Defra and local partners set up Somerset Rivers Authority

Local people in Somerset will be better able to manage flood risk after the Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss announced £1.9 million funding for the Somerset Rivers Authority today that will enable it to start work next year.

The Authority will receive £2.7 million in total from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Somerset County Council, the county’s five other local authorities and the Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards to reduce the flood risk in the region.

As a result, the Somerset Rivers Authority will be established by the end of January 2015 and will give local people the power to control and manage local flood risk in their area.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed in London today, it was agreed that Defra will provide £1.9 million, Somerset County Council will provide £600,000 and partners Sedgemoor District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, West Somerset District Council and Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards will provide £200,000 for the first year of funding.

A review will be carried out to identify a long-term, local funding solution from 2016/17.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, said:
“Last winter’s floods were unprecedented. We experienced the wettest winter in 200 years, which took its toll on flood prone communities such as Somerset.

“We have worked hard to protect Somerset from future flooding and to get those affected last winter back on their feet. The dredging of the rivers Parrett and Tone is complete and crucial works to raise key roads in the area has begun.

“This funding will enable the newly formed Somerset Rivers Authority to make a real difference in its first year.

“At a national level, we are spending £3.2 billion on flood management and defences over the course of this parliament. That is more than ever before and half a billion pounds more than in the last parliament.”

The Somerset Rivers Authority forms part of the 20 Year Flood Action Plan which was developed at the request of the government in response to the exceptional floods last winter.

Councillor John Osman, Chairman of the Flood Action Plan Leaders Implementation Group and Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “This is an historic milestone for the Flood Action Plan.

“The creation of the Somerset Rivers Authority is the result of intensive work and close co-operation between partners, with a strong determination on everybody’s part to make this happen so that we can better protect our county from the impact of flooding.”

Following the exceptional flooding in the area last winter, government provided £20.5m to Somerset to help get those affected back on their feet and to improve flood resilience in the area. With the majority of Somerset below sea level the land is vulnerable to both tidal and land-based flooding. The widespread flooding of the Somerset Levels and Moors over the winter of 2014 was just one occurrence in a long record of flood events.

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.

Signing Pic
Ministers and local leaders from Somerset after signing the Memorandum of Understanding in London today

Please see comments below from Somerset leaders involved in the Somerset Rivers Authority:

Peter Maltby, Chairman of the Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards:
“The setting up of the Somerset Rivers Authority should enable us to continue the good work started this year and progress steadily towards implementing the 20 year Flood Action Plan.”

Cllr Ric Pallister, Leader of South Somerset District Council:
“I am delighted that we have been able to reach this stage so quickly, due to the excellent cooperation between all local partners. This is an important milestone in getting a much more joined up approach to flood protection and resilience across Somerset for our communities.  We look forward to working on the long-term funding opportunities with the government and partners.”

Cllr John Williams, Leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council:
“I believe it is absolutely essential that the whole of Somerset supports these very important proposals. Only by joining together can we speak with one voice that will be strong enough to persuade Government to give us the resources and funds that we all know are needed. We must not allow a repeat of the last two years which has seen depths and duration of flooding unprecedented in living memory. We must take steps to mitigate this and avoid the sheer misery of losing their homes for so many families and the impact on businesses Somerset wide, not just the Levels and Moors area.

Virtually all of Taunton Deane lies within the Rivers Tone and Parrett catchment area so all of our water, from the lowlands to the highest hills, ends up on the Levels and Moors so it is right that we join with the rest of Somerset in setting up the Somerset Rivers Authority to deal with a County wide problem that manifests itself with such catastrophic results as we have seen over the last two years.

To achieve the County wide results the establishment of an SRA is to be welcomed and is vital if we are going to make a difference.”

Cllr Duncan McGinty, Leader of Sedgemoor District Council:
“Although Sedgemoor was the area that was most affected by last year’s flood, I think it is absolutely paramount that the response is county-wide.

Therefore, we warmly welcome the creation of the Somerset Rivers Authority as an important step forward in helping us to have greater accountability; co-ordinated flood management and much better prospects for securing greater resources to fight flooding in the future.”

Cllr Harvey Siggs, Leader of Mendip District Council:
“Mendip was extremely fortunate to avoid the worst of the flooding from last year’s storms but there is nothing to say we will be so lucky again this winter, or in years to come.

“The issue of flooding and the misery it can bring is a Somerset-wide problem, which is why Mendip is in full support of the proposals for a new Somerset Rivers Authority. The SRA’s remit will be to tackle the issue of flooding across the county, not just on the Somerset Levels, which was the area so badly affected in last winter’s storms.

“The establishment of the SRA is a key part of the 20-Year Flood Action Plan and will play a vital role in reducing the flood risk presented to communities across the county.”

Cllr Tim Taylor, Leader of West Somerset District Council :
“Although West Somerset was not affected by the scale of flooding seen on the Levels and Moors, we fully support the establishment of the Somerset Rivers Authority as it will have a countywide remit.

It is vital that we in Somerset speak with a united voice and lobby the Government to release the funds that we need to help solve the flooding issues throughout Somerset.

Flooding does not respect boundaries. Last winter’s floods were devastating for those directly affected on the Levels and Moors but we also suffered flooding in West Somerset. In addition the incorrect assumption that Somerset was closed for business, hit our West Somerset economy and so affected us all.”