Preventing a repeat crisis

Aerial views of Moorland, on the flooded Somerset Levels. February 2014.

Aerial views of Moorland, on the flooded Somerset Levels. February 2014. - Credit: David Hedges

The Leader of Somerset County Council is calling for Government funds to set up a Somerset Rivers Board.

Cllr John Osman says it is essential to have an organisation with more responsibility and ‘clout’ following the major flooding on the Somerset Levels.

It is hoped the rivers board - made up of representatives from the county council, Sedgemoor District Council, Environment Agency, Natural England and internal drainage boards - would improve water management in the future.

In an interview with Somerset Life Cllr Osman says: “I wrote to the Secretary of State to say we need the Government to provide at least interim funding for a rivers board in the sum of £2.7million.”

He is also calling for a firm Government commitment to building a barrage or sluice on the River Parrett to prevent the influx of water at high tide.

During the early stages of the floods, Cllr Osman called together all the major organisations to set up the Leaders Implementation Group. This was charged with delivering the 20-year Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan.

“In my view the Leaders Implementation Group has always been the shadow Somerset Rivers Board but I feel if it’s not given proper status and its own money to spend then it’s just an organisation of people coming round the table talking.

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“The rivers board needs clout and to be able to hold Somerset County Council or the Environment Agency to account if it’s not doing what it needs to be doing.”

Cllr Osman says that objectives on the action plan are being ticked off ‘fairly rapidly’.

“But it was always identified that there were some big issues such as the creation of a rivers board and a barrage and sluice and they are the next wave of issues. Those are the things we’ve got to be doing over the next six months and if we don’t address those issues it will look like momentum has been lost.”

He says the floods, which had been a ‘huge wake up call’ for everybody, had been caused by a culmination of things.

“We had the worst rainfall in a generation and then the fact the rivers weren’t dredged for 20 or so years. Then there were land owners who are responsible for their own drainage and maybe not maintaining them as well as they should be.

“But I would also say on top of that is someone - and I’m not sure who - should have been thinking of the ‘what if’. What the new Somerset Rivers Board will be able to address is that forward thinking. It will be a powerful organisation.”

As well as the dredging of the first 8km of the Rivers Tone and Parrett, which has been going on this summer, other key elements of the 20-year Flood Action Plan are already underway, such the construction of a ring bank around Thorney to protect homes, raising the road to Muchelney and putting new culverts under the A372 at Beer Wall.

Our series of Last Words, dedicated to Recovery Somerset, continues to look at the flooding from the perspective of those affected, as well as the views of those providing help and advice.