To consider the attached report and discuss whether the Committee want to look into this issue further after today’s meeting.
4.1 The Chair invited James Blockley, Flood Risk Manager, to present this item. The report was taken as read and members noted the following points:
· The report focused on the flood incidents experienced on 23rd and 24th of December 2020, which were reported as the worst flood events for the county since 2007.
· Since the report had been published, the updated figures were 454 flood reports, 207 of which were internal flooding issues.
· The type of flood was very different to 2007 in that it resulted from surface water run off, due to intense rainfall that fell on already saturated ground.
· The report reflected the fantastic multi-agency response that was made to the event; it was quick, effective and focused, and showed very clear evidence of solid partnership working. No one body was working at cross-purposes with another.
· Whilst the Council had always been committed to providing funding for future flood resilience, and the actions taken since 2007 had clearly had a major impact on the results from December’s events, there were a number of lessons learnt during the response which included but not limited to:
o The role of district officers can sometimes be majorly overlooked in a flood response. The district response team are normally very small, and sometimes just one officer and they have multiple actions under their responsibility. We needed to make sure that this role was suitably resourced, as the lead flood authority, we rely heavily on them to discharge this role and we could not respond effectively without them.
o The importance of the community response and support. Residents who live in areas that were vulnerable to flood events were always very realistic about where they live and were essentially the first line of defence. Their vital support helps organisations to raise warnings locally, clear routes for emergency services and offer support to their fellow residents. As a full county response, we should be doing more to support community groups and help coordinate the existing community efforts across the county.
o There were active discussions about a Gloucestershire specific flood recovery funding pot that could be immediately released to residents for the immediate, short term recovery. During national flood events, the Government will occasionally release framework funding but this was not happening for December’s events, and even if it was, it was normally received months after the event.
· The report outlined a number of actions to increase resilience of communities as well as a range of short term actions for the worst hit areas. There was an overall aim to develop a local flood risk management strategy.
· Officers intended to publish this report on the Council website so residents were able to see the benefit of he multi-agency approach.
4.2 Members and Cabinet Members thanked officers across the board for the very comprehensive report.
4.3 In response to suggestions of creating a Gloucestershire specific flood relief fund, a member notified the Committee that there was money leftover in the 2007 flood appeal fund, but discussions were ongoing with the charity commission to change the restrictions on the fund so it could be used for other purposes. Officers advised they were aware of this fund and initial investigations had been made. As the member was one of the fund treasurers, it was agreed to continue this conversation offline as a matter of urgency.
4.4 It was added that this fund should focus on resilience and resistance measures such as flood gates, moving plug sockets higher up and away from risk, it should not be there to fund immediate recovery such as replacing carpets etc. this needed to remain an issue for insurance companies.
4.5 A member noted the number of issues reported on page 23 of the report and questioned how these were being addressed. It was advised that these issues often require cross departmental responses and it was an ongoing, substantial effort to respond. Efforts needed to be initially concentrated on those worse hit areas but all enquires would be addressed as soon as possible.
4.6 It was reported by a member that after complaints that residents were not being phoned to advise they were at risk of flooding, the Environment Agency reacted by calling residents at 4am when the area was already beyond its worst point, which left residents worried that the flood was going to get worse. It was acknowledged that there was an issue with how and when the peaks and lulls of the river levels were reported to residents and this would be addressed going forward. It was added that the Cabinet Member was also considering writing to the Environment Agency in light of issues raised.
4.7 It was suggested that there was room for the county to be more proactive than responsive towards flood events, and that some impacts could have been reduced if we were constantly monitoring maintenance issues such as ditch fill up. In response it was advised that water course management was the responsibility of whoever owns the land.
4.8 The Council had a role to advise and monitor the maintenance but can only encourage owners to carry out the necessary maintenance and fulfil their obligations as land owners. Officers have produced a guide to set out these responsibilities (https://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/planning-and-environment/flood-risk-management/flood-guide/waterside-living/waterside-living-guide/#main) which was due to be updated to advise owners on natural obstructions that could have a positive impact on water management.
4.9 A member added another area of alleviation was the regular maintenance of gullies, but there was an ongoing issue, especially in their area, of parked cars preventing the clean taking place. Officers were aware of this issue and it was something that could only be addressed on a case by case basis with the team.
4.10 Members heard that highways had received around 200 calls by 6pm on 23 December. A review was undertaken after this event to understand what actions could be taken to improve response in the future and hence for the next flooding event proactive preparation by the department meant that they had already created a flood desk set up to triage response and action as events occurred
4.11 The issue of new housing developments being built on previously flooded land was discussed. It was advised that the Council provided statutory comments on district planning applications in regards to flood risk. Officers will assess whether the water run off from the site was any greater after the development. If there was a level of risk on the site, a range of conditions can be added to the application to manage this. There was unfortunately a public misconception that councils were building on flood plains regardless of risk but that was not the case. Any level of risk would be managed.
4.12 An update was requested on a natural flood management scheme that involved beavers being used in Lydbrook (https://www.forestryengland.uk/beavers-greathough-brook-forest-dean).
ACTION: James Blockley
4.13 A member raised concern that sometimes when councillors call in issues such as blocked drains, they sometimes did not receive a useful response. It was informed that the emergency contact sheet for reporting issues had been updated and attached to this report, following issues noticed during December’s events. Officers would happily look into any specific issues offline if that would be useful for members and reassured that they absolutely rely on local information.
4.14 The Cabinet Member for Planning and Environment commented that this flood event really highlighted the complexity of the agencies involved in a response of this scale. They highlighted the really important role councillors play in being local advocates for their communities and to manage expectations given the scale of the response required. This was something the member was keen to support and encourage going forward, even more so given the likelihood that climate change will increase and intensify these events. The member and officers hoped to expand on these discussions and bring more information to a later meeting of the Committee.
4.15 The GCC representative for the Regional Flood Defence Committee (RFDC) reminded members that Gloucestershire was at the start of its 6 year flood alleviation programme of schemes and encouraged members to come forward with areas in their communities who were considered at risk. They added that they would be raising the issues shared regarding flood warnings at the next meeting of the RFDC.
4.16 The Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Parking and Libraries highlighted the role for GFRS during these events. Its primary role was to preserve life and protect property, and during the events in December, the Service received over 330 phone calls. There was noted frustration in the community when the fire service did not intervene in every flooding incident but it was reminded that each case needed to be weighed against the most effective response, and a small depth of water in a house did not require a full GFRS intervention.
4.17 A member raised the issue of new housing developments overloading the sewage systems. It was advised that the overflow of foul sewerage happened either where the network had combined sewers so foul waste and surface water entered the same system or where surface water can enter a foul sewage network. Both network set ups would experience overflows during bad weather where the surface water intake increased dramatically, and unfortunately when they flood, the overflow water would also include foul sewerage.
4.18 What was needed was a strategic investigation of the network to understand how to reduce the access of surface water into the foul network, either by separating the sewers or adding conditions to reduce the speed of surface water flow in bad weather.
4.19 The responsibility of this work would lie with the water and sewage companies who were consulting on their drainage and waste water management plans at the moment. Perhaps following this consultation, there was scope for greater interaction with regional companies and local authorities etc. It was a problem that would need collective effort to solve.
4.20 The Cabinet Member for Highways and Flood added that proactive work was taking place involving MPs and water companies to look at the existing combined systems in Gloucestershire. It was noted that in order for improvements of this level to take place, high level conversations would be needed and would require substantial investment.
4.21 The Committee gave their support and recommended that engagement with the relevant parties continued. The Cabinet Member agreed to take forward the recommendation on the Committee’s behalf and continue this line of discussion and progress to the next level where appropriate.
ACTION: JAMES BLOCKLEY/CABINET MEMBER