DRAFT Minutes of the Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium meeting held on 31st October 2013 at 7.30 in Cossington Village Hall, Cossington.
1. Attendance and Apologies: (appended)
2. Items additional to agenda: W Welland asked if any officer held a Badger license which she had read about in the ADA Gazette. N Stevens (NWS) replied no one holds a license and W. Welland thought it would be a good idea for the future if one was obtained.
3. Minutes of Consortium meeting 23rd October 2012: (appended) having been circulated for information purposes, were accepted by the Board as a true and correct record of the meeting held.
4. Matters arising: Supply of e mail addresses – NWS advised that, of a sample 100 ratepayers we tried to contact, we were only able to collect email addresses from about 20% of landowners/occupiers contacted. This is disappointing as it is a very good way of relaying important information quickly.
5. Opportunity for any member of the public to address the meeting: None
6. Chairman’s Report: Mr Maltby advised that since the last meeting we have had virtually all the weather conditions it is possible to get. After last winter, a late spring, and dry weather in the summer it has allowed most of the moors to dry out. Whilst crop levels were generally down, there is plenty of grass about. Last year we were unable to complete all the routine maintenance in a few areas, but this year we are on schedule, the same with some of the engineering projects. During the year I and others have met with DEFRA ministers, MP’s, county and district councillors, EA officers, members of RFDC and EA Board to put the Drainage Board’s case for proper funding, especially for proper maintenance of the main rivers to enable us to minimise flooding, to enable ratepayers to carry on in business while reducing the damage we saw last year to agriculture, conservation, rural businesses, golf courses, housing and infra structure.
Many in this room have met MP’s from the area, who agreed the need for proper maintenance of the main rivers, but no money is available. However the Royal Bath and West Society has recently launched an initiative to raise money for desilting; the initial target is £1.2m and the intention is to appoint a professional fundraiser to raise as much as possible fairly quickly. I have been asked to serve on this committee along with Ray Adlam, EA officers, county councillors and RFCC members. Iain Sturdy is going to give technical advice and we thank him for his efforts regarding the different methods of desilting including a Dutch initiative that we may touch on later.
During the year the North Somerset Level IDB lost part of their engineering services and we were asked if we could provide a service, this has now been agreed and one officer has been appointed to cover this area with support from our office, this being funded by North Somerset Levels IDB.
The Favourable Conditions projects are nearly finished and as a result there will be some staff changes. There is an item on the agenda on office accommodation; the Axe Brue has purchased larger offices in Highbridge so all the staff will be under one roof in the future.
Finally I would like to thank all members for their support, especially the members of the management committee and the members of staff. I cannot emphasize enough that we are all members of the same team trying to get the best for our ratepayers, whether agricultural or domestic (paid through the district councils)
7. Finance Report: (appended) NWS gave a report in S Gee’s absence. He explained that the loss of interest on the present funds held leaves a shortfall in our income however officers will be seeking to ensure any recoverable costs associated with development will be claimed and the target will be to recover all relevant costs from large development sites in the area. David Banwell asked about percentage splits between boards for funds and costs. NWS replied that any income for commuted sums or works would go to the board for that area whilst reimbursed costs for staff time on development control work would go to the Consortium. Consortium costs are recharged to individual Boards in proportion to the percentage set out in the Consortium Agreement. Applications for GIA funding for any schemes is made by Consortium staff on behalf of a Board. Only dedicated GIA project staff can be funded direct to the individual Board. Routine Board projects are managed by Consortium budgeted staff.
8. Engineering works achievements: Iain Sturdy gave an update from October 2012 to October 2013. The Meeting was shown a copy of a flood map used at the Bath and West Dairy Show event for the initiative to raise funding for the maintenance required. It showed 7200 hectares of land flooded for long periods of time. Investigations are ongoing with EA regarding the Parrett and Tone as the rain and channel size caused about £10M of damage to Curry Moor & North Moor. Options considered were raising the left bank of the Tone, a cutting to be made at Lyng and desilting the rivers Parrett and Tone. Desilting was identified as the most effective option. With the Chairman’s encouragement and press awareness, officers will be seeking to keep up the momentum and pressure on the Agency. Various methods of dredging have been considered and advice sought from the engineers working for the Boards Authority (in East Anglia). The Agency estimate is £4 to £5M.
As an interim measure the Agency has agreed to undertake silt removal at ‘pinch points.’ ’Pinch points’ were identified by the Agency and the Board and using these as pilot scheme areas, some work in the easier areas to access got underway but have now stopped due to recent rains, while areas more difficult to access sites have not started yet. The Agency has introduced a Pilot Scheme for landowners to do the maintenance and desilting themselves in the Axe Brue area. The Brue area has been identified as a pilot site with 6 others across the country, this approach is designed to alleviate Agency funding pressures as it is going to reduce over the next 3 years . R Adlam advised that no weed cuts had been done this year and currently getting permission for such work is taking 3 to 6 months. I Sturdy advised a survey on the Brue had been done recently showing soft silt in the channel. Work in the Parrett and Tone area had proved dredging in the Parrett area can make a difference. NWS advised budgets are tight nationally and will be in the immediate future. Funding may return when the economic cycle picks up as reports for Defra and the Stern Committee show that it is beneficial to spend £1 on maintenance to save £8 on drainage/flooding damage done.
B Rowe advised farmers are being encouraged to clear smaller rhynes when the rivers need to be done. Main rivers need to be maintained as well so they can take the water away quicker. P Maltby has been in dialogue with EA who now are beginning to see that dredging could make a difference and the Brue project could prove this.
Maintenance and operations: I Sturdy advised that 1172 km of watercourses are maintained by the Boards once a year or more. P Ham advised 570 km of watercourses are maintained in the Parrett area. It is important the Boards work with other agencies such as Wessex Water, gas, electric, Network rail etc. A future project will be working with Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Steart. A Dowden advised that 15% to 18% desilting had been achieved with easy access gates put in the upper Axe area. Health and Safety is another issue which is being reviewed and planned for years ahead. I Sturdy advised Favourable Conditions is now in the final year and funding is reducing. There are now 33 telemetry sites to report water levels and keep them monitored in the area. Development control and regulation monitors land drainage consents and many planning applications with two major ones at present being Hinkley Point and National Grid. P Maltby thanked all involved in the presentation as it was the best he had seen.
9. Environmental achievements from the Favourable Conditions programme: S Parker (Natural England) numbers of birds using the Somerset Levels and Moors in winter are generally good. Populations of most species using the area at or above those found at the notification of protected areas (SSSIs & SPA). The SL&M remain the most important inland lowland wet grassland system in UK. The populations of some species using the area have reduced i.e. Bewick’s swans, however this is not due to local factors but changes in the birds distribution both nationally and internationally. Key habitats for winter birds area provided by the Raised Water Level Areas, a good example is the Parrett IDB work at Southlake Moor, where warping for about two months of the winter provide especially good habitat for the key species.
Breeding birds especially waders have not been as successful. Lapwing especially have reduced significantly from the 1970s. The reasons for the decline are complex. Factors including predation by corvids and foxes as well a loss of wetland habitats. Natural England will continue to work with land owners, conservation organisations, Environment Agency and IDB to ensure the survival of these once common birds.
10. Cheddar Reservoir 2 and Bleadon Sluice: NWS made a short presentation to the meeting using slides provided by Arup. Arup are Bristol Water’s consultants on the project and they have provided the information. NWS advised that this is an important project in the area due to its size and demand on the water resources and levels in the area. Bristol Water is proposing to acquire land to allow construction of the reservoir and the flood plain storage mitigation areas. The 2 reservoirs will be linked and the new one will have 50% more capacity than the present reservoir. The whole project will leave a big footprint on the landscape but Bristol Water is keeping the Board well informed.
11. Office Accommodation: NWS advised that the Axe Brue Board had purchased Bradbury House, Market Street, a 3 storey building, 30% bigger than the present office which will house all current staff and long term consultants. Completion on the purchase was 11th October 2013,
12. Any Other Business: J Fear advised little progress has been made by Bristol Water to make the necessary repairs at Bleadon but JF said he would keep the board informed of any progress. T Bradford wished to thank P Maltby for all his hard work in the last year which has been very difficult at times.
13. Dates and venues for meetings: Management Committee meetings will be held 3rd December 2013 and 4th February 2014 at 10.30 am at 1 Church Street, Highbridge.
The Chairman thanked members and officers for attending. He would continue to work hard on the problems of the main rivers and closed the meeting at 21.45pm.