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Flood shake up hits buffers

Efforts to streamline responsibility for flood defence work are being undermined by local authorities unable to afford to carry out vital drainage surveys.

And wrangling between two government departments is hampering efforts to establish who is in charge of ensuring the streamlining programme is carried out.

Sir Michael Pitt recommended that local authorities survey local drainage systems in his government backed Lessons Learned review of the 2007 floods, published earlier this year.

Pitt suggested that once drainage is audited, local authorities could allocate responsibility for drains and culverts to the relevant stakeholders. These could be local authorities; water companies; the Highways Agency or private owners.

This kind of desk study would settle where flood defence work needs to be done, and who should pay. But the work could prove expensive for cash strapped local authorities. The Local Government Association (LGA) said more cash would be needed to help councils carry out the audits.

"Local authority audits of drainage assets won’t happen without additional funding as well as co-operation from water companies," said LGA policy consultant Vanessa Goodchild- Bradley. And new Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster told NCE this week that two government departments were wrangling over who should police the Pitt recommendations.

"Whether this constitutes a new duty on the part of the local authorities will be a matter to be decided between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Communities and Local Government," he said.

Assuming the studies are complete, auditing drainage asset maps could prove a headache for local authorities. "Assessing what to do once drains have been mapped could prove problematic for local authorities; a bit like taking your car for its MoT and realising there was a lot more wrong with it than you’d initially feared," said Goodchild-Bradley.

Local authorities also said that water companies had to help draw up accurate drainage maps. Bradford City Council principal drainage engineer Tony Poole said: "Unless we have access to information from water companies, surface water management plans will be severely limited in scope,” he said. Poole conceded that much of the information produced by water companies was produced for different purposes than that required by local authorities.

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