The vision for a new authority overseeing the progress of Somerset’s Flood Action Plan has today been backed by Somerset County Council’s Cabinet (Wednesday 12 November).
Senior County Councillors have endorsed proposals for a new Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA). The SRA’s reason-to-be would be to reduce the likelihood, duration and impact of flooding in the County.
Somerset County Council Leader John Osman told Cabinet he is seeking a joint meeting with Environment Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss and Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to finally resolve the Somerset Rivers Authority funding question.
The body is a key feature of the 20 Year Flood Action Plan which was prepared after the extreme floods last winter at the Government’s request.
All organisations involved in the 20 Year Flood Action Plan are urging a clear-cut commitment from the Government to give the £2.7m of funding needed in order to get a ‘Shadow’ Somerset Rivers Authority up and running in 2015.
Last month Mr Osman, who is also Chairman of the Flood Action Plan’s Leaders Implementation Group, warned Elizabeth Truss: “Unless we receive interim funding … all of the good work which we have achieved over the last nine months will count for very little.”
Interim funding for a new Somerset Rivers Authority from 2015 is being sought from the Government. The future SRA’s proposed plan is to raise funds locally through a county-wide charge from 2016. The Government would also have to support legislation to enable the Somerset Rivers Authority to levy funding, like the Fire and Rescue Service.
If established, the SRA’s work would focus on enhanced maintenance of river channels, important ordinary watercourses, and river flood banks Somerset-wide, to reduce flood risk.
Dredging, and maintenance of dredged profiles, would also be included.
The roles, funding and responsibilities of the individual partners involved in the Somerset River Authority would be unchanged, but the body would provide an important forum for joint working.
Cllr John Osman said: “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recently said that ‘the nation should share the burden’. My personal view in light of those comments is that if central Government wishes to fund the SRA that would be fine. But we need clear direction from Westminster; and if that is not the case we need Government support to pursue the county-wide charge.
“All of us involved in the 20 Year Flood Action Plan are adamant that an independent, transparent and accountable Somerset Rivers Authority is essential if we are to reduce the likelihood and impact of future flooding in Somerset.
“Together we have done so much, but there is still so much more work to do.
“The Government must know that the steps they take have implications not just for our County, but for the whole of the South West peninsula which was effectively cut off by last winter’s extreme floods.
“As things stand, we are entirely in the Government’s hands as to how quickly and effectively we are able to do this, and I am urging a meeting with Elizabeth Truss and Eric Pickles to thrash out with them what is to be done.
“Until we get their absolute assurance that the Government will commit to the vital funding we need to set up this key authority for Somerset, we will continue banging the drum for the investment our county’s flood-affected communities deserve.”
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