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First draft of Somerset flood action plan debated
DREDGING rivers, land management and raising roads are some of the things included in Somerset’s flood action plan.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson has asked for a “concrete plan” from “all the interested parties” to be submitted to him within six weeks to provide a long-term solution.
A meeting of Sedgemoor District Council yesterday (February 24) examined a draft of the plan, which needs to be submitted to Government around March 14.
Nick Plumley, strategy development and change manager for Sedgemoor District Council, said: “A six week time limit doesn’t seem like much, but a lot of work has already gone on over the last year and a half to produce an action plan.
“Dan Rogerson, parliamentary under secretary of state for DEFRA will visit Sedgemoor’s offices on February 27 to challenge the action plan. But we will be seeking to challenge Government.”
The plan, which will be chaired by DEFRA and coordinated by Somerset County Council, will include all local authorities, the Environment Agency, Internal Drainage Boards, RSPB and more.
It emphasises dredging rivers and river and land management.
Mr Plumley added: “It's important we don't have a lot of strategic talk about long term visions. We need to act now. This is a draft plan and a fast-moving piece of work.
“In terms of dredging, we're going to see planned maintenance thereafter. There's a plan to improve and maintain the temporary pumping sites. There are a huge variety of other actions within the river management theme.
“We’re going to be looking at local areas where water run-off is an issue, but also how can we help developers, businesses etc improve land management.”
Other themes included: ‘resilient infrastructure’, looking at raising key roads like the A361 up from the water level; a simple website for people to access flooding updates; improving access to recovery support, and more.
Doug Bamsey, development and planning officer for Sedgemoor, said: “There was a Parrett catchment management plan, which is about ten years old, but fundamentally that faltered due to a lack of resources.
“We hope the government's attention would suggest a change. We spend about £1.2m on drainage board Levis in the form of precepts and dredging is estimated to cost £5.6m alone.”
The council said hopefully dredging could start in April and they want a response from Government to the flood plan around that time.
EA flood defence engineer Melvin Wood said: “The 8km stretch proposed for dredging will see the biggest bang for the buck in the short term, offering the most results in the shortest time. That's not to say more won’t be done in the future.”
Alan Lovell, chairman of the regional flood defence committee, said: “Dredging that stretch of river would reduce the blocking capacity of silt by up to 40% and would not ruin grass growth within the summer season.
“Dredging will need maintenance. We look forward to other authorities coming forward to do the dredging.”
Leader of Sedgemoor District Council, Duncan McGinty, said the 20-year plan includes short, medium and long term actions.
He added: “We will be pushing for early action where possible, but some will take longer than others to mature and be beneficial for the area.”
The meeting saw several members of the public register to speak.
Linda Briggs said: “I’m speaking on behalf of Northmoor Green and Fordgate, particularly for an old couple who have only got six weeks council tax back.
“Not everybody is getting what they should be getting. They've been evacuated and they've only got £500 in total. They came out with only one bag and that's all they have. The insurance company cannot get in because of the depth of water.
“The rest of the village are in a state of shock and are depressed.”
Jessica Healey said: “I am speaking to add my support for the dredging of Rivers Parrett and Tone starting at the River Parrett from the outlet and up to the River Tone etc. Who dreams of doing so many meters here and there when the outlet isn't clear?
“The management of the levels should be returned to the internal drainage boards. Life and property should be first and foremost of importance. We need to protect manufacturing, agriculture, productive land etc.”
Peter Lancaster, a resident of Moorland, said: “I have been flooded, but not as bad as some. To back up dredging a number of other things need to be done. Mitigation needs to be put in place when developers want to build on flood plains.
“We need to manage the area we live in and more money will need to be required for this in the future. Action needs to be carried out within the next two to four years, this can't drag on.”
Cllr McGinty said many of the points will be featured in the action plan.
Many councillors and the public said they felt a 20-year plan was too long and allowed too much “wiggle room” by the Government.
Cllr Julian Taylor said: “I have a copy of flood risk management reports from 2010, 2009 and before. Much of what is being said now is being repeated and regurgitated and we need to see action.
“A time scale of 20-years is too long. It needs objectives.”
Cllr Ian tucker said: “We have to consider flood victims now. For rented accommodation you need the money up front. People are still finding it hard to access money from the Somerset Community Foundation.”
But Cllr Derek Alder pointed out that although a 20-year plan may seem long, it is not a long time in nature. He added: “You need 20 years for a tree to grow and they go a long way for water management.”
Cllr Anne Fraser said: “This is the best opportunity to bring the pressure to bear for the finances and plans needed for the future. The plan will none the less be adapted as it moves forward. It's only by working together that we will get these finances and resources.”
Cllr Nobby Turner said: “There's no point in digging a hole to put water in it. We shouldn't be relying on a computer programme to determine water flow.
“We're going to fall into the trap of a rushed plan with 8km of dredging and I don't think we should.
“We should send a clear message; dredging from the begging at Dunball all the way up.
"I think it's an utter disgrace that we're even considering being a part of this stupid plan. If it goes wrong then places like Othery, Westonzoyland and Middlezoy could be affected.”