5 Mar 2011

Stroud Valleys Water Forum: should homes say no to individual flood protection?

Well there was lots to catch up on as we had not met for a few months - this Stroud Valleys Water Forum is the group that I set up a couple of years ago with the other brook and water action groups in the area. We started the evening meeting on Thursday in the Ebley Mill Committee Room with feedback from each group but the focus was mostly on news re Bridgend and in Slad.

Photo: Ruscombe Brook Action Group campaign poster by Rory Cohen

There seems to be alot changing at the moment - in particular the news from the Environment Agency about their next steps to help reduce the risk of flooding in the communities living along the Slad Brook.

A drop-in meeting has been set up by the EA and will be staged at the Sub Rooms in Stroud on Thursday, March 17 from 2pm to 8pm. This comes after the EA was forced to ditch a previous scheme when it emerged that a large concrete dam would need to be erected to make it work. Click read more for lots more!

Householders have been invited to express an interest in a free survey measuring suitability of their property for flood protection measures. While this is an opportunity for many to go someway to protect properties there were concerns raised in the Forum that this could divert limited funds away from finding a more lasting and longer term solution. The form going out to Slad residents says the survey will be free; it may well be to the householder but ultimately surely the money will come out of that which has been put aside for Slad works? The surveys in Bridgend cost approximately £500-£700 each so it would not take many to have quite serious effects on any lump sum set aside. Indeed if all 83 homes took the survey at £500 (conservative estimate) then that is... £41,500 on the surveys alone!

The SNJ report on their website that the EA has teamed up with the Regional Flood Defence Committee (RFDC) to offer affected residents the opportunity to apply for resilience grants of between £5,000 - £6,000 to safeguard their own properties against the risk of flooding.

The letter to residents does not make it clear that these schemes could carry drawbacks for the householder. In Bridgend where they have had a number of surveys there appear to have been a number of issues which it is hoped can be ironed out in the coming weeks. One issue that needs consideration is that if this scheme is confined by the DEFRA guidelines then there is a nominal limit of £7,000 for work on an individual property? What happens if a householder is advised flood protection would cost in excess of this figure? Will they pay? How will their householder insurance work? These issues need ironing out before any work goes ahead - it is therefore great that there will be the drop-in session noted above. It is also good to hear that the EA appear to be listening and wanting to work with householders.

Background to Slad

Following the flooding that occurred in 2007, the EA carried out an initial study as reported on this blog (working with Water 21 and the Slad Brook Action Group) to assess the viability of providing a public funded flood alleviation scheme for the community (see previous blog here with more info).  The initial study, which was predominately desk-top, concluded that it may be technically possible to provide a single flood storage area upstream of the community.  This was estimated at that stage to cost in the region of £500,000.  I understand that as any scheme was unlikely to attract national funding, a proposal was submitted to the Regional Flood Defence Committee (RFDC) to fund a more detailed assessment.  In January 2009, the RFDC allocated money to the project in order to carry out this more detailed design and modelling work with an aim of delivering a community wide flood scheme.

At the more detailed design and modelling stage, it was concluded that a further flood storage area would be needed to provide the required Standard of Protection. It also concluded that the flood storage reservoirs would be very expensive and would cause significant environmental damage to the picturesque landscape. One of the storage reservoirs would require a concrete dam of just under 7m in height and the other one nearly 6m. The cost of providing these would be in excess of £3 million!!!

The EA are now looking at alternatives. It seems they have made a decision to provide individual property flood protection and resilience grants for residents combined with land use management measures upstream (to reduce run-off).  The RFDC agreed to fund these physical measure to reduce flood risk, including a project to reduce run-off in the river catchment upstream of the Town.

This is much less than many of us had hoped, however the good news is that it vindicates the original work that many of us called for - ie smaller upstream attenuation ponds - low cost and lower risk and lower expense.  The Forum has welcomed the involvement of Water 21 in the scheme and are keen to still advocate a “whole catchment” approach to solving flooding that will include significant flood alleviation. We need more attenuation in the longer term but this is a great opportunity to make this attenuation work. Indeed Water 21 have a senior Swedish Water expert coming to visit Stroud next month to learn from this innovative work.

So where does that leave us? Well Ruscombe Brook Action Group secretary, Jo Bottrill, who was at the meeting sums it up: “It’s vital that we target tightly stretched budgets at schemes that will make a real difference and protect those homes truly at risk from flooding. Individual property surveys have a role to play but aren’t the best solution in every case. We’re looking forward to helping householders at the drop-in session and sharing the experiences of residents from elsewhere in the Stroud District.”

In my view that means probably yes to individual property protection in many of the 83 properties - as what else have householders got is some promises of attenuation and possibly more in the future? Of course householders will need to have more info about exactly what is being offered. It is such a pity that money is not being invested in full attenuation that would impact not just on Slad but also communities further down like Bridgend.


Adam Broadhead said...

After the Environment Agency drop-in session, what are your views now on the proposals?

Philip Booth said...

I am cautiously optimistic....

Philip Booth said...

But now I hear at RBAG meeting this evening that perhaps things are not so good?