River Thames Scheme
To receive an update on the River Thames Scheme.
The Chairman introduced the item and said the River Thames Schemes’ sponsoring group decided to progress with the scheme without Channel 1 from Datchet and Bells Weir on 31 July 2020.
David Bedlington, Environment Agency, said the Treasury required the Borough to demonstrate that the funding for the scheme was in place; without this commitment, the scheme could not be progressed. A sponsor meeting took place on 31 July to decide whether the scheme should be delayed to address all the funding issues, or progress the scheme with the secured funding for Channels 2 and 3. It was agreed to move forward with Channels 2 and 3, which the EA would undertake as the delivery body on behalf of the sponsor group.
The delivery of the scheme and construction work would start four years from now, and the net impact of Channels 2 and 3 in Surrey would be positive for the Borough, though not as positive if the full scheme was executed. Channels 2 and 3 would draw down levels in the River Thames, though the benefits diminished upstream.
(Councillor Clark joined the meeting.)
A commitment was made in the sponsor meeting for all bodies to support and work together on flood risk reduction in the Borough, even though this was not part of the channel solutions.
Councillor C Da Costa asked if there was any negative effect to the Borough without Channel 1. The Group was informed that there were no negative effects and RBWM would continue to receive some benefits. The benefits were larger closer to Channel 2 and reduced further upstream. Councillor Baldwin said that despite Channel 1 no longer being part of the business case, work was continued with the sponsor group to look at remedial measures in flood reduction in the Borough. He wanted to know what the measures would be. The Group was informed that there was a commitment from the Borough and EA to work together and find alternatives to reducing flood risk.
Councillor da Costa said he understood one of the reasons for Channel 1 not progressing was due to the lack of funding, and wanted to know if the Borough was awaiting to lobby the government to provide a mechanism to raise funding to pay for the scheme.
The Chairman said a decision was made by Full Council in 2017 to agree to commit to fund £53 million for Channel 1. £10 million was funded from the budget and the remaining £43 million would have been borrowed, subject to a national flood levy being placed on the Borough. This meant that the residents were to fund for the repayments of the loan. The legislation was not introduced by the government despite intense lobbying since 2017 and in recent months. Without this, the Section 151 officer was unable to allow a loan of £43 million, as there were no means to repay the loan and therefore the Borough was unable to fund the scheme via this route and the sponsor group was unable to accept the progression of Channel 1.
Councillor Da Costa asked if the original commitment to support Channel 1 was subject to the flood levy. The Chairman agreed and said the decision was made on 26 September 2017 in a Full Council meeting, which was subject to new legislation being enacted to make provision for this.
Councillor Larcombe said Surrey County Council was able to supply the partnership funding and asked if they required legislation to do so. He wanted to explore alternative methods to receive funding for Channel 1. The Chairman said Surrey County Council chose to borrow funding, which was a larger sum in comparison to the Borough’s funding, and was also a larger organisation, which covered both Channels 2 and 3. The Borough was unable to borrow more than it could afford and the Section 151 officer would not have allowed a large loan that could not be repaid. The Chairman welcomed any alternative mechanisms to fund the scheme.
The Chairman said he was concerned that the Scheme was progressing without the Borough and the Borough would work closely with the EA to put alternative flood alleviation methods to protect residents.
Councillor Larcombe asked for further details on the consideration of other flood defence alternatives in Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury. The Chairman said specifics of the alternative flood scheme would not be discussed in the meeting, but conversations would take place between EA and the Borough. The Borough had a budget of £10 million for the scheme, as well as money from the EA that was to be used in Channel 1, which may now be available to fund other flood defences. A progress report on the defences was anticipated to be received by the Group in the next meeting.
Councillor Brar asked if £10 million had already been invested in the scheme and the Chairman informed that only £1 million was invested, which was used for modelling and preparatory work and would be the basis to identify and define alternative works that could take place.
Councillor Baldwin asked why the item was a verbal report rather than a written report, whilst press release and social media statements had been released on the decision. He would have preferred a document to read and prepare for rather than making ad hoc responses at the meeting.
The Chairman said the agenda was published before the decision made by the sponsor group and there were no formal reports from officers or councillors in relation to the decision made. There would be a formal report updated to the Full Council and Cabinet in future regarding the decision and future steps.