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Floods cost Somerset up to £147m report reveals, as SRA considers options to raise funds

The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) is considering options to fund additional flood protection in Somerset, as figures in a newly released Economic Impact Assessment show the 2013/14 winter floods cost the county up to £147 million. The South West Peninsula was also significantly affected.

An SRA Board members’ workshop last week (July 10) held a constructive meeting to discuss a Funding Options report for additional flood protection in Somerset. It will now be circulated to a wider stakeholder group including Flooding on the Levels Action Group, the National Farmers Union and others, for consideration at a workshop on July 24.

Members of Somerset’s local authorities and the Internal Drainage Boards, all represented on the SRA Board, will also now consider the options over the coming weeks.

The SRA Board will meet in September to finalise its recommendation to Ministers for a preferred option. Ministers will then consider the options and discuss next steps with the SRA in setting up a future funding mechanism to enable additional flood protection for the county.

“The Economic Impact Assessment underlines the massive impact of flooding and the urgent need to secure future funding for the SRA and the extra flood-protection work it is responsible for,” said John Osman, chair of the SRA.

The Funding Options report was compiled by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the SRA.

“We are keen to move things forward as soon as possible and are delighted that ministers want to work with us.  We look forward to working together in setting up the mechanism for this to happen,” said John Osman.

“This will be key to finally solving the long-term issue of flooding in Somerset. No-one can stop flooding, but the SRA’s actions will reduce the frequency, duration and severity of a flood of the nature experienced in 2013/14.”

The Funding Options report considers: a new precepting body (legal power to raise income), a new levying body, council tax, Internal Drainage Boards extending boundaries or increasing levy, a county drainage district. (See below for more details)

Economic Impact Assessment
The newly published Economic Impact Assessment shows that the economic cost of the floods to Somerset alone was up to £147 million, with the South West region significantly affected.

Key findings included:
• Half of all Somerset businesses were badly affected by the floods.
• 86% of Somerset businesses were badly affected by road closures.
• 75% of Plymouth businesses were badly affected by transport disruption caused by the floods.
• The impact on residential property was up to £20 million.
• The impact on public mental health was “devastating.”
• Environment Agency, emergency services and local government response costs were up to £19.3 million.
• The impact on the railway is estimated at up to £21.3 million.
• Over 80 roads were closed at a cost of up to £15 million to the local economy.

The report was undertaken by independent consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff for Somerset County Council, on behalf of the SRA.

The full reports on both the Economic Impact Assessment and the Funding Options are available on the SRA website at http://www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk/useful-info/

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Please see further information on the reports below.

For more information please contact:
Sue Mitchinson
Communications Officer – Somerset Rivers Authority
Email: smitchinson@somerset.gov.uk
Tel: 01823 357676

Notes to Editors – summary of information

Please see brief summary below of the Economic Impact Assessment and the Funding Review reports. The full reports are both available on the SRA website at www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk

1. Economic Impact Assessment

Given the complex nature of the economy, the report states it is common practise to present a high and low estimate either side of a central estimate of costs. The figures in this press release show up to the highest estimate.

The report was undertaken by independent consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff for Somerset County Council, on behalf of the SRA. The report aims to establish the true economic impact of the winter 2013/14 flooding; provide evidence for investment in flood risk management; inform the SRA’s work.

Key points include:

Economy
• Half of all businesses in Somerset were badly affected by the floods.
• 86% of Somerset businesses were badly affected by road closures.
• Impacts to business premises cost up to £4.1 million
• 75% of Plymouth businesses were badly affected by transport disruption caused by the floods. 66% found it harder to win new business.
• 35% of Torbay businesses were impacted by transport disruption from the floods.

Health and Emergency Services
• Responding to the floods cost the Environment Agency, emergency services and local government up to £19.3 million.
• A peak of 128 pumps were running at the height of pumping operations.
• The report says the impact on public mental health was “devastating”
• The social impact costs, considered to be an under estimate, were up to £4.8 million 

Transport
• The impact on the railway is estimated at up to £21.3 million including loss of services.
• Over 80 roads were closed at a cost of up to £15 million to the local economy.

Agriculture
• Agricultural impact costs were up to £6.9 million.

Residential property
• Cost of impacts to residential property was up to £20 million

The full Economic Impact Assessment and a summary are available to view at www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk

2. Funding Options report

The Funding Options report sets out potential options and pros and cons for each, but does not recommend a particular one.

The following are the local funding options identified:

• Creating a new precepting body (legal power to raise income)
Under this option, the SRA would be established as a new statutory body with precepting powers using primary legislation. The body could raise income from householders and additionally from landowners/land occupiers outside Internal Drainage Board areas. This option would require primary legislation, which could be introduced in Parliament using a public (government) bill or as a private bill sponsored by an external body like Somerset County Council.

• Creating a new levying body
There are existing precedents for flood risk management levies in the form of Internal Drainage Board levies and the Environment Agency’s local levy. Primary legislation would be needed to set up the SRA as a statutory body with new powers to charge all Somerset local authorities, or only the County Council, a flood risk management levy. A levying body could either cover the whole of Somerset or it could be limited to areas not currently covered by Internal Drainage Boards.

• Council tax
Somerset County Council and the 5 district councils could fund the SRA at the same level as in 2015/16 from council tax. The councils could use a one-off increase in council tax, within the referendum threshold (which was 2% in 2015/16), to generate additional funding for the SRA from households. This could apply from April 2016. In subsequent years the funding would be considered part of the baseline and would not require future council tax increases.

• Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) extend boundaries or increase levy
Internal Drainage Boards charge rates and levies to cover their annual expenses. These are reviewed and approved by the Board each year. Under this option both the IDBs in Somerset would have to show that their expenses had increased and would generate the additional £2.7m funds by increasing special levies and charges paid by districts and agricultural land occupiers.

• County Drainage District
A further option presented by the Association of Drainage Authorities was the creation of a new kind of Internal Drainage Board in a County Drainage District. This could cover the area inside Somerset but not currently covered by the existing Internal Drainage Boards districts. Unless it was possible to show that all of this land would derive benefit or avoid danger from land drainage activities, this would require new legislation.

The SRA received one year’s interim funding of £2.7m for 2015/16 - £1.9m from Defra and £800,000 from Somerset partners Somerset County Council (providing £600,000), and between them Sedgemoor District Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, West Somerset District Council and Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards providing £200,000.

This is being used to carry out dredging and a number of other flood risk reduction activities, as well as an Enhanced Maintenance Programme and a Common Works Programme.

The full report and details about the Somerset Rivers Authority are at www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk

The SRA

There are 11 partner organisations in the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and their existing responsibilities and accountabilities will continue. 

Through the SRA their work will become fully co-ordinated to ensure Somerset’s flood risk management benefits from their collective experience and knowledge.

They are:
Environment Agency
Mendip District Council
Natural England
Sedgemoor District Council
Somerset County Council
South Somerset District Council
Taunton Deane Borough Council
The Axe/Brue Internal Drainage Boards
The Parrett Internal Drainage Board
Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee
West Somerset Council

If you would like to get in touch please contact us at sra@somerset.gov.uk or tel: 01823 355111
The Flood Action Plan is now overseen by the Somerset Rivers Authority and can be contacted on the above.