upstream to hold water uphill so that vulnerable communities like this on the Severn are less likely to be affected. There will also be some hard defences put in place. I can’t say exactly what projects we would support.”
Questioned over why it had taken him so long to visit the area – and why the prime minister had not come – he replied: “I’ve been in regular contact with our Environment Agency every single day. In the initial aftermath we want to let the Environment Agency and our emergency services deal with the impacts.” He said the prime minister had asked him to lead on the floods.
On Thursday the river level at Ironbridge continued to fall, but police warned that people living along the Severn could face another 10 days of misery.
A yellow warning for rain was put in place by the Met Office for Friday and a fresh storm, Jorge, is likely to bring more heavy rain and strong winds across the country over the weekend.
Other people staying at the Valley hotel included Sean and Eleanor Osborne, who run a waterfront B&B. They had held out for as long as they could but when the water began to creep under the barrier they were persuaded to leave.
Sean Osborne said: “It was a bit of a shock when we heard the bang as the barrier moved. The power of the water was amazing. We were prepared to take a calculated risk and stay. We wouldn’t have drowned because we could always have gone upstairs.”
The Osbornes do not know how long they will be out of their house. “They’re talking about 10 days but we’ll wait and see. You have to deal with these things.”
Many of those who had fled said they were trying to make the best of the situation. Ian Donnelly, who works on a programme to improve the quality of care in the NHS, was working on his laptop in the hotel, his dog Flossie at his feet.
“I’m normally here, there and everywhere around the country,” he said. “This has given me the chance to catch up. The council and the other authorities have been brilliant. The hotel has been great too. They got to know that Flossie likes carrots and put some outside our room for her. The council, the Environment Agency and the emergency services have been great. People have really pulled together.”