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Ministers failed to consult Agency on Somerset Levels dredging plan

Ministers decided to dredge two rivers on the Somerset Levels without consulting the Environment Agency, it has emerged.

Floods minister Dan Rogerson last week announced that the controversial process of increasing the volume of 8km of river channel would begin by the end of March.

Engineers have questioned the scientific and financial justifications for the move, which has been seen in some quarters as a move to appease voters.

Now the Agency’s executive director of flood management David Rooke has said he was not asked for his opinion on the project - despite attending a series of flood meetings held by the government’s Cobra emergencies committee.

“[Ministers and I] have not had a detailed discussion over dredging,” he said at a floods briefing held by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Science Media Centre yesterday.

“It’s more been about the general threat the country is facing. We’ve had discussions about what we will do and when we will do it.”

Rooke said research had shown there would be some gain from dredging the rivers, but he stopped short of backing the policy.
“Studies that we’ve done show dredging would provide some benefit - the properties on the Somerset Levels would flood later and we could pump the water away quicker,” he said.

“Our job is to implement government policy, and it has decided dredging needs to be done and provided the money so we will do that. It is for other people to decide whether it is a good use of money.”

Cardiff University professor of water management Roger Falconer said the scheme was an unjustified use of public cash.

“We have a virtually horizontal river so there would be little or no effect from dredging,” he said.

Oxford University Environmental Change Institute director Jim Hall said dredging could even worsen tidal floods.

Earlier this month Peter Brett Associates partner Ben Mitchell, told NCE that the Agency had a carefully plotted flood management spending plan.

“If you spend £3M to dredge rivers, why are you throwing science out of the window just because of public pressure?” he asked.

Floods minister Dan Rogerson said the decision to dredge would ensure communities were better protected. Speaking last week he said: “Today marks a crucial step forwards in ensuring local communities around the Somerset Levels are better protected from the devastating impact of floods.”

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs was approached for a comment on the lack of consultation with the Environment Agency about the dredging decision. In response, the Environment Agency issued a statement.

“We have always been clear that dredging is part of the solution to reducing flood risk on the Somerset Levels, but it must be undertaken as part of a broader package of work to protect people, property and land in Somerset,” it said. “It is not the only measure that needs to be taken to help reduce flooding.”

The rivers Tone and Parrett will be dredged where they meet at Burrowbridge in Somerset.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I remember pressing sheet piles into the dykes along side the Parret some years ago, the river was at least partially tidal, which surely implies that dredging simply allows for more of the Bristol Channel to run into it unless a weir has been built since?

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