Rivers authorities

Part of Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of David Warburton David Warburton Conservative, Somerton and Frome 3:30 pm, 11th March 2019

The Government have increased investment in flood risk mitigation enormously. Between 2016 and 2021, the Government are investing £2.6 billion in building 1,500 new flood defence schemes to protect more than 300,000 homes. This measure in no way constitutes the Government reneging on their responsibilities. It is about local people supporting local flood risk management in the way they already do, but putting that on a statutory footing so that they have security into the future.

Proposed new section 21F provides that a rivers authority has the power to do “anything that is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the carrying out of its functions.”

That includes the power to enter into contracts and other agreements and to acquire and dispose of property, including land.

Proposed new section 21G establishes that the Secretary of State

“must prepare and publish a national framework for rivers authorities”,

which these authorities must comply with. The national framework

“must set out priorities and objectives for rivers authorities in connection with the exercise of their functions” and may contain guidance on transparency, accountability and scrutiny arrangements.

Proposed new section 21H allows the Secretary of State to change the boundaries of a rivers authority area by regulations if a risk management authority within the area puts forward a proposal for that or if the Secretary of State thinks it necessary in consequence of local government reorganisation. The new rivers authority area must, of course, comply with the conditions set out in proposed new section 21A.

Proposed new section 21I enables the Secretary of State, by regulations, to wind up a rivers authority. Before making the regulations, the Secretary of State must consult certain parties, as set out in proposed new section 21J. That section makes further provision about regulations relating to rivers authorities. The main points are that all regulations will be made under the affirmative procedure and, before making certain regulations, the Secretary of State must consult certain parties, including the rivers authority itself, the relevant risk management authorities, Natural England, persons liable to pay council tax within the area of the rivers authority and such other persons as are considered appropriate.

Clause 1 also gives effect to the two schedules to the Bill. Schedule 1 makes consequential amendments to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. It also sets out the procedure for establishing a rivers authority. That includes the fact that a relevant risk management authority must submit to the Secretary of State a scheme proposing the establishment of a rivers authority. Prior to that, any draft scheme must be consulted on. The consultees include persons liable to pay the precept, and the consultation period must not be less than six weeks. The Secretary of State has the power, before making regulations, to cause an inquiry to be held and can consult on the regulations if they differ significantly from the original scheme. That builds on the requirement that the local community support the proposal.

Schedule 2 makes consequential amendments to local government legislation. In particular, it adds rivers authorities to the category of major precepting authorities, enabling one to issue a precept across its whole area. Rivers authorities will also be subject to the council tax referendum regime set out in the Local Government Finance Act 1992.

This versatility demonstrates one of the strengths of such a model: a rivers authority can identify and support small-scale projects that contribute localised benefits and support large-scale projects that could protect thousands of homes and businesses.