The Executive Summary of Somerset Rivers Authority’s End of Year Report 2017-18

This End of Year Report covers everything done, still being done, or not done by Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) between the start of April 2017 and the end of March 2018. More detail is given than is customary in reports such as this because the SRA would like you to know how much is being achieved with your money across the county.

In 2017-18, the SRA spent just over £3.6million on actions designed to give Somerset extra flood protection and resilience. Partners delivering work for the SRA also committed to spend a further £1.8m, so when all of the final invoices have been submitted and paid, the total spent on works on the ground across Somerset in 2017-18 will have been more than £5m.

SRA money comes from a range of sources. For 2017-18, the SRA got funding of £2.843m through council tax and contributions from Somerset’s Internal Drainage Boards. In addition, £3.104m was brought forward from previous years, for spending on actions still in progress.

At the start of April 2017, the SRA had 56 actions on the go, including 23 newly approved by the SRA Board in March. Sixteen actions were completed (which means done and fully paid for) during 2017-18. Altogether, since the SRA’s launch in 2015, 60 actions out of 100 have been completed. Some actions take more than one calendar year to deliver; others are delayed for various reasons, such as odd discoveries (eg, Dunster asbestos, a Stoke sub Hamdon blockage).

The SRA backs several key projects, using Growth Deal funding from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP). In 2014, Somerset was awarded £13.049m by HotSWLEP to pay for work on major, long-term schemes up to 2021. In 2017-18, £1.083m was spent, out of a total so far of £6.507m. Five schemes were supported: Bridgwater Tidal Barrier, Sowy / King’s Sedgemoor Drain (KSD) enhancements, Natural Flood Management (Hills to Levels), the Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme and dredging activities.

All schemes are progressing, at different rates but with the same determination to reduce flooding. A Bridgwater Barrier would reduce tidal flood threats from the River Parrett to assets worth about £2.5 billion. The aim is for a Barrier to be working in 2024, to then protect nearly 13,000 homes and businesses for more than 100 years. A full programme of Sowy / KSD enhancements continues to be challenging and costly, so revised plans are being drawn up for increasing the system’s capacity to carry water. An important new feature of 2017-18 is the development of a Strategic Approach to Mitigation. This work is being led for the SRA by Natural England. Its main aims are to reduce costs and risks, to help schemes such as the Barrier, Sowy/KSD and further dedging to go ahead, and to secure a wide range of environmental benefits.

SRA actions are grouped in five workstreams: Dredging & River Management (W1), Land Management (W2), Urban Water Management (W3), Resilient Infrastructure (W4) and Building Community Resilience (W5). W1 currently gets the largest share of SRA spending, for activities such as the innovative use of quicker, cheaper water injection dredging techniques along 5km of the Parrett down from Burrowbridge. Other successes include two national awards for the Hills To Levels partnership (W2), initiatives on Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (W3), A38 and A372 improvements plus extra maintenance and investigations (W4), and grants and training (W5).

Everything the SRA does is rooted in Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, drawn up during the devastating floods of 2013-14. The SRA itself emerged from this Plan, and now oversees it.

The Government has drafted a Rivers Authorities & Land Drainage Bill which – with Government support – is being taken forward as a Private Member’s Bill by the Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton. The aim is to establish the SRA as an independent legal entity that can raise funds for itself from council tax and is thereby enabled to make longer-term plans for the delivery of the extra flood risk management works that history has starkly shown Somerset needs.

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