Severe weather swept the country last year prompting fears that more than two million properties in high flood areas would become uninsurable.

The Association of British Insurers' Mary Francis and industry representatives met with government ministers at the end of last year to allay fears.

Following the meeting, Treasury Economic Secretary Melanie Johnson said: "The industry made it clear that it is keen to provide continued insurance cover for homes and businesses around the country. It is essential that this is achieved without penalising existing policyholders unfairly."

Francis also commented that "insurers are determined to maintain cover and keep premiums at reasonable levels wherever possible, but the government must play its part by drawing up and enforcing sensible planning controls and maintaining adequate flood defences."

CGNU was talking of a bill for the recent floods of £200m and Royal & Sunalliance put its estimate at £100m. This was even before the waters subsided and drying out and reinstatement work began.

Floodplain maps of England and Wales were put on the web so users could enter their town name or postcode to check if they are at risk of being flooded. British Market Research Bureau data has shown more than half the people who live on floodplains are unaware of their at-risk status.

Another issue is that developers routinely ignore flood risks, with the environment agency estimating that half the 90,000 planning applications each year involve land at risk from flooding. It points out that developers have planning permission to build homes in flood risk areas totalling the size of Liverpool.

John Prescott announced that an extra £51m over four years will be spent on helping councils to improve flood defences. However, the annual costs of flood losses averages around £600m.