Friday, August 16, 2013
Text Size

David Heath's Column 07/03/2013

Although the weather has improved over the last few weeks and the water levels have gone down, it would be naïve to assume that our problems with flooding have gone away, They certainly haven’t, and there are lots of discussions going on locally about what needs to be done to help prevent the sort of problems we so regularly face locally. Everyone understands that you are never going to avoid flooding on the Somerset levels; it is part of the nature of the place. And most agree that the local staff of the Environment Agency worked heroically in trying to minimise difficulties over the winter. But the feeling remains that more could be done, despite the extreme weather conditions we faced last year.

It is frustrating for me and a couple of my colleagues that the rules of the house of commons mean that as ministers we are not allowed to speak out on these issues in parliament. Nevertheless, we can press on behalf of our constituents behind the scenes, and that is why I arranged another meeting with my ministerial colleague Richard Benyon this week. Richard has responsibility for flooding and the Environment Agency, and I know from previous discussions with him he is very aware of the issues in Somerset and sympathetic to doing something to help.

The key point I wanted to impress on him was the need to maintain the capacity of our watercourses. Over the years the lack of maintenance in our rivers and drainage ditches means that they have silted up to an unprecedented degree. And it is no good clearing the rhynes if the rivers are not dealt with, as you are still going to see water backing up. The view from the Environment Agency seems to be that it is not cost effective to dredge the rivers, partly because their priority, understandably, s the protection of the maximum number of properties in the towns.

I beg to differ. I want to see the Tone and the Parrett dredged urgently, along with all the contributing waterways. That needs the EA to change their minds, and I think Richard Benyon understands this. I’m also taking up a couple of ideas that came out of the NFU conference I went to last week. Firstly, that we should have a definitive map of watercourses and the responsibility for clearing, which I think is sometimes vague at the moment. It’s important that landowners, drainage boards, local authorities (who could do a lot better at clearing gullies and culverts)  and the Environment Agency each in turn know exactly what their responsibility is. And secondly, I think we should be reviving the idea of whole river catchment management. Clearing drainage channels is important, but so is retaining water upstream in a coordinated way, and we need to look at what better incentives, perhaps through the tax system, we can give landowners to do exactly that.

The best news is that Richard has agreed to come down again and meet me and some of those affected in Somerset. I’ll be arranging a meeting in Langport or somewhere close over the next few weeks. It’s time we talked seriously about what needs to be done.

David in Parliament Search: speaker:David Heath
  • Written Answers — Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Animal Welfare (18 Jul 2013)
  • Written Answers — Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Animal Welfare (18 Jul 2013)
  • Written Answers — Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Animal Welfare (18 Jul 2013)
  • Written Answers — Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Pigs: Diseases (17 Jul 2013)
  • Written Answers — Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Bovine Tuberculosis (17 Jul 2013)

Contact David

Office address:
Church Hill House,
17 Bath Street,
BA11 1DN
Tel: 01373 473618

You can also email David by clicking here.

Please ensure that you provide your name and address details for our records in any correspondence.

Published and promoted by Sam Phripp on behalf of David Heath (Liberal Democrats) both at Church Hill House, 17 Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN.
Printed and hosted by Fasthosts Internet Ltd, Discovery House, 154 Southgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 2EX.