David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome, has introduced a new Bill to Parliament: The Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill.
The proposed Bill seeks to allow Somerset Rivers Authority (and any similar body elsewhere) to become a statutory body. This would mean that it could put its finances on a secure footing, through being allowed to raise its own precept funding. It could plan more effectively. It could continue to give Somerset a vital extra level of flood protection and resilience.
The long title of the Bill is: A Bill to make provision about rivers authorities; to make provision about the expenses of internal drainage boards; and for connected purposes.
In the House of Commons on Monday 5 March, Mr Warburton introduced the Bill as a “Presentation Bill”. This means that it has now had its First Reading and can move forward to its Second Reading on March 16. If it completes this second stage, it will proceed to Committee Stage, Report Stage, Third Reading and then on to the House of Lords. Eventually the Bill would be passed and become law. (Track the progress of the Rivers Authorities Bill through Parliament).
On Thursday 8 March, Mr Warburton also led an Adjournment Debate in Parliament on the subject of Rivers Authorities, and he continues to gather fellow MPs’ support to help sustain the Bill’s passage through Parliament. Local and Somerset MPs so far co-sponsoring and supporting the Bill include Ian Liddell-Grainger MP (Bridgwater and West Somerset), the chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee Neil Parish MP (Tiverton), Marcus Fysh MP (Yeovil) and James Heappey MP (Wells).
While her role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in Defra precludes directly co-sponsoring the Bill, SRA supporter Rebecca Pow MP (Taunton Deane) has been working hard within Defra to ensure that David was able to take the legislation forward.
The Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill has full Government support. Its provisions come in two parts:
The first provides the Secretary of State for Defra with powers to establish Rivers Authorities, with precepting powers. These powers would be used to finally make the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) a statutory body. This would put the SRA’s finances on a secure footing for the long term, and thereby help Somerset avoid a repeat of the disastrous flooding of 2013-14. The Government has no plans or intentions to create similar statutory authorities outside Somerset.
Second, the Bill implements a technical update to the legislation governing the levying powers of internal drainage boards (IDBs), to remove a barrier to setting up new boards and expanding existing ones. This will help to ensure that new IDBs can be established where the local community is calling for this, as they are, for example, in Cumbria. While this update has no impact on Somerset, it will support other areas.
Mr Warburton said: “I am immensely proud to be leading this very important Bill through Parliament. We all recall the devastating floods of 2013 and 2014, and it their aftermath we worked together to get the SRA up and running as a unique partnership tackling all sources of inland flooding. There is an ongoing need for greater flood protection and resilience, so it’s imperative that the SRA here in Somerset be put on a secure financial footing and be properly supported to carry out their vital work.
“This Bill will be pivotal in helping to protect vulnerable areas from a repeat of the catastrophic flooding they experienced in the past, and I’m delighted to be in a position to make what I hope will be a significant and historic addition to UK legalisation.”
Cllr John Osman, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “The SRA’s very grateful to David Warburton MP for bringing this Private Member’s Bill forward, and to other local MPs and Defra for their support.
“This Bill is a very exciting development. Since the SRA was launched as a pioneering partnership more than three years ago, we’ve done a lot of extra work to reduce flood risks across Somerset. We’ve made homes and businesses safer, and people’s lives easier in times of bad weather. Every part of the county has benefitted.
“If this Bill passes through Parliament, the SRA will be able to tackle more problems in an even more innovative, cost-effective and co-ordinated way. A securely established, long-term Somerset Rivers Authority will give local people more power to decide in Somerset what works best for Somerset – and do more to protect us all against flooding.
“It’s a brilliant opportunity. I urge everyone to support this Bill.”