River levels threaten more flooding

Heavy rain which caused flooding of homes and chaos on the transport network has eased, but some communities have been warned they are still at risk from high river levels.

Some 400 homes and businesses have been flooded since the most intense September storm for 30 years began to batter parts of the UK with downpours and high winds.

Residents of a block of townhouses in Newburn, Newcastle, were among those facing a second night out of their homes after floodwater gouged out the ground beneath the building, which remains cordoned off amid safety concerns.

Businesses were damaged and looters broke into KB Cycles near to the stricken townhouses in Newburn and stole bikes worth tens of thousands of pounds from the shop while roads were blocked by water and silt.

Some areas have seen more than double the average rainfall for the month since Sunday, and although the worst of the rain has now passed, river levels in some places were still rising as the water comes down through the system.

There were still more than 50 flood warnings of river flooding in place on Wednesday evening, mostly in northern England, and 100 less serious flood alerts.

The Environment Agency said rivers such as the Ouse, which flows through York, and the Dane, which flows through Crewe, Nantwich and Northwich, had yet to peak on Wednesday afternoon and posed a real risk of flooding. And other rivers including the Weaver, Wharfe, Aire and Ure were being closely monitored, with high water levels threatening to cause further flooding in places such as Tadcaster.

The North Yorkshire town was split in two by the closure of the bridge which carries the A659 over the River Wharfe as a precaution after firefighters noticed water seeping through the structure. Water levels need to fall before the bridge can be properly inspected, and the route is not likely to reopen until Thursday at the earliest.

Councils called on the Government to set up an emergency fund to help pay for millions of pounds of repairs to roads damaged by the persistent rain and flooding in the past few months. The Local Government Association (LGA) warned repairs would be needed to bridges, roads and pavements and the urgent nature of the repairs could leave stretched town hall budgets in disarray.

It said funds might have to be diverted from elsewhere to plug the gap, causing cuts to services or planned infrastructure projects that aim to boost growth being put on the back-burner. The LGA is urging the Government to set up an Emergency Capital Highways Maintenance Fund, as it did following the floods which hit swathes of the country in summer 2007.