Minutes of the meeting of the Parrett Internal Drainage Board Management Committee held at
1 Church Street, Highbridge on Tuesday 07 January 2014, at 2.15pm
Chairman: Mr P Maltby
- Attendance and apologies: as register appended. James Winslade; members were advised that Mr J Winslade had been interviewed with the Chairman for BBC TV (Inside Out), and that Sky News had approached them. Mr Richard England had been interviewed by BBC Radio Somerset.
- Declarations on Interest: Cllr J Taylor – Residence within the flood risk area in Moorland.
- Minutes of the meeting held on 08 October 2013: (appended) having been previously circulated, the minutes were signed by the Chairman as a true and correct record of the meeting held. All in favour.
- Matters Arising: Nothing at this time.
- Finance: overview of expenditure and budget for 2014 including the Strategy for the Procurement of Maintenance Works: S Gee (SMG) advised that budgets had been provided to indicate alternative strategies to be discussed in full at the Finance & Governance (F&G) meeting of 14 January 2014. SMG advised members of the breakdown of information provided by the reports. Mr P Maltby (PCM) requested an explanation of the reduction to income total from 2013/14 to 2014/15 budgets: SMG advised that this was mainly due to a reduction in DEFRA grants and bank interest being received. SMG advised that the Board reserves at year end will be in the region of £600k (total), some of which will be funds raised for projects not yet completed. Members opined that maintenance should not be affected by the reduction in income or attempts to reduce costs, rather that staffing levels should be reviewed; PCM advised that a review meeting will be held with the Chief Executive in February 2014.
Members asked if there other income sources that may be derived from land and property outside of the Boards area. NWS advised that within legislation there is a number of possible opportunities that exist. Firstly there is the possibility for the Agency to obtain funding via a general drainage charge, which is levied on land outside the board’s area, by Ministerial approval, collected by the Agency. Currently it is only in place within the Anglian region of the Agency. Secondly the Board could seek to increase its area further up the catchment and that Ministerial approval would be required to increase the catchment area of the Board. The Clerk advised that he believed that could take many years with no guarantee of local support. Thirdly there is the possibility of the County Council to include a specific sum within its county rate for flood risk matters as was done in Gloucestershire a number of years ago. This however would be contrary to manifesto pledges of the current administration. NWS advised that if the Board intended to take this matter forward a working party would need to be set up involving District Councils, the Agency, IDB’s and other bodies. PCM advised that he had contacted MP’s, to which Tessa Munt MP had replied, advising that she will contact all Somerset MP’s. David Heath MP spoke in Parliament regarding necessary funding to undertake works on the Parrett, Tone, Axe and Brue rivers. Somerset Strategic Management Partnership is due to meet in the near future at which the Clerk (NWS) will raise this matter for discussion. It was agreed that an update will be provided at the Full Board meeting of 28 January 2014.
Strategy for the Procurement of Maintenance Works: (appended) The Clerk had prepared a paper on this matter as there are increasing pressures on budgets and the Board needed to see whether there are efficiencies and savings to be gained by changes. The Clerk took members through the contents of the paper however due to the paper being tabled on the day the Chairman requested that it be considered more fully at the Employment and Machinery meeting the following week and that members of that Committee should receive the paper promptly. The Clerk advised that option 5 – work undertaken by a combination of contract and in house plant and reducing to two plant operators is the officer recommendation option. The Chairman opined that the number of Expenditor’s cannot be reduced as they are essential to the working of the Board. After much discussion it was agreed that option 5 be recommended to the Employment and Machinery committee meeting of 14 January 2014.
- Engineering Report – maintenance report, Parrett and Tone dredging: (appended) P Ham (PSH) provided an update of current maintenance, which is almost completed throughout the district.
Parrett and Tone Dredging: I Sturdy (IDS) advised that some pinch point dredging had been carried out by the Agency however the more difficult pinch point dredging areas, access and disposal, have been put out to tender for execution by contractors, however no results of the tender exercise have been made available to the Board to date; the IDB advised that it had put forward details of Dutch Contractors proposals to undertake some dredging work/provide consultancy advice, however this has not apparently been taken up by the Agency or its contractors.
The Royal Bath & West Society( RB&WS) have appointed professional fundraisers with the aim of raising £2M towards the costs of dredging, however the appointment requires a fee which needs to be raised in the first instance. During a recent meeting with the RB&WS, IDS advised the meeting of the Board’s disappointment regarding the exclusion of Dutch contractors. Discussion at the meeting included what a project delivery mechanism may look like, at which time it was opined that the IDB could undertake the work. There was a suggested delivery mechanism that would allow the Agency to put all necessary permissions into place, and the IDB to undertake the works; however this was just one scenario that was discussed.
The Agency is actively looking for partnership funding to assist with dredging the rivers, the RFCC will invest funds but is seeking to have the most sustainable management arrangement agreed for the rivers on the levels and moors within 5 years. This year’s flooding will re-enforce the call for dredging.
Improvement works and Favourable Conditions Projects: Cllr Taylor advised members on the situation concerning the possible Noise Abatement Order on the use of the diesel pumps at Northmoor PS. Cllr Taylor advised members that no order had been issued contrary to local belief and Agency information. There was however sufficient evidence held by the District Council on noise levels that could be used to issue an order. Cllr Taylor found that the Environment Agency had advised the District that the diesel pumps would be decommissioned and not used. The pumps have since been repaired and works undertaken to the exhaust system that had reduced noise and vibration to acceptable levels and are therefore working again.
IDS advised that the indicative allocation on the Agency’s Medium Term Plan is circa £300k for Parrett Favourable Conditions Projects (FCP). If further operational resources are required, these may need to be funded by the Board as there will be no funding in 2015/16. Once the FCP are complete, many structures will revert to landowner responsibility, however future maintenance will need to be Board funded.
Health & Safety Improvement Project: an application for grant aid on this project at a rate 45% had been submitted and which is currently shown within the indicative allocation from the Agency, for a further three years.
The Board only funded work programme is limited due to the Board’s limited funds . Telemetry at Brook Farm and Langacre has not been responding due to the weather conditions; IDS advised that the Agency is seeking to use the Board’s telemetry.
- Development Control: IDS advised that off-site works associated with Hinkley Point are in abeyance due to the delays in final agreements with government; no land drainage consent applications have been received for on-site works to date.
North East Bridgwater is continuing in phases; currently the school and sport facilities are being built, and the system is working well with the rainfall experienced.
Bridgwater Hospital is almost finished, with the drainage system in place which has worked well with the recent rainfall.
- Future structure of the Parrett Board Sub Committees: NWS advised that there are approximately fourteen scheduled meetings throughout the year, being full Board and sub-committees, and that some members will also be requested to attend a further six meetings per year for the Consortium. NWS recommended to merge the Parrett Management and Employment & Machinery sub-committee’s to reduce meetings by four per year. Mr Bradford advised that there is much duplication within meetings. Mr B Rowe, Chairman E&M, expressed concern for the length of meetings, and felt that meetings can over-run. It was agreed that this matter would be discussed at a future Management meeting following a decision on the strategy for delivering future maintenance, to be discussed at the E&M meeting of 14 January 2014.
- Future flood risk management and drainage funding in Somerset: the Chairman asked for members to comment on the flooding event that is currently in progress issues within the catchments: (this list is not exhaustive)
Rainfall information at Yeovilton indicate that the timing and pattern of the rainfall is not causing the problems in the Allermoor and KSD areas ,which may have been caused by lowering of the spillway at Aller Moor. The Clerk suggested that officers will obtain rainfall and river flow data from the Agency for dissemination at the full Board meeting.
No pumps were being used at Northmoor.
Monks Leaze was open, contrary to agreed procedures, as well as pumping when the spillway was running, which is also contrary to agreed procedures. It was suggested that this was carried out to reduce damage to the spillways which had limited grass cover.
Concern was expressed that misrepresentation is being publicised; members agreed that the Board should re-employ the PR Company and promote more positive press releases on the work and activities of the Board.
Members were advised that ADA has written to David Cameron as well as the Times and the Telegraph to express the need for dredging, and that Owen Patterson MP is visiting Somerset at the end of the week; the Chairman has been requested to meet Mr Patterson.
A report on the local radio stated that restrictions may be lifted to allow riparian owners to clean ditches; however members agreed that, even with good maintenance practices, if the rivers are not maintained the water will have no evacuation.
Elson’s Clyce has pumps which are working well considering the local conditions.
At Steart, Wildlife and Wetland Trust are operating within the agreed terms of the scheme however some members felt the high water levels were detrimental to adjacent landowners interests. Over Christmas the guard penstock on the outfall to South Brook was almost closed causing upstream levels to rise unnecessarily. At the upstream end of the moor, concern was expressed by a local landowner, Mr Coles, that water levels were too high and that the bifurcation tilting weir arrangements may be preventing Mr Coles from enjoying the drainage he had previously experienced. IDS would inspect and report back to the local member and at the next meeting. Across the rest of the site IDS advised that after working with Expenditor’s, all structures are now fully open and levels are considered acceptable..
With reference to the flooding in 2012/13 and the appraisal of damage costs completed last year, Tony Bradford requested that this be reviewed as the floods now being experienced have been greater and more extensive with more roads flooding. IDS advised that from 11 to 31 December 2013 lowland rainfall was recorded as 117mm; there was more rainfall recorded in October than December, with the long term average of 28.8inches, last year there was 38 inches, this year it was recorded as 26.2 inches – less than the LTA at that location.
Concern was expressed that flooding had been experienced in areas that have never flooded previously.
- Environment Agency asset transfers: NWS advised that there is no movement on asset transfers; however the Agency will be undertaking tasks less frequently due to available resources rather than stopping or withdrawing. It was opined that should the Agency reduce maintenance where two cuts are made on a watercourse, it would be preferred that one early cut be undertaken, and cut well.
- Somerset Water Management Partnership & Task Force Initiative: NWS advised that the next meeting of the SWMP is Tuesday 21 January 2014 and the Task Force Initiative will meet at the end of January. An Executive Board meeting of the Task Force was held, attended by senior staff and council members as well as the Chairman. The Executive Board meeting was chaired by Cllr David Hall whilst the working group is chaired by Anthony Gibson. A Draft Vision has been created which is due to be distributed in due course and will need to be approved by all bodies concerned.
- Somerset Strategic Flood Management Partnership – SUDs Approval Body: the next meeting of this group is Wednesday 15 January.
SUDs Approval Body: the Government intended for SUDs Approval Bodies to be in existence by April 2014 however recent statement in parliament indicate it may be delayed until October 2014 due to a disagreement as to how future maintenance is funded. This will be a major change to approvals for drainage across the country. Somerset County Council is undergoing many departmental re-organisations, however it is expected that a system will be in place, similar to the planning approval system for any development occurring within the urban area. SUDs will be built and discharge at a nationally recognised standard.
- Any Other Business: NWS advised that the Board will need to review which watercourses are to be taken in and out of view within Stockland; several watercourses the IDB used to maintain are now within the inter-tidal area and the South Brook has been re-located. This issue will be discussed with the local members and brought back to the Management Committee for further consideration at a future meeting.
Mr Bradford would like the Board to call a meeting with all local MP’s prior to the next Management meeting.
Mr Spicer expressed concern regarding Owen Patterson MP discussing money being spent on flood defence structures; one of the largest flood defence structures in our district is the River Parrett which has not received funding.
Outstanding Rates: S Gee advised that at April 2013 £10k (approx.) was brought forward with £140k (approx.) set as rates for 2013/14. Currently the outstanding rates are £2,600 previous year and £1,700 current year rates. A reminder letter is due to be sent to low value debts, and ratepayers not previously summonsed due to adjustments to their land records.
On behalf of the committee, the Chairman thanked all the staff involved with the recovery of rate payments.
- Date of next Board meetings: Employment & Machinery 14 January 2014 at 10.30am
Finance & Governance 14 January 2014 at 2.15pm
Full Board 28 January 2014 at 2.15pm
SDBC Management Comm 04 February 2014 at 10.30am
Parrett Management Comm 22 April 2014 at 2.15pm
The Chairman thanked members for their attendance, and closed the meeting at 4.40pm