A new community boat has arrived in Somerset to be kept on standby in case of any future flooding emergencies.
At all other times, the boat will be run and maintained by a community group at the Maunsel Lock Canal Centre near North Newton. The boat is flat-bottomed and fully accessible for wheelchairs, so its main role will be to provide access to the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal for groups of disabled people and those with limited mobility.
The community boat, complete with engine and trailer, has been funded by Somerset County Council with support from South Somerset District Council, and purchased through the Wheelyboat Trust.
Cllr David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Business, Inward Investment and Policy, said: “I’m delighted we have been able to purchase this boat which we’ll be able to mobilise almost instantly in an emergency.
“Hopefully, this will not be necessary, particularly thanks to the various flood prevention schemes we’ve carried out at places like Muchelney and Thorney. Our work through the Flood Action Plan is ongoing, but this is a belt and braces approach, and I’m sure many of our isolated communities will be reassured that we have a boat in reserve should we ever need one.
“At other times, this boat will provide a wonderful resource for charities, schools and other groups, and is particularly suited for providing boat trips for disabled people. This means it also helps to attract visitors and will provide an economic benefit to Somerset.”
The Mk III Wheelyboat is specially designed to provide disabled people with independent access to the water, and is similar to the one used as an emergency support boat during the 2014 floods.
During the severe flooding of 2014, the village of Muchelney was cut off for 10 weeks and the only access was provided by a boat funded by Somerset County Council.
Since those floods, considerable work has been carried out by many different agencies under the 20 Year Flood Action Plan to reduce the likelihood and impact of floods on the Somerset Levels and Moors. As well as the road-raising at Muchelney and ringbanks in Thorney, there are major works being carried out at Beer Wall on the A372; the Environment Agency has carried out 8km of dredging on the Parrett and Tone, and grants totalling £325,000 have been given out under the Repair and Renew scheme. The Somerset Rivers Authority has also been created.