SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme (TSFAIS)
Somerset West and Taunton Council estimates that a single major flood could cost Taunton’s economy up to £50million. 1031 properties in Taunton are currently at risk, including homes, health centres, emergency services, North Town Primary School, electricity substations, sports facilities and much more. By 2118, because of climate change, the number is expected to rise to 2548.
Taunton has flooded badly before.
In 1960, more than 360 homes, shops and business premises were flooded. In response, the River Tone through the town was re-modelled and defences were reinforced in the 1980s. Taunton did not flood in 2013-14 but it came very close to flooding in 2000 and 2012.
Taunton Strategic Flood Alleviation Improvements Scheme (TSFAIS) is an important part of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan. Since 2014, when the Flood Action Plan was drawn up, the council and the Environment Agency have been studying how to reduce flood risks from the River Tone and its complex network of tributaries, particularly the Galmington, Sherford and Mill streams. Somerset Rivers Authority has part-funded the Scheme’s progress for the last five years, in 2016-17 using Growth Deal funding from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.
Phase 1 of TSFAIS highlighted the need for a combination of two main options. Firstly, improved flood defence walls in the town. Secondly, an area for storing up to 1.8 million cubic metres of water at Bradford on Tone, to provide extra protective capacity for the next 100 years.
Phase 2 of TSFAIS then included surveys, ground investigations, initial engagement with landowners, computer modelling, initial environmental surveys and concept designs. In August 2018, the SRA Board was told that the estimated cost of the two main options would be around £50million. A new flood storage area and dam would also require an on-going commitment to maintenance. The council had put aside £6million of its own money for TSFAIS but all parties accepted that the total sum required was unlikely to be found in the short term. A revised Project Delivery Plan was therefore agreed.
Activities during 2019-20
Somerset West and Taunton Council and the Environment Agency have continued to work in partnership, part-funded by the SRA. This year’s focus was on 11 smaller options for improvements identified during Phase 2 of TSFAIS studies. The aim is to give Taunton a useful short and medium-term increase in its capacity to manage flooding, pending the longer-term delivery of the two main TSFAIS options. A key target for this year was to feed into Taunton Garden Town ambitions for a better environment and better waterways.
At the end of January 2020, the SRA Board confirmed its ongoing support for TSFAIS and its wider objectives, subject to the condition that any interventions made as part of the Scheme must have no significant impact downstream of Taunton.
Support for three local interventions
In February 2020, a Full Council meeting of Somerset West and Taunton agreed to prioritise three initial local interventions. These are:
1) Optimising flood water storage at Longrun Meadow through building 1500 metres of raised embankments up to 1.8 metres high. This will benefit 687 properties.
2) Raising low spots in the River Tone’s flood defences from Frieze Hill to Town Bridge. This will benefit 508 homes, businesses and facilities such as the police station and council offices, BT exchange and French Weir surgery, plus the A3027 and A3088.
3) Raising Firepool Lock gates to prevent River Tone floodwater entering the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal at Firepool, which reduces the risks of overtopping into Maiden’s Brook and then Allen’s Brook in Bathpool, and also raising 750metres of River Tone defences between Firepool Lock and the A258 Obridge Viaduct. This will benefit 219 properties.
Somerset West and Taunton Council will use £6million previously put aside for building projects 1 and 2. Further funding for project 3, and other TSFAIS elements, is being sought.
In March 2020, as part of the SRA’s budget and Enhanced Programme of works for 2020-21, the SRA Board agreed to put £300,000 towards the detailed design and delivery of the three interventions listed above.