The Environment Agency has issued a topical paper. Entitled “River maintenance pilots. Findings Report” the EA this January tells us how and why the pilots to dredge, weed and cleanse 9 pilot areas have not worked well. This was something initiated by Ministers in the wake of the Somerset levels disaster, when Ministers required the Agency to do more to increase the capacity of rivers in areas prone to flooding.
The Report tells us these pilots have told farmers and landowners more of what the EA does do, and told them how to carry out work “in an environmentally sensitive way”. They say that some 61 km of river maintenance work has been done or is planned as a result.
However, they also report that in 2 areas no work was carried out. There were objections from landowners and farmers in pilot areas because they were restricted to working on only 20% of the river on their land. Several reported that because there had been no dredging for so long there was too much silt to remove in a normal private sector maintenance operation. Rules on methods of clearing and disposal of silt are worrying, complex and expensive for landowners.
The Report demonstrates that the EA remains opposed to much dredging. The pilot areas were areas where they had discontinued dredging themselves, and where they did not plan to reinstate their dredging programmes. They then impeded the private sector’s wish to see these areas dredged by offering no cash and help, and or by issuing strict guidelines about how to do the work, and or by limiting the work to only one fifth of the affected river. As a result many farmers and other landowners concluded they could not do sufficient work to improve the position, were under some duress over how to do the work, and had a large inherited expensive and difficult task thanks to the EA’s abandoning dredging some time ago.
This was a masterly performance of Yes Minister. Elizabeth Truss should call them in and ask them to do better in future.