Senior Somerset County Councillors will this week be asked to recommend proposals for a Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) as a vital part of plans to reduce the likelihood and impact of flooding in the County.
The move comes as all the organisations involved in the 20 Year Flood Action Plan continue to press the Government for interim funding that will be needed to get the SRA up and running.
The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) is a key proposal in the 20 Year Flood Action Plan set up after the extreme floods last winter, at the Government’s request.
Now papers published in advance of a Somerset County Council Cabinet meeting are asking members to recommend to Full Council a proposal for the new SRA including the creation of a Shadow Authority. It will be the first of a round of meetings for local authority and other partners to seek endorsement from their own organisations.
The new Authority would raise funds locally to provide a greater level of protection than currently exists. The details of how funding would be raised is still under discussion, but final proposals are likely to include a county-wide charge.
The SRA’s work would focus on enhanced maintenance of river channels, important ordinary watercourses and river flood banks over the whole of Somerset, to reduce flood risk. This would include dredging and maintenance of dredged profiles.
It would not diminish the roles, funding and responsibilities of the individual partners (nor those of landowners), but would enable joint working opportunities.
The Cabinet is being asked to recommend that progress so far is endorsed, and the creation of a Shadow Somerset Rivers Authority from April 2015 – subject to Government agreement to provide the £2.7m interim funding, as well as supporting legislation to allow the SRA to become a precepting authority (able to levy funding like the Fire and Rescue Service.).
John Osman, Chairman of the Flood Action Plan’s Leaders Implementation Group and Leader of Somerset County Council, wrote to Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss in October, requesting the interim funding and supporting legislation as essential for the creation of a Shadow Authority. The letter was also signed by all five Leaders of Somerset’s local authorities.
“Council leaders and other partners across Somerset are united in our belief that a separate, accountable and transparent Somerset Rivers Authority is the only way in which future flooding in the county can be tackled and alleviated,” said John Osman.
The Secretary of State said she had asked her officials to work with the Flood Action Plan team and the Environment Agency to discuss desired outcomes and the projects that would be required.
John Osman commented: “The response from Government is unfortunately disappointing, as it leaves uncertainty about funding for next year. I will, however, not let the matter lie and continue to push Somerset’s case.”
Peter Maltby, Chairman of the Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium, said: “It is clear that more maintenance of our rivers is key to managing flood risk. The formation of a Somerset Rivers Authority would enable this to happen but only if additional clear funding is made available.”
Ric Pallister, Leader of South Somerset District Council added: “The importance of establishing a new Somerset Rivers Authority to oversee all aspects of water management across Somerset cannot be overstated. A new Authority representing every key organisation is essential if we are to give ourselves the best chance of preventing a repeat of last year’s flooding event.
“South Somerset is totally united with the other five Somerset Local Authorities in our resolve to see local knowledge and expertise play a much greater part in managing and prioritising the work that is needed year on year. We have done everything central Government asked of us in creating the 20 year Flood Plan that they signed up to and in return we now need Government to authorise a new Rivers Authority to be responsible for delivering the Plan.”
Councillor John Williams, Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council confirms his full support for a Somerset Rivers Authority as being a sensible and pragmatic way forward. “This is to ensure we have the greatest protection possible to mitigate any such catastrophic flooding in future. Part of the 20 year Flood Action Plan was major dredging of the Rivers Tone and Parrett which I am pleased to say the Environment Agency have now successfully completed. This has increased the capacity of the rivers tremendously and it is paramount that future maintenance of the watercourses maintains this capacity in years to come. A secure funding stream agreed with Government is therefore essential to ensure that all the good work done so far is not undone and as a result, our communities would continue to suffer if similar events occurred again.”
Tim Taylor, Leader of West Somerset Council, said: “Following recent flooding events in Somerset (including in West Somerset) I welcome the establishment of a Somerset Rivers Authority to bring agencies and councils together to coordinate and improve flooding protection and alleviation across Somerset.
West Somerset councillors and residents will need to consider carefully any extra levy made on council tax payers and landowners of West Somerset; in particular to ensure that finance raised in West Somerset is used for flood protection and alleviation in West Somerset.”
For further details of the SRA proposal, please visit Questions and Answers on the Somerset Rivers Authority at http://somersetnewsroom.com/flood-action-plan/ and view the Cabinet papers for Nov 12 at http://www1.somerset.gov.uk/council/meetings/results.asp?ccode=3