To note this Committee considered a summary report on the December 2020 flood events at its meeting in March 2021.
Members to consider the attached updated version of the summary report and consider a further item on this would be required.
3.1 The Chair invited James Blockley, Flood Risk Manager, to present this item. The report was taken as read and members noted the following points:
· This report was an updated version of the one received at Committee in March this year. It reflected lessons learnt and actions taken from the December 2020 flood events.
· The team had been incredibly busy throughout this year actioning what had been identified. This included officers at GCC but also every other partner that had engaged to make improvements possible.
· Whilst partnerships had mainly been identified in the initial debrief sessions in December, new partnerships had also been identified since then.
· Key lessons learnt centred on the lack of revenue funding to support the critical role of district council colleagues. Also that improvements in releasing Govt. framework funding remained incredibly important in addressing flood response going forward.
· Officers had discussed the funding framework issue at length and felt it desperately needed updating. They felt it would be better for monies to be ring-fenced and allocated by the county councils, as they were often very quickly aware of the overall impacts on the ground.
· Gloucestershire officers knew within days that the December 2020 event it was the most significant the county had seen in many, many years and felt it was completely let down by the lack of national funding coming forward in the aftermath.
· There was currently an open letter being formulated from the English Severn and Wye lead local flood authorities for Govt.
· The report detailed 30 areas of project development and investigation, 20 of which had resulted directly from December. These actions ranged from initial investigations needed (what caused the flooding and what could be done to future mitigate it) through to knowing the issue and how to alleviate it but a need to identify funding.
· There had been a number of multi-agency partnerships formed in specific locations to explore any opportunities for collaboration and pooling resources in order to deliver the needed improvements.
· A case study example was shared for a small village in the Cotswolds, Bledington. During the December floods, it was worst hit community in the county with 29 properties being affected.
· Very early on in the event, the team met with the local flood group and convened a couple of multi-agency meetings to investigate the cause.
· It was identified that a local brook bank had eroded so there was currently a design in development to repair this. The team were also investigating the repair of an existing flood defence mechanism.
· What was key however was to not only understand what happened downstream, but also water management in the upper catchments.
· The team were therefore currently working with a landowner upstream who had shown interest in using their land for flood alleviation and possibly creating a wetland. This would not only have a dramatic benefit on slowing the amount of water that reached Bledington, but also many other environmental advantages such as biodiversity.
· The officer was exceedingly proud of the flood risk team at GCC but fully acknowledged the work done to date would not have been possible without the cooperation from other agencies and local communities.
· Flood management was at the cutting edge of climate change resilience and was helping communities adapt and cope with the impacts on extreme weather.
3.2 A member stressed the importance and benefits of upper catchment natural flood management. The processes were less expensive than hard engineering (flood walls etc.) and brought additional benefits to the surrounding environment such as slow release of water during droughts. As climate change brought an increased likelihood of extreme weather events, the county needed to think more strategically for its short and long term planning, and reduce the initial risk of flooding, rather than just adapting and paying the cost after.
3.3 There was also a need to liaise with water companies on improvements to the network to avoid an overflow of sewage into flood waters and to improve the maintenance of highways drains in order to allow them capacity to cope during heavy rainfall.
3.4 Comments were echoed of he need for district colleagues to be better resourced. Whilst staffing issues at other councils was not something GCC could comment upon, it was advised that GCC did all they could to support colleagues but absolutely agreed there was a need to expand the teams where possible.
3.5 A member raised they were currently liaising on setting up a multi-agency forum in their division, which involved working with those residents and local stakeholders who were directly affected by flood events. These forums were useful to draw on the knowledge of residents, helping them to be involved, and to give a knowledge of the bigger picture. There was an element of model shift needed in people’s thinking that we would have to learn to live with a certain amount of flooding.
3.6 An officer added that at a county level, a twin track approach to multi-agency forums was vital. Whilst the public forums were useful for all the above reasons, there also had to be a space of agencies to operate outside of the community/political environment in order to inform the wider approach.
3.7 Highlighting the multiple schemes mentioned within the report, a member asked how they would be prioritised. It was advised that the prioritisation approach would look at many factors such as feasibility, but it would also have an element of taking opportunities where they arose, regardless of a schemes priority rating.
3.8 Noting the level of development ongoing in Gloucestershire at the moment, it was questioned what future preventative plans there were to avoid increased flood risk. It was explained this came within the Council’s role as a statutory consultee on major development. There were two full time officers at GCC who scrutinised and commented on flood risk assessments and drainage strategies to make sure the level of surface water leaving the site was the same or less than before the development.
3.9 A member asked whether there were any standardised plans and support from GCC to help local parish and town councils develop their flood strategies in readiness. Officers welcomed the members support in this area and advised help would always be offered where possible. In terms of county strategy development, the department were currently looking to start a review of the Local Flood Risk Management Strategy and the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment to reflect new and evolved thinking around risk management and extreme weather.
3.10 Members requested to receive a further update in advance of this years flood season on actions for improvement identified in this report. This should include RAG ratings against each in terms of how much progress has been made.
ACTION: James Blockley