A key river in Somerset may not be dredged in the near-future due to funding constraints.
The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) is planning to dredge the River Parrett between the M5 motorway and the Northmoor pumping station, to improve the flood of water downstream towards Bridgwater.
The dredging is partly funded by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and was set to begin in early-2020.
But delays to the project mean the LEP funding may be withdrawn and spent on the Bridgwater tidal barrier instead.
The LEP has provided funding for several projects involving the River Parrett – including £1M for dredging between Oath and Burrowbridge, and just over £4M towards improvements to the River Sowy and the King’s Sedgemoor Drain.
It had set aside a little over £280,000 for dredging downstream from Northmoor – a project which would have been overseen by the Parrett Internal Drainage Board.
But SRA senior manager David Mitchell told the board on Friday (January 10) that it is was uncertain as to whether this scheme would go ahead as originally intended.
He said in his written report: “There is still some uncertainty in relation to LEP funds allocated to pioneer dredging of the River Parrett from Northmoor to M5 – namely £280,000.
“It had been hoped to undertake approximately £200,000 of works in early -2020, but this will not now be possible.
“Some further work is required to confirm these works will proceed during the 2020/21 financial year.”
Any money being provided by the LEP has to be spent by March 31, 2021, in line with agreements made between the LEP and central government.
Mr Mitchell said the drainage board was concerned about the “risk associated with LEP funds” and was trying to find a way to undertake the project with alternative funding.
The dredge is set to cost £750,000 – of which nearly £470,000 will be provided by funding sources other than the LEP.
Mr Mitchell said the LEP funding could be allocated towards the cost of the Bridgwater tidal barrier if the dredging could not happen on time.
He said: “Returning funds to the LEP would be bad for the reputation of the SRA, and reflect poorly on the LEP if they are seen to have failed to deliver what was agreed with the government.
“Should these works not be possible the funds could potentially be reallocated to another LEP project, subject to agreement with the LEP.
“The most likely to project for reallocation would be the Bridgwater tidal barrier.”
The barrier will be built across the River Parrett near Chilton Trinity and protect more than 11,000 homes and 1,500 non-residential properties from flooding, according to the Environment Agency.
It is expected to cost up to £100M and will be operational by 2024 if plans are approved.
By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporting service