As the Government wriggle on their promise to provide a potentially bouncing blank cheque to pay for a 20-year action plan to tackle flooding on the Somerset levels, a senior Labour team paid a spontaneous visit to the Environment Agencies ‘Rivers House’ HQ in Bridgwater to find out what the options actually were from the people tasked to deliver them.
Leader of the Labour group in the House of Lords, Baroness Jan Royall, was accompanied by SW European candidate Claire Moody, Sedgemoor labour leader and Bridgwater Parliamentary candidate Mick Lerry, flood evacuee and Labour councillor Julian Taylor, Labour county councillor for Bridgwater South, Leigh Redman, and Bridgwater Westover ward councillor Brian Smedley, were taken on a tour of Rivers House and into the incident room itself to meet the staff who had to deal with the winter crisis and the planners who would deliver the ‘pledge to dredge’.
Cllr Leigh Redman said “it was fantastic to see the great work that the Environmental agency has been doing over these very exceptional times, it was really interesting to see the plans for the future and I would especially like to support the plan for a ‘Parrett barrier’ of some sort to control the water levels in the river. We have to remember that the current flood prevention for Bridgwater will not be effective forever and the sooner we get something in place and fully adopt and implement the 20 year plan the better.”
The Environment Agency staff said they were going to do a ‘proper job’ when the dredging starts later this month (weather permitting). This would concentrate on an 8km stretch around the confluence of the Parret and the Tone near Burrowbridge deepening the channel at the crucial point where the river recently attempted to refind it’s ancient course and flooded the villages of Moorland and Fordgate.
‘Urgency’ for Parrett Barrage
Cllr Julian Taylor, who was evacuated from Fordgate, explained “In the 12th century the river used to flow through this area but after a decision by the then Pope to award all lands west of the river to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, they simply moved the river to the East in a land grab and created the river shape we have today.”
Cllr Taylor welcomed the plan to dredge and had himself been one of the first residents to appear on TV waving a very polite ‘Please dredge our River’ placard behind the head of the Environment secretary on his visit to the area. He also stressed the urgency for the tidal barrage and suggested the opportunity to also use this as a bridge and much needed town by pass also should be looked into. Commenting further Cllr Taylor added “For the past three weeks we have had the FLAG volunteers in Moorland and Fordgate. They have provided an excellent service to us all, removing grot, helping shift furniture and many other jobs, Today we had the Rapid Response Team from the Plymouth Brethren Churches in the West. They have been assisting in the removal of sandbags and tidying up, They also set up a refreshment point for the people working on the recovery phase in the village. Particular mention must be given to the EA staff on the ground. They have work unstintingly over long giving a commitment over and above their contracts. They deserve a very special thanks from every body.”
Jan Royall praised the work of the Environment Agency staff and asked for examples of climate change being factored into EA predictions. Nick Gupta from the EA said this was a key factor and Sea Level rises were a crucial element of plans to bring forward the Parrett barrage from it’s original 30 year target and pointed out that the Parrett was now the only tidal river without one. The cost element for dredging was stated as £5 whilst the barrage would come in at £24m. The baroness added “It’s very good that thanks to additional funding the dredging can begin but where are the other funds to come from? I think that an additional 240m was mentioned so ‘Fair Funding for Somerset’ must be a priority and a reality. ‘Money no object?’, I think not!”
EU Funding is available for just these situation
Cllr Redman added “We must keep Somerset at the top of the governments list as we also need ‘Fair funding for Somerset’ as it would not be reasonable for Bridgwater people to foot the bill for all of these plans as the rain water that significantly contributed to the current situation comes from a very wide area. As we move from emergency to recovery I am still overwhelmed daily by the generosity of all the volunteers working in the area alongside the emergency services, council employees and other workers who are all working well beyond expectation to help those effected.”
Labour Euro candidate Claire Moody said “Given the scale of the clean up and the evident need for better flood defences in the future we have to ask why the Government haven’t claimed European funding that is available for just these situations. The community spirit in this area is inspiring but everything possible should be done to avoid putting this spirit to such an extreme test again.”