The start of a new era in flood protection and management has been welcomed by Somerset County Council following the signing of a landmark agreement yesterday.
The deal signed in London seals a £2.7m interim funding package for the creation of a Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) by the end of January next year. The SRA will be central to future flood protection, with responsibilities including extended dredging and the maintenance of already dredged channels.
As Chair of the multi-agency Flood Action Plan Leaders Implementation Group, Councillor John Osman spear-headed discussions with Government Ministers to secure critical funding of £1.9m from Westminster.
The Leader of Somerset County Council said: “It’s incredible to think that it was only January when the Secretary of State requested an action plan for the Somerset Levels and Moors. In less than a year, we have the plan, two major engineering schemes well underway, 8km of river dredged and now a firm foundation that will drive forward flood protection and resilience in the county for years to come. This isn’t just about the Levels and Moors, it’s about a long-term solution that will address the issue of flooding across the County.”
Yesterday’s Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In it, Somerset County Council committed £600,000 towards the interim costs of £2.7m for the first year of the Somerset Rivers Authority.
Defra and Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will contribute £1.9m, with the remaining £200,000 coming from Somerset’s five local authorities and the Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards.
The Somerset partners will work with DCLG and Defra to develop options for the sustainable funding of the SRA from 2016/17 onwards. The SRA intends to raise funds from across the county and various options for how this would be done will be considered.
“The next challenge will be to establish the SRA and make sure we have a clear way forward for its future,” said Cllr Osman. “This will take time, but we have shown what can be achieved when a range of partners work closely together with the same shared aim.”
The SRA Board will include representatives from each of the following partners: the five District Councils, Somerset County Council, the Environment Agency, the Parrett/Tone and Axe/Brue IDBs, the Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee, Natural England.
The Authority will focus on enhanced maintenance of river channels and flood banks along the county’s waterways, including maintaining the 2014 dredge on the Rivers Parrett and Tone.