Flood protection, wildlife & environment is always a one sided view.

The impact of wildlife organisations on locally managed flood projects is a concern. They seem to be free to make unsubstantiated statements whilst pursuing their objectives with little public visibility, criticism or professional oversight and it is a growing problem.  It is a situation becoming increasingly familiar and yet another example of our growing democratic deficit where minorities impose their ambitions on the majority. The Somerset  Levels,  the Parrett Estuary and Bridgwater’s need for a flood defence from the sea has brought many of these parties with their own agenda to one location each focusing on what they consider to be important. Bridgwater seems to be well down the list of importance despite the planned construction of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. The purpose of this article is to provide an explanation as to how this is happening.

Context

Bridgwater currently builds around 500 houses a year and if that rate continues at even half that rate for the next 100 years we could expect to see the number of houses in Bridgwater rise by 25,000 taking another 700Ha (1,700 acres) of  land for housing and a further 300Ha needed for employment. This 1,000Ha’s  will see Bridgwater’s existing footprint grow by at least 50%, The 25,000 houses and associated economic development will generate perhaps 300,000m3 of clays and soil waste.

With flat and level land needed for employment land at the old BAE site and at Horsey offer the only other viable employment options to Bridgwater and they are to the northwest. New housing will be forced onto good quality farmland south along the A38 swallowing up North Petherton and eventually meeting Taunton coming the other way and to the west developing the land between Bridgwater and Cannington. Bridgwater will consume its high value agricultural land on the hills as it, like the rest of the country, continues to build our outdated ideas of housing.

Bridgwater will therefore become an even more difficult place to live and work as the gap between residential development and employment continue to grow. Every day a large part of Bridgwater’s population will get up and drive along the A38 and A39  to get to work. Bridgwater will not even start considering a bypass until 2040.

Apart from the normal lack of imagination by planners and developer’s Sedgemoor’s (Bridgwater) greatest problem now appears to be the wildlife and flood pressure groups that seem to take an extreme view in the pursuit of what they consider to be in their interest. They show little tolerance or understanding that people also live on the Levels and in Bridgwater and ignor the EU directives that accept people must come first. The true impact of their objectives is concealed and never addressed.

These organisations also seem immune from any need to consider facts in their statements whilst criticising property developers for the smallest omission. The irony that is they now ape those same commercial organisations in assembling land and changing its use without considering its long term impact on the wider local population and  it should be lost on no one.

Some typical examples

Steart Peninsula

The local economic benefits alluded to as part of the original Steart Peninsula planning application remain unproven and therefore represent little tangible benefit to the local population yet quoted as fact by The Severn Vision statements.

The Severn Vision

The Severn Vision

This plan will expand the existing saltmarsh by 833% around the Severn Estuary and in Bridgwater’s case large areas of agricultural land removed from food production and converted from a freshwater environment to a saltwater one (intertidal habitat). To date two phases have been completed; The Steart Peninsula and the RSPB reserve (funnded by Bristol Ports) both of which remove economic activity and destroy an existing habitat to create another. A process little different from modern housing development. Whilst an argument might be made on the basis of geography for these two areas to be returned to the sea no such argument exists for the destruction of Pawlett Hams and Chilton Trinity including areas of the SSI.

This is a process promoted by the following organisations

  • Wildlife and Wetlands
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • RSPB
  • National Trust
  • Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)
  • Severn Rivers Trust

With regard to Bridgwater it makes claims regarding carbon savings whilst ignoring the collateral effect of moving Bridgwater’s housing developments onto higher quality agricultural land and increasing commuting distances. Also ignored is the loss of food production on 5,000 acres of land and the transfer of that food production overseas. It is particularly misleading in its statements with regard to Bridgwater providing no supporting evidence as to the negative benefit that it has considered in any balanced and holistic way. It is completely one sided yet already two key elements have been delivered, Steart Peninsula  and RSPB  reserve. The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will deliver the southern land at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams .

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

The Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council’s Dec 2018 public consultation made a claim with regard to the lack of any environmental impact of this scheme. The EA and SDC have not considered environmental impacts beyond the immediate area of the scheme despite this scheme  imposing restrictions on economic development forcing residential development to the south and west of Bridgwater and employment to the northwest of the town.

It is worth noting that HPC looked at issues far beyond the immediate area of the power plant when it did its enviromental impact assessment.

Environmental Impact Statement

This statement above  cannot be true as

  1. Seawater is shown overtopping the river banks onto the existing farmland, the fact that it is seawater is misleading.
  2. The farmland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams will be poisoned for agriculture through the introduction of saltwater
  3. The existing wildlife that requires a freshwater environment will be destroyed.
  4. The location of the borrow pits, which side of the secondary flood defence, was not shown. The plan to excavate 100,000m3 of material will create a lake of nearly 13 acres that  will act as a reservoir for saltwater.
  5. 1,400 acres of high quality farmland suitable will be unnecessarily developed invariable towards North Petherton and Cannington as this scheme will convert  1,400 acres of low quality farmland that could have been used to saltmarsh.
  6.  100 years of lost food production on 2400 acres of farmland.
  7. 100,000m3 of clay will be unnecessarily excavated from the  land  being protected whilst during the same period 300,000m3 will be produced as waste through normal housing and industrial construction activities. (the secondary flood defences do not need to be completed to the full height during intial construction
  8. Denying economic development in the north-west will increase commuting efforts in the local community generating avoidable C02; the scheme ensures the increased separation of employment areas from housing.

The claims regarding this scheme are questionable at best and the lack of information misleading at worse. The extract from the EA/SDC public display  indicates a plan to create a  stepping-stones for species that are not identified.

Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)

The CPRE’s support for The Severn Vision that results in the wholesale destruction of a large area of our existing productive landscape and the equivalent of 10 500 acre farms is not what we imagined their core mission to be that says

“We campaign for a beautiful and living countryside. We work to protect, promote and enhance our towns and countryside to make them better places to live, work and enjoy, and to ensure the countryside is protected for now and future generations.”

How allowing saltwater (seawater) onto productive farmland that has taken 500 years to remove the salt from seems a strange way  of protecting our countryside.

Somerset’s Wild Trust (SWT)

Another supporter of The Severn Vision.

Somerset’s Wild Trust’s  website says

Since the 2013-14 flooding events, the dominant narrative in the floodplains has focussed on hard engineering schemes and dredging to reduce flood risk, overlooking flood risk reduction techniques that work with nature and provide a range of benefits to society. A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change. As peat is drained, it shrinks, lowering land height and making the area ever more vulnerable to extreme weather. Well-informed debate on the future of Somerset’s low-lying areas in the face of rising sea level is limited, so a further vital part of our work on the Levels is to communicate a more optimistic narrative which gives nature its proper value.

This statement ignores that the Somerset Level’s is an artificial environment that needs regular maintenance and seems to conflate the need to dredge Somerset’s rivers and the need to get pluvial flows from the upper Parrett catchment areas to the sea bypassing the levels storage with an idea that somehow this process is designed to shrink the peat. “A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change” is a particularly spurious and misleading statement. It sounds like people are secretly pumping water off the levels as some sort of conspiracy.

Anyone with any knowledge of the Levels would know that retaining water levels is just as important to the Levels as draining them. No one is going to drain the peat. Well informed debate requires informed knowledge and that is clearly not the case with this statement by the SWT.

FLAG Flooding on the Levels Action Group

FLAG reflects its single issue origins seemingly taking its position on Somerset’s farming industry geographically from the lands relationship to Moorland and what is best for Moorland.

A post (Nov 2018) supporting Somerset’ s farming industry on the Levels was made by FLAG making Brexit the largest threat to farmers in anticipation of a nonexistent trade deal with the US; no doubt the cause of the 2014 flood and global warming will in time also be subscribed to Brexit.

FLAG’s postion downstream of Moorland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams is quite different.  Flag is altogther less compasionate regarding the farmers there having their land flooded with saltwater to alleviate upstream flooding. Concern is  simply dismissed by a statement worthy of Marie Antoinette “let them raise salt beef or lamb”. It  completely ignores  that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier has already destroyed  land values for 2,400 acres of land and food production we might  have gained. Reverse nimbyism seems to apply; as long the flooding is on someone else’s land FLAG appears to be happy whilst refuses even the smallest tacit support  for or willingness to consider alternatives tht might have a better outcome for the wider community.

Conclusion

Whilst our wildlife organisations may have started with good intentions what is clear is that many people associated with these organisations simply don’t understand the mechanisms of the Somerset Levels, the impact of what they propose (The Severn Vision)  and in most cases don’t care if it doesn’t suit their agenda. They fail to consider that ultimately the economy pays for everything and destroying local economies will ultimately call into question the viability of protecting our environment; the ratepayer maintains the roads used to get to our wildlife sites and will pay or make a significant financial contribution to the cost to the current planned defences and the their subsequent replacements. A case of shooting the goose that lays the Golden Egg of in this case chasing away industry and people.

It is clear that many organisations support the existing proposals to turn the Parrett Estuary into a saltmarsh. The  decision by SDC and the EA not to commission an economic impact assessment has allowed those organisations and the Environment Agency to  create the worst possible long term economic future as there is no assessment mechanism other than the government  investment rules to measure the value of this scheme.  Allowing the  undermining Somerset’s agricultural industry, wasteful development and not working towards an integrated low energy society is not what we should be doing.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Final Public Consultation

Ahead of the forthcoming last public consultation on the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) the rate and tax payers might consider asking what becomes of Bridgwater after the BTB reaches the end of its design life?

The answer is simple.  

if there  is no barrier capable of keeping the rising sea out there will be no house insurance, no mortgages and Bridgwater the town will not be a viable place to live. 

Our present proposed EA flood defence scheme is based on retreating as far back from the sea as we can, it deliberately  puts our backs to the wall  On one side of the barrier we will ultimately have the inter tidal habitat (the sea)  and on the other our housing and industry.

No space is being provided behind the proposed barrier to create another bigger one. As a consequence there will be nowhere to go with a replacement that does not have a huge and unnecessary price tag. There is an irony that land at Chilton Trinity returned to the sea under the present scheme  and the planned managed realignment in 2055  will be inadvertently reclaimed  under a downstream replacement barrier albeit land now poisoned with salt.

With sea level rise continuing for hundreds of years past the design life of the BTB one would expect that as responsible people we would give some consideration to what happens next. Unfortunately, like so many things in need of fixing and investment we seem content to kick the problem into future refusing even to consider how we might make some provision to help those that follow us.

Many years an Arup engineer called Poul Beckmann wrote  the opening sentence of a  document with the line “Human nature is that we put off until tomorrow what we should do today”. Never has that been more true today than in Somerset. Somerset’s failure to develop a realistic, affordable and sustainable long-term strategy is unforgivable.  It really is time for some of the promises made by our political leadership on this issue to be delivered and people stop making excuses why things cannot be done. Simply working our way through the Somerset 20 years plan and saying the future is not our business is irresponsible and unacceptable.

what was the question?

The SRA was asked “What is the SRA and its partners working assumption for the replacement of the existing scheme and barrier?

The written answer received from the SRA  answer is in blue

From day one, the tidal barrier will be designed in such a way that it will still provide a 1 in 1,000-year standard of protection in 2125. The design includes an allowance for climate change up to 2125.

  • Climate change does not stop in 2125!!!! 
  • 1:1,000 sounds good but its just the margin on the starting point and degrades over time. The Dutch use 1;10,000 and maintain it as the level of protection.

The downstream defences will be designed in such a way that they will still provide a 1 in 200-year standard of protection in 2055, with allowance for further adaption for climate change over time.

  • 2055 is important because this is the date from which managed realignment is implemented under Policy 7d39  of the Shoreline Management Plan.
EA explaining the scheme in 2017

It is to be expected that any piece of infrastructure would need updating after 100 years. We cannot decide now how future generations may wish to live or what their priorities for infrastructure will need to be. This is why, for example, there are plans for the Thames Barrier to be re-built in future decades but decisions on exactly where and what will be required are deliberately being left for later.

  • Building the barrier in the town as planned does not  give those in the future choices but leaves them no choice to but to go downstream and  use land we have previously given back to the sea and to abandon the £100M investment the present scheme will have cost.
  • The response attempts to conflate the need to replace the  1970’s Thames Barrier as a reason not to make provision today for a replacement  in Somerset. if you know you have to replace something why would you not plan for the replacement? Its an excuse. 
  • We should be learning the lessons of the past rather than making a  virtue of repeating the failures that the SRA reply implies.

The Thames Barrier Myth

The continual portrayal Thames Barrier shown on TV as an iconic single barrier solution is misleading; the barrier is actually part of the Thames Estuary flood defence system comprising not one but eight individual tidal barriers that all shut together. Five of the eight barriers are closer to Bridgwater’s  situation than the “Thames Barrier”. They are however where they should be at the mouth of the rivers they defend not 5 miles upstream as with Bridgwater’s Tidal Barrier.

Thames Estuary Flood Defence

Using the Thames Barrier as an excuse for not planning a replacement in Somerset is particularly disingenuous  for a number of reasons.

  1. Nearly 60 years ago  when the Thames Barrier was designed climate change was not understood as it is now. There was little provision for sea level rise just the post Ice Age tilt of the south of England to consider.
  2. The  Thames Barrier is upstream of what were active docks  that had navigation rights in the Thames Estuary.
  3. In Somerset we have a topography in the form of the Polden Hills, Pawlett Hill and Stockland Bristol that we can link and use to our advantage.  London does not have such a luxury.
  4. All the Thames Barrier replacement options  move the replacement barrier  downstream perhaps as far as Tilbury. (July 2016 update)
  5. The  most frequent use of the Thames Barrier is now the management of fluvial flood water rather than tidal surge. Something Bridgwater is not designed to do.
  6. Sedgemoor District Council is able to reserve space for a bridge over the Parrett south of Dunball should its not be doing the same for a replacement barrier?

The collective response is No ; there is no plan.

The SRA, EA and SDC were conformed as having contributed to the response

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier; the Questions the public need to Ask

Once  the question “how will the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier be replaced?” the present  scheme simply looks out of date and poor value for money.

The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is repeating the same mistake as was made with the Thames Barrier system setting it as far upstream as possible. Because of the selected location  a replacement would like the Thames Barrier have to go downstream towards Combwich. Confused? We should be.

When you go to public consultation some questions worth asking;

  1. How will the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier be replaced?”
  2. What becomes of Bridgwater after sea level rise exceeds the design basis of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier?
  3. Why is there no long-term plan or vision for what comes next?
  4. Why is the ratepayer required to provide money to raise river banks money protecting land at Chilton Trinity when the planned sea water flooding will make it of no economic value?
  5. Why is not improving fluvial flow in the river system  part of the scheme?
  6. Why did the cost of the scheme almost double after the location was decided on?

Sustainable Flood Defence

The UK has a serious problem with leadership and sustainable construction where flood defence is concerned. There is a profound lack of critical thinking in the delivery of future UK flood defences and an unwillingness by agencies to get their  hands dirty at a local level. As a consequence government continues to fail regarding sustainability and value for money; taxpayer funded agencies seem unable or unwilling to work together.  It is a situation compounded by wildlife and environmental organisations who have seen an opportunity to gain control of and modify land in much the same way that monasteries such as Glastonbury once did.

Flood defence schemes are invariably seen in terms of a definable project that can be closed rather than the first step of a sustainable long term solution. The protected community needs to live with and manage these schemes  for 100’s of years after they are built. Our thinking on delivery is just too short and too expensive when it is a 300 year or so problem and especially when the initial solution only has a 100 year design life; it makes little sense. There is an obvious gap. That gap  means that today’s options should at least consider what happens next. Should we really  be adopting a solution today requiring the construction of a  replacement barrier tomorrow rather than a scheme today that has  provision or a plan for extending it already built in? Our current scheme takes planned obsolescence to a new level.

We should not be closing out future options for the generations that follow and we should follow our own rules for sustainable development

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Delivery of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier continues to be an exemplar of non-sustainable thinking. Part of the scheme requires the river banks between the tidal barrier and the village of Combwich to be maintained. The EA’s plan to do this work as part of the barrier construction contract. Material is to be dug from the adjacent protected fields  and where a future Northern Bridgwater Bypass might be routed.  Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) have protected in the Local Plan a potential crossing point on the River Parrett just south of the  A38 roundabout at Dunball.

Clearly excavating Chilton Trinity’s fields and creating a series of salt water pits that creates an ideal future breeding ground for salt marsh breeding mosquito’s is not what people have considered the consequence to be. It is far from impossible that in a generation Chilton Trinity and Combwich may ultimately become uninhabitable because of this excavation process rather than from the increased flood risk. Managing mosquito borne diseases may well become the larger challenge in low lying areas as our climate warms up. It is difficult to see how the EA could contemplate the creation of such a situation.

With whole life costs of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier reaching £100M for a barrier, secondary banks and the raised river banks; banks that need continual raising means we need to consider modification of the delivery model to get the costs of this project under control.

That whole life cost  also ignores the 100 year economic impact,  both locally and nationally, of losing 1000’s  of acres of productive agricultural land  notwithstanding the questionable morality of a food importing country  choosing to export more of its food production offshore. 

If we are going to build the solution we have we need better and more economic delivery solutions than is currently proposed. We can then at least  ameliorate the present situation with a better delivery system.

Brexit allows the modification of the EU water and waste directives  that have now been written into UK law. We can now change the way in which we manage waste for the better.

Sustainable Construction

Every year Sedgemoor will build 5-600 houses and the excavation of foundations and drains for each of these houses will create around 15-20m3 of waste material (clay) suitable for re use as bank raising fill material. Sedgemoor’s  planned housing developments  will create around 9,000m3 per year that currently must be paid for to be disposed of. Housing developers could supply all the material needed to raise the banks. That is sustainable construction.

Over the 100 years life of the barrier there could be as much as 900,000 m3 of material we need to find a home for; material that could be used to build up the banks and preserve the land we have at Chilton Trinity for future generations. Even if the volume is  only 10% of the possible amount its probably enough to avoid digging up land at Chilton Trinity.

Under present EA proposals the EA is going to pay landowners for material that other organisations with similar material must pay to dispose of. We are meant to be reducing this sort of activity not making the situation worse.

We simply don’t need to get all the work in place in 2024; we need just enough to maintain the flood defence need and then use local resources to progressively deliver the longer-term solution with a local benefit to the economy. This work could be collectively done by local contractors under the supervision of either the EA or the Drainage Board. There is simply no engineering need for the EA to wantonly and unnecessarily destroy our landscape when cheaper and more sustainable alternatives are available.

NB there is only an intent to continue to raise the river banks 

To put this into perspective that recycled material would

  • build a bank 5m high bank from the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier to Combwich.
  • raise the banks and build the secondary flood defences up to match climate change.
  • raise the banks, build the secondary flood defence and start building new defences north from Pawlett Hill towards Highbridge.
5m high and nearly 5 miles long, 100 years of digging house foundations

Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise is not expected to slow for at least 300 years making both the barrier redundant as the river banks can only be raised perhaps another metre before they overload the poor ground conditions of the Parrett Estuary. Ultimately the long term plan for Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams’s will be realised.

The continued conditioning of the population by the EA to passively accept surrender to the sea as the first option for non-London areas of the UK is disingenuous and defeatist and never mind its land we need to grow food on.

Way Forward

At £100M the present solution for the  Bridgwater Tidal barrier is clearly neither sustainable or affordable. A situation that needs to be laid at the door of the Government, Somerset Rivers Authority and specifically the EA and Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) who provide joint project oversight.  We need

  1. Sustainability in what we do is placed at the centre  of our plans
  2. An independent inquiry into how flood defence is being delivered in Somerset.
  3. A peer review of the BTB project  into how it has arrived where it has.

Severn Estuary Forum 2017

The Severn Estuary Forum met for its annual meeting 2017 in Bridgwater, Somerset on the 5th October following hard on the heels of Question Time and the Antiques Road Show at the McMillian Theatre.

An event to see people working together to resolve climate change, flood risk and wildlife preservation it was not.

Richard Hickmet the High Sheriff of Somerset opened proceedings.

The day was split into three sessions and some notes on the highlights follow.

Energy and Climate Change

Session Chair SDC councillor Ann Fraser MBE introduced the session noting the increased trade (marine aggregates) going through Dunball now rising to 70,000T per year as a reflection of increasing economic trade. Fortunately, Ross Edwards in his following update on Hinkley Point C (HPC) noted that their aggregates jetty being built as part of the enabling works was still underway. The real reason for Dunball’s growth was more to do with HPC immediate need rather than some wider reason. The irony of the councillors assumptive claim was not lost.

Ross Edwards (EDF) was able to explain, whilst maintaining a serious face, the extreme lengths that EDF were going to protect the beach from the small feet of a jack up barge and a few discreet foundations. Yet another large corporate organisation feeling the need to succumb to the irrational demands of the modern environmentalist. He also noted that EDF had spent £20M on road improvements as part of the HPC project enabling works.

Dr Judith Wolf of the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool provided a fascinating talk that actually dealt with the session subject. The moderating impact of the edge of the continental shelf in dissipating energy should make us all worry a little less about that large piece of a volcano that threatens to slide into the sea in the Canaries at La Palma causing a tsunami. The great flood of 1607 also got a brief note and it was not a tsunami.

What was more important was Dr Wolf’s comments on global warming and the best scenario of sea level rise being 0.5m and the worst at nearly  2.0m. Dr Wolf confirmed they really don’t know the figure as no one knows how the melting polar ice caps will impact on the world. It was received with little or no comment. 2.0m is around twice the figure that the EA is using for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB).

Planning Governance & Flood Risk

Andy Hohl (EA) project manager of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier project explained the mechanism of the floodgates but avoided the mechanism of the planned flood defence system.  A diagram was shown showing the planned flooding of Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Ham’s when there is coincident high tides and storm surges. It is an event that will increase in intensity and frequency as sea levels rise and after a few events will have poisoned the land.

River Parrett at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams; EA flood model Bridgwater Tidal Barrier 5th October 2017; How the River Parrett will increasingly flood the Levels

The EA missed the opportunity to explain why a tidal barrier is to be built in Bridgwater rather than the conventional locations at the mouth of rivers such as at Newcastle and Barking.

Mr Hohl was asked what comes after rising sea levels makes the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier ( gate and river banks) ineffective in protecting the area from the sea. Apart from some irrelevant comments about things being done today, there was no answer about tomorrow. Tomorrow, if Dr Wolf is correct, will be only 50 and not 100 years away before a replacement solution is needed.

Wessex Water’s Lucy George gave an interesting talk on the construction of the new sewers being built around Bridgwater. Clever engineering in bad ground.

Protected Sites and Species
Alys Lavers the WWT manager at Steart gave an update on the last 3 years entitled Climate Change, Flood Risk and Community Action. It has obviously become a go to place for students studying for degrees and PHD’s. Even some elver’s have apparently decided it’s a great place deciding that the swim to Oathe and the freshwater rivers of the Tone, Yeo, Parrett and beyond was simply not worth the effort and turned right into the Steart reserve. Whether that was in the EIA and is safer than getting past the locals elvering is no doubt a study in itself. However a look at the IDB asset map apparently showing every route to freshwater blocked by a clyce  does not paint a promising future for the lost elvers.

Ms Laver was also remarkably candid about Steart. That there would be no facilities built there apart from the existing toilets. No chance of a place to shelter from the elements and have a cup of tea. Little chance then that Steart will deliver the promised economic contribution when planning permission was sought by the EA. Someone in the audience from Burnham on Sea said it was difficult to find and Ms Laver explained that the lack of signposting was deliberate. Apparently keeping the number of visitors down was done for the benefit of the locals.

What was apparent to many in the audience was that WWT Steart is really only interested in the right sort of visitor; academia and other suitable people. The ordinary taxpayers who paid for Steart from their taxes (that is where the EA get its money from) most definitely not welcome.

Rob Shore WWT, session chairman and coordinator of the Severn Vision introduced the document that was first published in January 2017. What is interesting is the ambition of this recent document. A saltmarsh from Dunball to Highbridge. The proposal outlined in this document is clearly in line with the EA’s and SDC’s current strategies set out in the Shoreline Management Plan and Parrett Estuary Flood Strategy.

The map below was generated from the Severn Vision interactive map. If you live around the Severn Estuary its worth checking out the aspirations of the various wildlife organisations.

Areas of Potential Saltmarsh

One cannot help but feel that the EA and various wildlife organisations including WWT  have the ambition to turn the coastal part of Somerset into a wildlife theme park.   Trading off the land in Somerset for planning gain elsewhere such the Bristol Ports deal where Bristol gets the economic benefit and people in Somerset beyond made to feel to feel uncomfortable in their own countryside is unacceptable. Climate change should not be used as  little more than a Trojan Horse by organisations with an overblown sense of morality and entitlement.

A question on the morality of an island that cannot feed itself flooding food producing farmland to create saltmarsh was quickly pushed to one side.

Finally a question about mitigating the noise from exploding old military ordnance being found as part of the HPC outfall construction work. Ordnance, when located, is subsequently blown up by the Navy’s bomb disposal team; it did not find someone willing and able to answer it.

Observations

What was quite clear was climate change and rising sea level is really only a device and agenda for wildlife organisations to pursue the expansion of wildlife habitat.

There was no big picture presented,  no key numbers and no one to provide context as to how the wildlife of the Severn Estuary, ordinary people and business might co-exist. Key local councillors present on all the flood committees, Wessex, the drainage boards and the SRA were with the exception of Ann Fraser notable by their absence. Perhaps there were no expenses paid for attendance. Councillor Fraser it was noted in the Speaker Summaries although not an engineer had been “instrumental in leading a technical review of the flood risk in Bridgwater”. The Somerset Rivers Authority is no better with regard to engineering. There is a disturbing and dangerous precedent of non-qualified people in influential positions shaping Somerset’s flood and climate change plans. Google and mobile phones do not make an expert. 

There is simply no leadership or vision when we should be looking forward not 100  years but perhaps 2 to 300 years. Sea level rise is not stopping and schemes such as the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier that just look forward 100 years and stop with no apparent reason defy reason and responsibility; what is the plan afterwards? there isnt one.

Perhaps worst of all for an event sponsored by my own institution, the Institution of Civil Engineers, there were no engineers representing the many companies making money from climate change. Engineer’s created the landscape we have and the current generation should be leading process of planning for our future but seem to have abdicated their interest or responsibility in shaping the land bordering the Severn Estuary.

Somerset and the other counties of England and Wales that border the Severn Estuary need to have a serious conversation and take control of climate change issue at a regional level. The situation needs a champion with authority and knowledge.

The River Parrett – how it works

Rivers that discharge into the Severn Estuary are very different from most UK rivers. With a tidal range in the estuary of around 11m  MLWN -3. 0 and MLWS -5.7 AOD and the river bed level at around 0.00 AOD.  These levels means that at low tide in the estuary the water level is always below the bed of the River Parrett and the river simply empties into the estuary. In the case of the Parrett its a process that goes as far upstream as Oath and the changing tide sees the river refilling from the sea.

What is seen looking over the Bridgwater’s bridges is just one half of the normal tidal cycle you would see at the coast; at low (ebb) tide its purely fresh water going out and that can be seen on the West Quay tidal gauge where the graph flattens. Equally the point at where incoming seawater (saltwater)  takes over from the  freshwater of the Parrett and becomes  a relatively small component of the rivers water can also  estimated.

At low tides the river empties so completely that during periods of low fluvial flow it can actually dry out so much so that upstream of Combwich there is an old iron age path where people simply walked across the river at low tide.

High tides can be nearly 2m above the surrounding land and at Bristol Road nearly as high as the head of the doors and over the next hundred years that will  continue to grow .

Ecologically it is largely a  dead river. Nature likes, however bad, a consistent environment and the Parrett offers the greatest of changes twice a day from empty to full and freshwater to saltwater. The large amounts of Seven Estuary silt that arrives with the tides exclude sunlight and there is nothing to generate oxygen. Fish(salmon) and Elvers just transit the river on their way to the fresh water of the River Parrett and its tributaries.

It is a true challenge for The EU Water Framework Directive as  there is little negative actions that can be done to it. The lack of water does not deter unrealistic claims that fisheries exist in the river.

The images below show River Parrett tides ( courtesy of  GaugeMap)

West Quay One days Tides
West Quay One weeks Tides
HPC Tide Gauge

The Hinkley Point tide gauge above shows the full cycle of the tide in compoarison to the truncated cycle at West Quay which is caused by the river bed being higher than the sea bed in the Seven Estuary.

West Quay- One Months Tides

Looking along the river it could be shown

River Parrett at Low Tide

2014 Flood

In 2014 the Somerset Levels flooded, normally excess water is stored on the levels and then pumped back into the river  when the weather improves and fluvial flows have reduced. The floods occurred because the flood storage capacity  of the land was exceeded.

The response to the flood and still the current plan is pumps some more fixed ones and temporary platforms for hired pumps such as the permanent platform at Dunball made ready for the next time the levels flood and improvements made to how fast the flood water can be drained off the Levels.

One important question is whether its  possible to increase the  amount of water that flows  down the river without pumps? 

The answer is yes;  the Thames Barrier is used in that way when there is flooding and the Thames and its tributaries are at capacity. The barrier gates are closed at low tide creating a shallow reservoir normally filled by the incoming tide and floodwater coming down the river fills it up. Previous references to the Thames Barrier and the River Parrett were in relation to the type  of gate rather than how the system operates.

How might it work in the River Parrett?

There are two sources of fluvial floes into the Parrett. The Parrett and King SedgemoorDrain (KSD) /Sowy River.  Water unable to get down the River Parrett is diverted around Bridgwater via the KSD/Sowy and re-enters the Parrett at Dunball.

Dunball Clyce (River Parrett side)

Both  sources can discharge when the tide is out  but become tide locked when the sea re-enters the river.  Creating a large temporary empty length of river downstream of Dunball would allow both sources to continue flowing and when full and matched with the tide allowed to go to the sea.

River Parrett – Increasing the Flow

To do this a gate is needed downstream of Dunball and the best location would be Combwich or somewhere in between.  The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is a gate that could  have been used to do this.

EA  Downstream  Scheme 

The   current plan is to build the Bridgwater Tidal  Barrier upstream of Dunball Clyce and with sea and tide levels continuing to rise  allowing the sea to reclaim the farmland  at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams.  The existing  system returning to an inter tidal saltmarsh/mudflat covering the existing farmland at Pawlett Hams and most of the land to the north of the village of Chilton Trinity. The drawing below shows how the regime will change over the years to come.

River Parrett at Chilton Trinity & Pawlett Hams showing planned next 100 years

The information can be found in

The Parrett Estuary Flood Flood Risk Management Strategy

Full copies of the EA policies can be found at

Steart Peninsula (Stolford to Combwich) 7d34 to 7d37

Parrett Estuary (Combwich to River Brue) 7d38 to 7d42

further information with flood maps can be found in the article on

Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams

 

 

 

 

Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan is not a Plan

Has anyone noticed  there actually isn’t really a plan for managing flooding in Somerset  be it Tidal or Fluvial. Lots of headlines and pictures of grandstanding councillors on river banks  but little substance.  Our particular collective flood Emperor has no clothes whilst the myth that somehow the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) is part of the solution to the avoiding a repeat of the 2014 flood is allowed to persist. People imagine that things are being done and there is a big picture somewhere. There isnt.

The Somerset 20 Year Flood Action Plan is little more than a  maintenance list that should have been done and wasn’t; it is a complete misnomer. In three years since the 2014 flood  there is no  big plan looking forward  the next 200 years. There is no context that  explains where the value of all the money being spent is.

There is no excuse for such short sighted behaviour by our officials and elected representatives. At least the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) carried out an economic impact assessment of the 2014 flood which is more than the EA and Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) have done for the Bridgwater Tidal  Barrier.

The development of new ideas  seems to be more akin to those seeking alternative medicinal remedies; they seem to be ones that will turn the Levels into some theme park rather than look at something that can be delivered over the decades and centuries ahead. The  Managed  Retreat (Realignment) of our coastline is not a panacea to rising sea levels; it has its place but  needs to be challenged when there are viable options.  Giving the EA the excuse and licence to do little or nothing is not acceptable. Those involved with W&WT and the RSPB as consistent beneficiaries of these  EA policies and alongside Natural England makes an unholy alliance  that is no friend of Somerset’s people.

Plenty of councillors are sat on committees and they should be ensuring rigorous debate and the publishing of useful information rather than the almost complete lack of detail in the public domain. The private sector would not be allowed to get away with this lack of transparency or vision.

Since 2014 when it was rushed together for political expediency  little has been done or achieved whilst show case projects are not what they seem

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

Despite knowing that  the rise in sea level  has no recognised end date Somerset has decided on a  100 year scheme. Our King Canute moment.

We are going to build a scheme that cannot be easily extended or modified knowing full well that something else will be needed in the future but we haven’t decided what. A scheme that  unlike any conventional tidal surge barrier  it is  actually to be in the town rather than down stream and at the mouth of the river. Bridgwater in  probably 10 rather than 100 years will have enveloped the proposed barrier site.  A solution with built in obsolescence that  can be bypassed on day one does not seem a great idea. Children born today may see the BTB torn down. Why would Bridgwater  buy it?”

Options such as closing the gap between Stockland Bristol  and Pawlett Hill less than 2 Km  ( 1.3 miles) long compared to around 15 km (10 miles) both banks from Combwich to the selected site in Bridgwater or 7.5 Km  if you allow Pawlett Hams to go the way of Steart Peninsula.

Two option studies paid for by the taxpayer and Combwich  not even considered as an option in either and the  backdoor flood route at Walpole still not acknowledged when the EA visits landowners. The credibility of the EA , its consultants and our oversight committees is very poor.

King Sedgemoor Drain Improvement

The King Sedgemoor Drain improvement is a Fluvial conveyance scheme that cannot reach its full potential because of the location of the tidal BTB upstream of Dunball Clyce. The EA in this matter described themselves in recent correspondence as the SRA’s sub contractor.

Silos

Flood schemes are kept in silos of fluvial and tidal rather than in developing a single holistic solution for Somerset. The EA and other organisations make it very difficult  to see the full picture. There is a serious lack of transparency,  accountability and independent review in the process.

By 2024 nearly £100m will have been spent and the Levels will still flood. The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is seen and portrayed as a Bridgwater only scheme where as moving it downstream  of the KSD outfall would increase conveyance  under fluvial conditions benefiting the districts of Taunton Deane and South Somerset. The SRA is nowhere to be seen generating debate and  bringing together people to achieve a wider benefit to Somerset with state and local ratepayers money which was its reason to be created. The SRA’s one big opportunity missed. This is notwithstanding the missed economic opportunity for West Somerset

Transparency

There is more information in the public domain about EDF’s Hinkley Point C power station then there is about these schemes especially the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. It appears  the EA did not want the Chilton Trinity  and Pawlett Hams landowners to be aware of  what would not be done to protect their land choosing to hide behind the rather opaque Parrett Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy. Something noticeably low key to the point of invisibility  in the EA’s 2016 consultations at the Bridgwater Art’s Centre.

The reasons  that undertakings given by the EA and SDC in Protecting Bridgwater and the Somerset Levels & Moors from Tidal Flooding-Flood Risk Management Review -November 2014 were never followed through and just quietly dropped has never been explained.

No imagination  and no vision for our children’s future

With a blank sheet of paper and little or no restrictions on what we might do to protect the South Somerset Levels including areas of Sedgemoor, Taunton Deane and  South Somerset there is still a blank piece of paper. Rarely has such an opportunity been squandered.

There is nothing that explains what happens to the Tidal Surge Barrier when we cannot raise the banks any longer which in reality we cant now and Pawlett Hams and Chilton Trinity have become mudflats/ salt marsh  and the cost of building downstream  prohibitive.

What we do have is lots of committees

Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC)

Board of the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA)

SRA Joint Scrutiny Panel

Somerset Drainage Board Consortium (IDB)

Its interesting to note how many people sit  on more than one of these committees. These committees  have people with no engineering knowledge or experience apart from the EA & IDB and all EA’s donkey work is done by US and Canadian third party consultants with no attachment to the area. The EA’s contribution to Somerset is questionable now as they have been reduced to little more than a middle man.

we must also not forget the groups

  • SRA  Management Group
  • SRA Technical Group
  • Bristol Channel Strategic Coastal Group
  • South West Coastal Group
  • Southern Coastal Group

It really is time that Somerset had  a suitable organisation capable of bringing a long term vision to secure the future of Somerset. Whilst attendance at committees is so lucrative  nothing is going to get done .  The EA is not a delivery based organisation and needs to be changed or replaced.  The SRA has no structure or suitable people able to develop and execute the vision and solution we need. The system  we have is clearly not fit for purpose.

The situation for Somerset, the rest of the West Country and no doubt other regions of the UK is that they need their own independent Engineers with local knowledge. Engineers able  to provide continuity  in advice to the committees and oversee the EA and IDB and other agencies.

We cannot afford

  • that each agency (EA, Highways, Rail) continues to builds its own thing, we need to combine flood defence with other infrastructure works.
  • that strategic flood decisions can be left to seconded senior local authority officers  with little or no knowledge of the subject.
  • the lack of an independent peer review process.
  • The lack of transparency – there is nothing published on the BTB website that tells you why.  There is little value value in an undated progress report  that can be found there  that does not measure progress. 
  • all these organisations whose main purpose seems to be to invite people from other groups to attend their meetings at our expense.

WE NEED A PLAN and we need to end the Flooding Golden Goose. 

on the 14th of July 2017  a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee  will take place in Taunton . It is open to the public. 

http://www.somersetriversauthority.org.uk/about-us/sra-scrutiny-meetings-and-papers/

 

A Tidal Surge Barrier, A Bridge & Dunball Wharf

One of the problems with building the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier downstream of Dunball Wharf is the marine traffic to Dunball Wharf. Sedgemoor District Councils current draft local plan states “The Council will support the continued operation and potential development of Bridgwater Port including Dunball Wharf and Combwich Wharf (Policy D16 applies). It will also support the re-establishment of active commercial wharf’s at suitable locations elsewhere on the River Parrett. In all cases the construction or operation of new wharf’s should not adversely impact upon the Severn Estuary internationally designated site.”

The reality is that  the Dunball Wharf’s with their tidal drying berths, dependency on  high tides and difficult navigation is never going to be a commercial success but the 200m wide river at Combwich might. Construction of  the tidal surge barrier could enable the relocation of Dunball Wharf to a better location.

Much hangs on what is considered to be adverse.

Concepts of what the river structures might look like have not been forthcoming since 2009. Apart from the tower  and turning vertical gate Bridgwater’s gate structure will be considerably shorter than the Hull Barrier structure we have  been repeatedly shown.

What would a barrier with a road bridge  options look like?

Another wharf at Combwich, EDF have  one there already, would not require an opening bridge or clearance much more than Drove Bridge on the NDR. A tidal surge barrier with a 40m fixed navigation span and a road deck might look like

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjX20a1a7sg

Keeping Dunball Wharf  would require a one larger gate and an opening bridge. Dunball currently sees 40 or so vessel movements a year so its operation would not affect the bypass traffic.

The engineering is relatively simple and with a purpose built wharf everything could be shipped in during construction.