The Somerset Flood Summit , which took place on Friday 15 March ostensibly to learn lessons from November and Decembers flooding incidents across the county, was organised by the five Somerset District Councils and Somerset County Council, and was hailed as a great success by the organisers. However, Labour councillors disagree and talk of missed opportunities .
The morning session, which included presentations from agencies and organisations involved in flood management such as the Environment Agency, Met Office, Somerset County Council, Somerset Internal Drainage Board, Wessex Water and the Country Land and Business Association, included a panel question time session where delegates could put their questions to the panel which included MPs Ian Liddell Grainger (Bridgwater/Con) and Tessa Munt (Wells/LibDem). Jeremy Browne (Taunton) was also present, but had to leave before the question session began.
‘Most of Bridgwater in Flood Plain 3’ warns Sedgemoor Labour Leader
Cllr Mick Lerry– Leader of Sedgemoor Labour Group asked whether or not Sedgemoor District Council could receive financial support to build the Parrett Barrage. Cllr Lerry told us “The answer from Liddell -Grainger was no and he said that the Environmental Agency should use its own money. Tessa Munt did not respond to the question. However, it is extremely important for this infrastructure project to go ahead if there is to be development on the flood plain, as most of Bridgwater is in flood plain 3″.
Cllr Julian Taylor , Labour chairman of Sedgemoor’s Community Scrutiny Committee and who has been a constant campaigner for action on flooding, said he was not happy with the assessment of the ‘summit’. He said “MPs were not able to, or did not, answer questions as to how the Environment Agency and the treasury could be persuaded to release £5m to dredge and maintain the Tone and Parrett from Hook Bridge to the Moorland pumping station. This money is the equivalent of 10 medium size houses in the home counties. I was very disapointed that this issue was not addressed.”
‘People are being left in an impasse’
Cllr Taylor continued “ This was supposed to be a meeting of many interested parties coming together to try and persuade the treasury that they should release monies for dredging . Significant economic costs were reported to local communities and businesses , the knock-on effects are widespread. People are being left in an impasse. It is hoped that this will not be a repeat of the fine words of the Parrett Project 2002, It was significant that Tessa Munt MP thought that people on Community Service orders should clean out the road side gullies. We need a focused approach which identifies the economic costs and changes treasury attitudes. It is also significant that two of the MP,s David Heath and David Laws did not attend.”
‘An issue for Labour County Candidates’
Brenda Weston, Labour candidate for Taunton Rowbarton and Staplegrove said “My favourite cycle route from Rowbarton in Taunton takes me through North Curry and across Curry Moor to Maunsell Lock. For months during 2012-13 I was dismayed to see acres and acres of farmland under water, homes sand-bagged, and roads impassable. The immediate impacts on residents, commuters, and those who produce food and other resources from Somerset’s flooded areas is devastating enough. But the long term implications of the catastrophic flooding that we’ve seen across the levels and elsewhere during 2012-2013 should concern all of us in the county.The county’s productive farmland, is an increasingly important resource for us all and the burden should not fall solely on the shoulders of those who work that land. Britain needs to be as self-sufficient in food as we can be, for environmental as well as economic and social reasons.The government, its agencies, and local decision-makers need to raise their sights above the short-termist squabbles about which departmental budget should fork out, and focus on taking the urgent action needed to prevent areas of Somerset becoming unproductive and uninhabitable. “
‘Risk of flooding known for years and ignored’ says Coker candidate
Murray Shepstone, Labour candidate for Coker said ”The risk of flooding has been known for years but the Lib/Dem administration of the South Somerset District Council , supported by their Tory bedfellows, have not only ignored the problem but have proposed to make matter worse by including in the local plan proposals to build 2500 dwellings in an area close to a significant flood zone that would place the villages of Barwick and Stoford at increased risk of flooding. And still the Lib/Dems go ahead even without carrying out a flood mitigation assessment statement!”
Yeovil Labour has mounted robust objections with the government planning inspector to this and other issues in the local plan. “Is it any wonder it is now going to public inquiry just after the election on 6th May?” adds Murray “What ever the outcome of the election I will be giving evidence at the public inquiry and will be supporting the people of Coker ward. “
Martock Candidate calls for ‘County-wide solution’
Chris Bragg, Labour candidate for Martock said “A Labour Party led council would look at coming up with a unified county wide solution for all flood threatened areas in Somerset,this would include creating partnerships with local businesses, agencies, land owners and local residents. There is no simple answer to the flooding concerns of residents and businesses in Somerset but there are key areas that should be targeted to improve our ability to handle the changing climatic conditions and rain patterns. Somerset County Council should be addressing the need to dredge the main waterways urgently especially given the recent damage and additional silting that will have occurred in the recent floods, this should be a cornerstone to any flood improvements. Once the major waterways have been cleared to allow more capacity, a major survey should include understanding local flood pinch points as reported by residents, with this survey, inter-organisation/land owner co ordinated maintenance to flood culverts and drainage ditches should be made an imperative.”
Chris concludes “Any home building and infrastructure planning should be considered not only on the merits of the development, but crucially should include ways of improving local resilience to flood risks. Future building developments and improvements for the proposed supply of new homes, will constantly be met with local resistance and anger if considered for areas that may aggravate the local flood situation.”
“It is essential for the flood risks to be addressed within any infrastructure / building project thus alleviating concerns and allowing essential infrastructure to continue with residents onside and in agreement as much as possible.”