Essex County Council has received praise for its positive approach to dealing with the delivery of local flood alleviation measures and enforcement where third parties have responsibilities to address problems arising on their property in a recent scrutiny report.
The Place Services and Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee praised the Council and its partners for developing measures to reduce the occurrence of local flooding.
The report highlights how efforts are being taken to alleviate the threat of flooding, through ensuring that home and landowners are made aware of their responsibilities for potential drainage problems that may occur locally and originate on their private land.
Over the past year the Council has introduced new policies and procedures to be used where enforcement action becomes necessary, and is proactive in taking steps to raise public awareness of the responsibilities of property owners in maintaining ponds, ditch and drain clearance.
The new enforcement policy was written in response to changes in legislation which made the County Council the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) and gave the authority new responsibilities and stronger enforcement powers.
It is often assumed that public bodies are responsible for preventing localised flooding problems when in fact, house and land owners have the responsibility to keep their ditches and water courses clear and thereby allow the free flow of surface water.
The changes in legislation mean that while the County Council itself may have a bigger role in flood management; it also has more powers to take action to ensure that others address problems that may emanate on their property.
One person’s lack of poor maintenance can cause other people’s property to flood.
The Scrutiny Report highlighted the Council’s good practice in informing landowners of their responsibilities, and providing transparency about its intention to adopt a stronger enforcement approach to ensure others fulfil their own obligations.
The Committee also commended the work the Council has done to build more effective partnerships with other Local Authorities, public agencies and voluntary groups in Essex.
Councillor Simon Walsh, who chaired the review, said: “The Committee concluded that much has already been achieved by the County Council. In particular that it was actively engaging with communities to enable self-help and with other Essex Local Authorities to develop a consistent approach to this area.
Although the Council will not be able to stop the rain, it can act to mitigate the impact of severe flooding. We concluded that the Council was in a good position to help prevent the impact of flooding in the future.”
The Scrutiny Committee comprises councillors from across Essex, who undertook an impartial investigation on behalf of residents on how flooding enforcement can contribute to flood alleviation in practice. It hopes that by drawing together this information into a comprehensive report, it too can help to raise awareness of the issue of an individual’s responsibilities in the way flooding problems are addressed, as well as promote a better understanding of the role of the County Council in flood management, as both a Lead Local Flood Authority and Highways Authority.
Councillor Roger Hirst, Essex County Council Member for Transport, Planning and Environment, said: “As the Cabinet member responsible for the Lead Local Flood Authority, I am very pleased to receive the Scrutiny report and the presentation given by Cllr Walsh at the Essex Flood Partnership Board meeting.
"It is pleasing that this detailed and thorough piece of work undertaken over many months has found a lot of work the Council is doing as the LLFA to be of a good standard. We will continue to take steps to move these important flood services forward. In this regard my officers will continue to work with the Scrutiny process and make positive changes working, with our partner organisations with the aim of protecting more Essex homes from localised flooding.”
Other activities undertaken by Essex County Council to address flooding include the introduction of a new capital programme in April 2015, to deliver localised flood prevention. Seven schemes are currently in delivery and a further four are due to be delivered next year.
In addition the Council's new grant for Property Level Protection is proving to be very popular with 50 homes due to be protected by the end of March and a further 60 planned from April onwards.