Summit calls for urgent action in Somerset to prevent future flooding
West MPs have called for urgent action to prevent future heavy rain causing a repeat of the terrible devastation recently brought to low-lying areas of Somerset.
A flood summit took place in the county yesterday in the wake of the floods that struck late last year – and among the outcomes was agreement for a major review of how different agencies co-ordinate their work and take responsibility.
But there were no firm promises about dredging rivers and, in fact, a prime example of different bodies refusing to take responsibility for a relatively simple silt clearing exercise that led to flooding was presented to the summit.
At the meeting, held in Taunton, Wells MP Tessa Munt called for the logging and mapping of every gully, with the help of local communities, and for the county council to give each a priority status for cleaning.
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She added: “People on community service could be asked to sweep leaves, clear drains and gullies.”
She said it is crucial that the Environment Agency adds another clause to its aims and objectives: “At the moment they include the protection of habitat and wildlife, which is valid, but they must include the protection of productive land. We need to encourage farmers, and not to dismiss them,” she said.
Farmer Patrick Palmer gave a stark example of the need for joined-up action.
Twenty miles away at Long Load silt filled one arch of a three-arched road bridge, causing flooding.
Somerset County Council is responsible for the river under a bridge and has agreed to clear the silt, but the land owners on either side cannot afford to take on the major job of clearing either side of the bridge and the Environment Agency has declined to step in.
The agency said its budget is limited and in 2014-15 it will be 60 per cent of what it had in 2010. It has admitted that dredging pinch points in rivers could make a difference but justifying the spend is another issue. The county council said it is working to produce evidence that the economic case is overwhelming.
Somerset’s MPs have been fighting for action – and a stronger policy – to prevent and alleviate flooding in the county for years and the downpours which left thousands of acres under water for months and closed roads and businesses led to a redoubling of their efforts.
Robbie Williams, operations manager for the Environment Agency said: “Hope comes from the fact that there is clearly a debate going on in Westminster.
“The key ministers understand the tension and the pressure. We have demonstrated that it is technically possible, and viable, to de-silt. The question then is can the country afford it, and can all those who have an interest in some way work to achieve it.”
But Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger said: “If the Environment Agency can find £31 million to flood Steart to create wetland it can find the money to dredge the rivers.”
The summit was organised by councillors from all five district councils and the county council and attended by organisations including the Environment Agency, Met Office, Somerset Internal Drainage Board, Wessex Water and the Country Land and Business Association and three Somerset MPs, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Ms Munt and Taunton’s Jeremy Browne.
The steering group will meet again in April.
Councillor Ric Pallister, leader of South Somerset District Council, said: “It isn’t just about money, it is how as agencies we work more intelligently with each other, our farming community, our villages and most importantly individual households who are at risk from future downpours.”