SRA End of Year Report 2017-18: Flood Action Plan progress

Background

The Somerset Levels & Moors Flood Action Plan was published in March 2014, after the floods of 2013-14. When Somerset Rivers Authority was launched on 31 January, 2015, the Plan was widened to include the whole of Somerset.

The SRA oversees the Plan. It has six key objectives:

  1. Reduce the frequency, depth and duration of flooding
  2. Maintain access for communities and business
  3. Increase resilience to flooding for families, agriculture, businesses, communities, and wildlife
  4. Make the most of the special characteristics of the Somerset Levels and Moors (with internationally important biodiversity, environment and cultural heritage)
  5. Ensure strategic road and railconnectivity, both within Somerset and through the county to the South West peninsula
  6. Promote business confidence and growth

All actions in the SRA’s annual Enhanced Programmes are scored and ranked against these objectives.

Targets

This section details progress against key targets in the Flood Action Plan, as set out in the Plan’s Executive Summary.

Dredging

We must: Dredge the first 8km of the Rivers Tone and Parrett.

What we have achieved: The Environment Agency dredged 4km of the River Tone upstream of Burrowbridge, and 4km of the River Parrett, back to their 1960s’ river profiles in 2014. Since then, the SRA has funded maintenance dredging in 2015, 2016, and 2017, dredged a further 750m of the Parrett downstream of Northmoor Pumping Station and is developing plans to dredge the Parrett between Oath and Burrowbridge. For more details, see Part 3a of this report.

River Sowy / King’s Sedgemoor Drain enhancements

We must: Increase the capacity of the Sowy/ King’s Sedgemoor Drain (KSD) recognising that this solution will reduce the cost of pumping during future flooding events.

What we have achieved: Somerset County Council raised and repaired the A372 at Beer Wall, and installed four massive culverts, to allow more water to go under the road. The Environment Agency, acting for the SRA, then increased the capacity of the Sowy/KSD by creating two new offshoot channels for the Sowy and Langacre through the new culverts. Two tilting weirs were also installed, to enable more flexible use of the Sowy, and allow pumping stations to be operated earlier.

Other works have included the removal of obstructive masonry from beneath Dunball Old Bridge as part of measures to improve the capacity and flow of water through the final stretch of the KSD, and improvements to Chedzoy Flap (to better protect farmland around Chedzoy and Andersea). For more Sowy/KSD details, see part 3a of this report.

Flood management and infrastructure solutions

We must: Invest in flood management and infrastructure solutions having developed a better understanding of their effectiveness.

What we have achieved: The SRA has so far taken forward exactly 100 actions across Somerset, involving – in total – many hundreds more of different elements countywide. Works have included maintenance and repairs to  river channels and ordinary watercourses; improvements to a wide range of flood risk management assets such as pumping stations; plus the raising of roads and the upgrading of drains. An extensive programme of silt-monitoring has made dredging more effective and increased understanding of the Parrett and Tone. Significant investments have been made in research for the major Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

We must: Accelerate the construction of a Barrier or Sluice at Bridgwater, withthe objective of achieving delivery by 2024.

What we have achieved: A location and design have been chosen for a Bridgwater Tidal Barrier: two ‘vertical lift’ gates between Express Park and Chilton Trinity. Following further public consultation in autumn 2018, the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council plan to apply for the necessary consents in spring 2019, and start building in 2022, so a Barrier is operational in 2024. It will protect nearly 13,000 properties.

The SRA has used Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to support the scheme’s initial stages.

Somerset Rivers Authority

We must: Establish a Somerset Rivers Board that has greater control and responsibility for work to maintain and improve water management on the Levels.

What we have achieved: Somerset Rivers Authority was launched on 31 January, 2015. It covers not just the Levels, but the whole of Somerset. The Government has drafted a Rivers Authorities & Land Drainage Bill which (when passed) will 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 Somerset needs. With Government support, the Bill is currently being taken forward as a Private Member’s Bill by the Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton.

Catchment-sensitive farming / natural flood management

We must: Support farmers to maximise the benefits from catchment sensitive farming, especially regarding run-off in the upper catchment.

What we have achieved: More than 400 farms have been visited as part of the Hills to Levels initiative, and more than 450 schemes delivered using funding from a range of sources. The SRA has approved grants for more than 130 natural flood management schemes and backed soil management initiatives and numerous investigations of flooding problems on roads. For more details of this work, which has so far won two national awards, see the Land Management section (W2) of this report.

Urban water management

We must: Manage urban runoff by ensuring best practice in planning and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDs) implementation.

What we have achieved: All Somerset Local Planning Authorities reviewed their planning policies with regard to flooding and a West of England Sustainable Drainage Developer Guide was published in 2015, supported by Somerset County Council and the Environment Agency (both SRA partners).

The SRA’s 2018-19 Enhanced Programme is funding the production of a Somerset-specific planning guidance document to supplement  the West of England guide. Progress is being made on a range of other initiatives, particularly the major Sponge project and the unique SuDS review.

Increasing business and community resilience

We must: Sustain and enhance business and community resilience capacity.

What we have achieved: An SRA-funded Community Resilience Officer has worked with local communities, parish councils, the Environment Agency, district councils, emergency services and other interested parties. Detailed community flood resilience plans – to help people prepare for, or respond to, any future flooding – have been distributed door-to-door in Burrowbridge, Moorland, Fordgate, West Yeo, Chadmead and Aller.

A Somerset community resilience website has been created to provide a comprehensive and easy access information source for resilience, linked to flood risk information: www.somersetprepared.org.uk

Numerous SRA-funded grants have been given to communities by the Community Resilience in Somerset Partnership (CRiSP). Read about the latest awards in the Building Local Resilience (W5) section of this report.

Information and advice have been offered to a number of individual communities. Communities have included: Chadmead, Huntham, North Curry, Curry Rivel, Curry Mallet and Muchelney.

Strong local leadership, engaging partners and communities

We must: Ensure strong local leadership with full engagement of local partners and communities.

What we have achieved: Somerset Rivers Authority is run by a Board of partners from West Somerset Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, Somerset County Council, the Parrett and Axe Brue Internal Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency, Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee and Natural England.

An SRA Joint Scrutiny Panel has been established, with members drawn from the county council, district councils and IDBs. (The Panel can choose, if it so wishes, to expand its membership to include members of the public or representatives of other bodies.)

The SRA’s Management Group, Technical Group, Dredging Strategy Board and Communications Group engage with SRA partners and many other organisations and individuals as required (FLAG, West Somerset Flood Group, The Mead residents’ group near Ilchester, NFU, CLA, Somerset Catchment Partnership, Somerset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Highways England, Somerset Water Management Partnership, etc).

The SRA provides a strategic overview of the continued delivery of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan and compiles the Somerset Common Works Programme – the combined list of all the planned Flood Risk Management works of Somerset’s Flood Risk Management Authorities and other partners. The SRA identifies extra work that needs to be done and commissions its delivery across Somerset.

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