Members considered a report which sought approval to establish both an Officer Flooding and Drainage Working Party, and a Member Flooding and Drainage Working Group. The Committee were also asked to approve Terms of Reference for both forums. The proposed establishment of these Groups had arisen from work undertaken by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The report set out current work being undertaken in respect of Flood Risk Management and proposed a more formal method of providing Officers and Members with adequate oversight of the current and future risk.
The new method would bring together current work, both operational and strategic, into one formal area. The Officer Flood and Drainage Working Party would report to Management Team, feeding into the working party would be a strategic Member Working Group, comprising Members who represented the Authority on external flood-related bodies.
Reassurance in the area would be provided to the wider Member cohort through a twice-yearly report to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The report demonstrated how Officer and Member attendance at external forums would ensure the Council not only fulfilled its legislative duty, but also achieved a flow of consistent and credible information onwards to the Flood Working Party. It also acknowledged the need to communicate the Council’s strategies and preparedness to its residents, in order to support them to adequately protect their properties.
Further details of the current reality were set out at Section 6 of the report, with Section 7 providing further information in respect of the proposal. If approved, the recommendations would help further prepare and protect residents against the short and long-term risks from surface water and fluvial flooding.
Debate ensued and as a whole all Members welcomed the approach and concurred there was a need. The previous Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny outlined in detail the background to this work, the problems residents had experienced, the complexity involved in trying to identify the responsible agency and at times the total lack of support for residents. Whilst acknowledging the Working Group would not be able to resolve all issues it would give residents and Members a clear forum in which to discuss reoccurring problems and allow Officers to liaise with relevant agencies, holding them to account. Recent successes were cited.
Many Members spoke of issues across their Wards, and a perceived lack of action in some cases, which had been ongoing for years, with new and planned developments being a further cause for concern. Members whole-heartedly welcomed the introduction of a forum for common discussion. The modelling approach and conservative thinking adopted by other agencies was questioned
Ensuring Councillors knew about the Working Group and where they could raise such matters was considered important, as such it was suggested that Emergency Planning and clear direction on Flooding Matters should be considered for inclusion in the 2023 Member Induction. The Chairman of the Member Development Group undertook to take this away
Given concerns raised regarding the modelling used by some agencies it was suggested that the Environment Agency and others, accepting they had visited previously, should be invited to return. The publication of Section 19 investigations, the transparency of findings and residents’ access to this information, depending on who the lead flood authority was raised. Again, it was suggested partners should be held to greater account and this was not an acceptable service for affected residents.
The importance of local knowledge, particularly in respect of riparian ownership and less-formal watercourses was acknowledged and considered invaluable. Members spoke of how practices of old had not been maintained, adding to the flooding issues.
Caution was expressed that the current membership proposal could see the Working Group becoming unwieldly but no alternative proposals were made.
It was unanimously RESOLVED that: -
(a) the establishment of an Officer Flooding and Drainage Working Party be approved;
(b) the establishment of a Member Flood and Drainage Working Group be approved, and delegated authority be granted to the Director of Commercial and Operational Services, in consultation with the Chairman of Prosperous Communities and the Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny Committee, to determine the membership thereof;
(c ) Overview and Scrutiny Committee be responsible for oversight of the work of the Member Flooding and Drainage Working Group and Officer Flooding and Drainage Working Party, with Prosperous Communities Committee, the parent Committee, responsible for any decisions recommended by Overview and Scrutiny Committee; and
(d) the Terms of Reference for both forums be approved.