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Environment Agency chairman back from Barbados to meet flood victims

The chairman of the Environment Agency is heading to meet flood victims in the north of England after arriving back in the country following a sunshine holiday in the Caribbean.

Sir Philip Dilley spoke briefly to reporters as he collected a few personal items from his flat in an Edwardian mansion block in the Marylebone area of London.

Asked if he had a good Christmas, while swathes of the country were battling against devastating flood waters, Sir Philip said he was visiting Yorkshire today and would be "very happy to speak" with people when he got there.

His return to the UK comes after criticism over his decision to holiday in Barbados at a time when the country faces some of the worst floods it has experienced in decades.

The Environment Agency released a statement saying he had spent Christmas with his family on the Caribbean island, but would be back soon.

A spokesman said Sir Philip had been in "regular contact" with the body regarding its response to the current situation.

He added: "He has been in Barbados with his family. We are expecting him back in the UK in the next 24 hours and an early priority will be to visit those who have been affected by the flooding in the north of the country."

The agency also highlighted that Sir Philip visited Cumbria earlier in the month, in the aftermath of floods that affected the area following Storm Desmond.

Asked if he should have visited the worst affected areas sooner, Sir Philip, emerging from his home after around 50 minutes and accompanied by an aide, said: "Well I'm going up there today, as you appreciate.

"My focus really is to go and see what's happening, to see the good work that's been going on but most importantly to see the communities who have been affected."

Sir Philip, who was noticeably tanned, said he had been "in very close contact" with senior EA staff throughout his break.

Responding to questions about his whereabouts during the floods, he said: "Everybody can't be everywhere at the same time. I think we've been very effective and efficient in what we've been doing. There's obviously some lessons to learn."

He said his itinerary would "evolve" as the day went on.

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