Flood protection is homeowners’ responsibility, says council

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council (photo submitted). SUS-150522-082832001

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council (photo submitted). SUS-150522-082832001

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Homeowners are responsible for protecting their own homes from flooding, West Sussex County Council (WSCC) has said.

A spokesman made the comments after this newspaper quizzed the council over its flood defences following the devastation from torrential rains in the north of England.

WSCC leader Louise Goldsmith admitted the authority continued to face ‘financial challenges’ when asked if she believed the council received enough funding for flood defences.

A council spokesman added it was only responsible for groundwater and surface water flooding such as when heavy rains block roads.

He said: “It is the responsibility of the homeowner to ensure that their house is protected.

“The county council provides information on how to minimise the risk of damage to property and residents are able to sign up for flood alerts with the Environment Agency.”

See below for the council’s statements in full.

Q: How well is the county council protecting residents from flooding?

A: Responsibility for the development and maintenance of coastal and river flood defences lies with the Environment Agency.

The County Council has responsibility for all other sources of flooding. The county has mapped out those areas that are at risk of flooding and works closely with partner agencies to try and minimise the risk.

In 2013, following the extreme weather of 2012, West Sussex County Council created ‘Operation Watershed’, using £8.25m from reserves. Operation Watershed was a commitment to invest in highway drainage and environmental improvements in areas of the county worst affected by floods.

£7m of the Operation Watershed investment went to repair damage to highway and drainage infrastructure caused by extreme weather, and establish ways of managing flood risk in the future. The remaining £1.25m was used to set up the Operation Watershed Active Communities Fund which encouraged communities to act against flooding.

The fund was so successful in supporting local communities, working with the County Council, to become more prepared for floods, that WSCC Members approved further funding of £1.1m toward Active Communities projects in 2014/15. In total over 240 drainage improvement projects were deliverd by the community via funding received from the ‘Active Communities Fund’.

Q: How does it work and how much does it cost?

A: The floods during 2012 identified a number of lessons for both the council and residents at risk of flooding. As a result the county council received a grant from Central Government of £300,000 to help set up local Flood Action Groups and raise awareness of the risk of flooding. These Flood Action Groups are made up of local volunteers who help residents to plan, prepare and support the response to flooding. To date there are 14 Flood Action Groups spread across West Sussex and work is continuing to create more groups. Additionally the council has sought to make residents aware of their responsibilities and how they can help minimise the risk of areas flooding by keeping streams and ditches clear which cross their land.

In addition, Operation Watershed was funded from county reserves.

Q: How does the council pay for it?

A: The council provides funding to support West Sussex residents in the case of adverse weather and other extreme events. As such there is no specific fund for flooding.

In addition, Operation Watershed was funded from county reserves.

Q: Where in West Sussex is most at risk from flooding?

A: The Environment Agency provides mapping showing those areas at risk of flooding and these can be accessed via their website. Areas are at risk from different types of flooding depending on the weather conditions.

West Sussex has developed a Local Flood Risk Management Strategy. This highlights the area’s most at risk from flooding within West Sussex.

Q: What difference does whether an area is rural or urban make to how the council allocates its flood defence resources?

A: Bearing in mind that the council only allocated funding for groundwater and surface flooding priority is always given to protecting lives and property.

Q: Does the leader of the council believe it receives enough funding from central government and other sources to protect residents from flooding?

A: West Sussex County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith said: “The county council continues to face a number of financial challenges - but we will always seek to protect the lives of residents and support them where they are affected by the results of flooding, like we did following the floods of 2012 and 2013.

“This week we will be considering fast tracking flooding schemes in our Capital Programme for 2015/16.”

Q: What reassurance can she give residents that they’re homes are protected adequately from flooding?

A: A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: “It is the responsibility of the homeowner to ensure that their house is protected. The county council provides information on how to minimise the risk of damage to property and residents are able to sign up for flood alerts with the Environment Agency. I would strongly urge concerned residents to contact their local Flood Action Group or if one does not exist in their area to contact their District or Borough Emergency Planning Officer who will be able to provide information and support in setting one up.”

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