Somerset floods: Council approves plan for rivers authority

County councillors have approved plans to form a new flood prevention body in Somerset.

The purpose of the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) would be to “reduce the likelihood, duration and impact of flooding in the county”.

More than 6,000 properties and 6,900ha of farmland in Somerset were inundated in the catastrophic winter floods of 2013. Some farm businesses will still take many months to fully recover from the disaster.

The body is a key feature of the 20-year Flood Action Plan, which was prepared after the extreme floods at the government’s request.

See also: Flood defence funding ‘puts farmland at risk’

If established, the SRA’s work would focus on enhanced maintenance of river channels, important ordinary watercourses, and river flood banks Somerset-wide, to reduce flood risk. Dredging, and maintenance of dredged profiles, would also be included.

The roles, funding and responsibilities of the individual partners involved in the SRA would be unchanged, but the body would provide an important forum for joint working. Interim funding for the authority from 2015 is being sought from the government.

All organisations involved in the Flood Action Plan are urging a clear-cut commitment from the government to give the £2.7m of funding needed in order to get a “Shadow” Somerset Rivers Authority up and running in 2015.

The SRA’s proposed plan is to raise funds locally through a countywide charge from 2016. The government would also have to support legislation to enable the SRA to levy funding, such as the fire and rescue service.

Somerset County Council leader John Osman said he was seeking a joint meeting with Defra secretary Elizabeth Truss and secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles to finally resolve the SRA funding question.

Last month, Mr Osman, who is also chairman of the Flood Action Plan’s leaders implementation group, warned Ms Truss: “Unless we receive interim funding … all of the good work which we have achieved over the past nine months will count for very little.”