Somerset Rivers Authority’s purpose, history and funding

Contents – quick links

What Somerset Rivers Authority is
What Somerset Rivers Authority does
What Somerset Rivers Authority does not do
Origin of Somerset Rivers Authority
New Somerset Rivers Authority Strategy 2024-34
Funding from local partners
Funding from Heart of the SW Local Enterprise Partnership

What Somerset Rivers Authority is

Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) is a partnership. SRA partners are:

  • Somerset Council
  • the Axe Brue and Parrett Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs)
  • Environment Agency
  • Natural England
  • Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee
  • Wessex Water

Representatives of all these bodies sit on the SRA Board, working together in accordance with the 2024-25 version of the SRA’s Local Memorandum of Understanding and Constitution (PDF).

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What Somerset Rivers Authority does

Somerset Rivers Authority reduces the risks and impacts of flooding across Somerset. Although its name might suggest it is only concerned with rivers, the SRA is interested in flooding of all kinds (with the single general exception of coastal flooding).

There is no single answer to Somerset’s many flooding problems. Different approaches are needed in different places, in varying combinations. The SRA as a partnership gets people working together more powerfully on suitable projects. 

The SRA enables partners to go above and beyond their usual schemes and activities, and do extra work on local priorities.

So that partners have money to achieve more, annual funding of just over £3million is raised through council tax solely for the use of the SRA. The Axe Brue and Parrett IDBs also choose to give the SRA a total of £20,000 a year.

The SRA takes a catchment perspective. A catchment is an area of land from which water – especially rainwater – drains and flows down into streams, rivers, lakes and often the sea.

Across Somerset’s catchments, the SRA has worked with many organisations and groups, most notably the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SouthWest (FWAG SW) on the award-winning Hills to Levels project, which helps to slow the flow of water down through catchments to vulnerable areas.

In the years to come, the SRA expects and wants to work with many more different organisations, communities, businesses and individuals, so that 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 does not generally get involved in coastal flood risk activities, although the SRA Board may consider cases where a coastal flood risk project supports SRA objectives further inland.

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.

Somerset Rivers Authority does not comment on planning applications, because the SRA’s partner organisations do this as part of their day-to-day business and the SRA does not duplicate what they do.

SRA partners’ own flood risk and water management responsibilities are not lessened in any way by involvement in the SRA (nor indeed are those of landowners who have watercourses adjoining, running through or under their land).

The SRA does extra. Not instead.

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Origin of Somerset Rivers Authority

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.

This 2014 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.

With the formation of the SRA, the scope of the 2014 Flood Action Plan was widened to include the whole of Somerset.

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New Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) Strategy 2024-34

While the SRA still oversees the 2014 Flood Action Plan, it now acts primarily according to its own new SRA Strategy 2024-34.

This new SRA Strategy was formally approved by SRA Board members at their meeting on 8 March 2024. To help put the Strategy into practice, a new SRA Flood Action Plan is also being produced.

The SRA funds works that meet the five objectives in its new Strategy 2024-34:

  1. Reduce the risks and impacts of flooding across Somerset.
  2. Maintain access and connections during times of flood for communities and businesses across Somerset.
  3. Increase the resilience of people, places and the environment to flooding, while adapting to climate change.
  4. Protect Somerset’s economy from the impacts of flooding, promote business confidence and encourage new opportunities.
  5. Conserve and enhance Somerset’s special environments (natural, built, social, cultural) for all who live and work in Somerset and visit.

In pursuing these objectives, 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 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Somerset’s local authorities (at that time the county council, and five district councils) and Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium. Defra gave £1.9million, Somerset County Council gave £600,000, and the 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 the five 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.

In April 2023, the power to raise a shadow precept for the SRA passed to the new Somerset Council, which replaced the county council and the district councils.

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 2024-25, it’s £3.059million. 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. That money has been spent on a series of projects, including:

  • the River Sowy – King’s Sedgemoor Drain (KSD) Enhancements Scheme (Phase One)
  • Pioneer dredging activities on the River Parrett
  • Development work on the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier
  • Natural flood management works to Slow the Flow of water as part of Hills to Levels
  • Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme
  • New Highbridge surface water pumping station

An account of the SRA’s spending of HotSWLEP money (PDF) was presented to the SRA Board on 5 March 2021.

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 Flood Action Plan, which is why it made sense for the SRA to spend the HotSWLEP Growth Deal money.

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