Somerset County Council Scrutiny Committee

13 December 2005

 

Paper by the Environment Agency

1.        1          Introduction

1.             1.1        This paper provides the Scrutiny Committee with an early sight of issues which will be presented to the Wessex Regional Flood Defence Committee which meets on 9 January 2006.

2.             1.2        The paper is supplemented by two tables, providing the information on the options for the level of Local Levy funding and work programmes for 2006/07.

2.        2          Flood Risk Management Funding

1.             2.1        Since 2004-05 the Environment Agency has been funded directly from Defra. This funding (Grant in Aid) takes into consideration the operational cost and the funding of major capital projects and is summarised below for the Wessex Regional Flood Defence Committee.

 

 

2005/06

(£k)

2006/07

(£k)

Non Capital Expenditure

20,820

24,718

Capital Expenditure

17,214

9,396

2.             2.2        There is also a Local Levy, raised from County and Unitary Authorities in each Regional Flood Defence Committee’s Area.  This allows schemes to proceed, which would not attract National Grant in Aid, but still provide cost/beneficial reductions in flood risk to local people.

3.             2.3        Defra has recently announced changes to the Local Levy system for 2006/07. Notably the cap of 3 times the Formula Spending Share (FSS) has been removed, and there will be no transitional arrangements for Local Authorities which used to contribute to Local Flood Defence Committees.

4.             2.4        The effect of this can be seen in Table 1, which shows the Local Levy raised in 2005/06 for the Local Flood Defence Committees, and the options which we will present to the Regional Committee in January.  All options show a significant reduction in the Local Levy from Somerset County Council.

5.             2.5        Defra has also decided that only Local Authority members of the Wessex Regional Flood Defence Committee can vote on Local Levy matters.  This is to protect the Local Authorities interest after removal of the capping mechanism and help maintain the focus of Local Levy projects.


3.        3          Works Completed in 2005-06

1.             3.1        In Somerset, our key achievements for 2005 -06 include the major capital projects at Oath Sluice and Greylake sluice. We have also continued to improve the overall condition of our assets.

2.             3.2        We have also expanded our Flood Warning coverage at Bridgwater, Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea, including the completion of a Major Incident Plan for Somerset in conjunction with the Emergency Planning Service of the County Council.

3.             3.3        We have also continued our works at Ham Village and Kingsbury Episcopi both funded from Local Levy. Improvements at Ham Village offer protection for 5 properties and at Kingsbury Episcopi, 9.

4.             3.4        We have also used Local Levy to fund improvement works at Parrett Works Sluice in Martock and Lake Wall.  We have also continued with our programme of silt agitation works on the Parrett. We have monitored the condition of the river channel both before and after the agitation to record how effective the works are. We are due to report on the overall effectiveness of the 3-year programme of works and draw conclusions on the future maintenance plans.

5.             3.5        We have also continued to forge partnerships with key farming and environmental groups. We provide funding to FWAG to help the farming community on flood related land stewardship issues, helping to reduce the impacts of siltation and help control run off. We have also provided funding to help the Internal Drainage Boards implement their modernisation and rationalisation.

4.        4          Schemes proposed for 2006-07

1.             4.1        Table 2 shows the schemes which we are proposing for 2006/07.

2.             4.2        The high priority schemes in Somerset include further construction work at Ham Village, and dredging of further lengths of the River Parrett.  We will continue to pursue opportunities at Steart to create habitat, and bring about a reduction in Flood Risk to 70 vulnerable properties.  We will begin to design improvement works at Creech St. Michael

3.             4.3        We will also continue to support partnerships with FWAG, and with the Internal Drainage Boards.  We will contribute to a new partnership with Sedgemoor DC which is looking at the regeneration benefits of a Tidal Sluice on the River Parrett.

4.             4.4        Medium Priority projects within Somerset include further schemes to reduce flood risk at Yeovilton and West Lydford and a further phase of works in Frome to increase the channel capacity.


5.        5          Discussion

1.             5.1        The Environment Agency believes that the Wessex Regional Flood Defence Committee needs a sustainable Local Levy of £2.3million annually. This allows planning for works with sufficient lead in time to deliver on the ground at the most efficient time of year.

2.             5.2        It also allows schemes to be progressed in preparation for release of national funding in future years.  A good example of this is at Steart, where we have recognised the potential to create up to 800 hectares of habitat, and reduce flood risk.  After several years work, Defra and our Head Office are interested in providing funding for a scheme which could meet national targets for several years.

3.             5.3        With the Priority Score for Capital Schemes likely to be set high for 2006/07, and the following 2 years the only way that schemes which are considered important locally can be progressed is through an adequate level of Local Levy funding.

4.             5.4        The rate of movement towards this figure depends on the willingness of all Local Authorities to contribute at the rate shown in Option 4 on Table 1.  For some there is a significant difference between current contributions and the sustainable level.  Somerset County Council will be a major beneficiary.

6.        6           Highways Bridges

1.             6.1        We would like the advice of the Scrutiny Committee on the most appropriate body to manage the Highways Bridges currently owned by the Environment Agency.

2.             6.2        These include trunk road, and major and minor road bridges.  Projects to upgrade these to meet modern standards are diverting our resources away from projects to reduce flood risk in the county.

7.        7          Recommendation

1.             7.1        The Scrutiny Committee should reaffirm the importance of Flood Risk Management to the County of Somerset.

2.             7.2        The Scrutiny Committee should note that the changed arrangements for Local Levy for 2006/07 will result in a significant saving for Somerset County Council compared to its contribution in 2005/06.

3.             7.3        The Scrutiny Committee should consider the Options and the Work Programme presented today, and advise Somerset County Council’s representatives on the Regional Flood Defence Committee of issues it believes they should take into account when considering the Local Levy at the meeting in January.

 

R D Symonds

Area Flood Risk Manager