Somerset Rivers Authority’s purpose, history and funding

Contents – quick links

What Somerset Rivers Authority does
What Somerset Rivers Authority does not do
Brief history of Somerset Rivers Authority
Funding from local partners
Funding from Heart of the SW Local Enterprise Partnership

What Somerset Rivers Authority does

Put simply, Somerset Rivers Authority does extra.

It gives Somerset an extra level of flood protection and resilience, above and beyond the usual activities of other Flood Risk Management Authorities, such as councils, Internal Drainage Boards and the Environment Agency.

How does the SRA do what it does?

It raises extra money.

It funds extra work.

It provides extra information.

It provides greater opportunities for different people and groups, different organisations and places to work together. Somerset’s flood risk management benefits from people’s collective experience and knowledge.

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What Somerset Rivers Authority does not do

Somerset Rivers Authority is not involved in coastal flood risk activities.

Somerset Rivers Authority is not involved in emergency responses to flooding or in flood recovery efforts. This means, for example, that the SRA does not supply sandbags, or set up pumps, or clear debris.

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Brief history of Somerset Rivers Authority

Formation

The SRA’s creation was proposed in the Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan.

This major 20-year blueprint for progress was drawn up during the awful floods of 2013-14.

The Flood Action Plan called for the development of a “future governance and funding model – a ‘Somerset rivers board’ – working with local partners including Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards and relevant stakeholders.”

Somerset Rivers Authority was duly launched on January 31, 2015 as a pioneering partnership of local Flood Risk Management Authorities.

Partners in the SRA are Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, Somerset County Council, West Somerset and Taunton Council, the Parrett and the Axe/Brue Internal Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency, Natural England and Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee. Representatives of all these bodies sit on the SRA Board, as agreed in the SRA’s Local Memorandum of Understanding and Constitution.

With the formation of the SRA, the scope of the Flood Action Plan was widened to include the whole of Somerset.

The SRA oversees the Flood Action Plan. It funds works that meet Flood Action Plan 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 Somerset (with internationally important biodiversity, environment and cultural heritage)
  5. Ensure strategic road and rail connectivity, both within Somerset and through the county to the South West peninsula
  6. Promote business confidence and growth

The SRA does not take away any of its partners’ existing responsibilities or accountabilities (nor any of Somerset landowners’ existing responsibilities or accountabilities). They all continue.

To repeat: the SRA does extra – not instead.

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Funding from local partners

For its first full year of work in 2015-16, the SRA had Interim Funding from Defra, Somerset’s local authorities and Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium. Defra gave £1.9million, Somerset County Council gave £600,000, and local district councils and Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium together gave £200,000, making £2.7million in total.

In December 2015, the Department for Communities & Local Government (as it was then called) gave Somerset County Council and local district councils the power to raise a shadow precept of up to 1.25% of 2016-17 council tax, to fund the SRA in 2016-17.

The reason why the figure of 1.25% of 2016-17 council tax was chosen for the SRA’s shadow precepting for 2016-17 was because it came tidily close to reproducing the SRA’s initial annual Interim Funding budget of £2.7million.

Since then, the option of shadow precepting has continued to be made available. Somerset’s councils vote on whether they should once again support shadow precepting at budget-setting meetings every February.

The level of the charge is still pegged to the initial £2.7 million figure, although the actual amount of money raised has gone up. In 2018-19, it’s £2.87million. This is because more households have been formed in Somerset (most obviously, because of new properties being built). In other words: the number of households asked to pay council tax in Somerset has got bigger, but the level of the charge itself has been frozen.

The Parrett and Axe/Brue Internal Drainage Boards also choose to contribute a total of £20,000 a year.

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Funding from Heart of the SW Local Enterprise Partnership

The SRA gets no central government funding from year to year.

However, in 2014 Government funding of £13.1m was awarded through the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP) Growth Deal Fund for the carrying out of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan – with £3.55m for flooding alleviation works in 2015-16, and a further £9.5m for future years. Some of that money is still available and the SRA has plans to spend it by 2021 on major projects, for example supporting a Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. This will protect nearly 13,000 properties and 600 businesses.

The Flood Action Plan was drawn up during the floods of winter 2013-14. As explained in the ‘Brief history’ above, one of the actions in the Plan was the creation of a body such as the SRA. (At the time, the exact form of this mooted body wasn’t set out in minute detail). The SRA, being the body that did emerge out of the Plan, now oversees the Plan, which is why it makes sense for the SRA to spend the HotSWLEP Growth Deal money.

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