Communities in East Devon are being urged to create emergency response plans in case of extreme weather.

Severe weather across the district in the past 18 months has caused several notable incidents, including the flash floods in the Otter Valley in May last year, followed by September’s heatwave and Storm Ciaran in November, which damaged Exmouth’s sea wall.

Matt Blythe, who helps oversee environment and climate change-related activities at East Devon District Council, told its scrutiny committee that Met Office data showed England recently experienced the wettest 18-month period since 1836.

This had contributed to some of the recent events in the district, and showed the need to be prepared.

“There’s a lot of unseen, back-office work required for these type of plans and we have had a couple of relatively large events,” he said.

“We had around 400 weather message warnings in the 2023/24 financial year, and we are trying to get those out to staff and officers so they are aware if they are out and about in the district.

“We also send them onto parish and town clerks, especially for amber warnings and above, to help ensure we’re communicating as widely as possible.”

Several councillors are involved in creating emergency plans in their own communities.

Cracks in the Exmouth Sea Wall.Cracks in the Exmouth Sea Wall. (Image: Will Goddard)

“Anything we can do to encourage communities that don’t have a plan like this to create one is worth doing,” said Cllr Geoff Jung (Liberal Democrat, Woodbury and Lympstone), portfolio holder for coast, country and environment.

“I run my own community resilience group in my village and I go to a lot of the meetings, and any community that could have problems with flooding really needs to have a group set up so it can react when a flood happens.”

He said if just one community suffered flooding because of hyper-localised weather, such that in May last year in Newton Poppleford and surrounding areas, emergency services may be able to help.

“But if there are 20 or 30 communities flooded, the fire brigade can’t get to everyone, so people have to work with what they have got and having a community resilience group with a plan, and people who know what to and when, really does work.”

It is thought that roughly 60 East Devon communities have such plans, but scrutiny committee vice chair Cllr Duncan Mackinder (Liberal Democrat, Yarty) proposed a motion that communities without resilience plans be encouraged to create them.

“It’s been pretty obvious from this debate how important they are,” he said.

The meeting heard how various groups existed to create a multi-agency approach for weather events, such as flooding.

Mr Blythe said that East Devon was involved during an unexploded bomb incident in Plymouth earlier this year, whereby the district could have been  housed some of the potentially thousands of people needing accommodation.

He added that in the case of the Otter Valley floods  last November, East Devon led the recovery effort because the flooding was so localised, even though Devon County Council usually handles flood work.

Cllr Vicky Johns (Independent, Ottery St Mary) asked whether the term ‘localised’ is defined when it relates to the aftermath of floods.

“There isn’t s rigid definition,” said Mr Blythe. “In the case of the Otter Valley floods, it was so obviously in East Devon we couldn’t argue. It’s important to say this is about the recovery element and not the initial response, but a later flood, which in numbers [of properties flooded] wasn’t a lot different, was spread over three districts, so the county took responsibility.”

The committee agreed Cllr Mackinder’s proposal to encourage the district’s communities to develop resilience plans.