(1) Mr David Goff, Chairman of Collier Street PC said that the purpose of the Kent Flood Action Group Forum (KFAGF) was to help communities to be better prepared before, during and after flooding. It was accepted that, in general terms, a lot of protection measures had been put in place, although they could not completely prevent flooding from occurring. It was, nevertheless, very important that people were given confidence in response to the heavy rainfall that was often experienced.
(2) Mr Goff then said that the KFAGF wished to work with all the agencies involved in flood risk management at a strategic level to promote effective communication, collaboration, whilst working with other Flood Action Groups to ensure that collective knowledge and experiences could be shared and developed.
(3) Mr Goff continued by saying that water did not respect any boundaries. The KFAGF wished to provide clarity to their communities on the roles and responsibilities of the various flood risk management authorities and to ensure that it was informed of all flood risk activities in their local areas. It also wished to maximise opportunities to influence flood risk management strategies, by utilising their local knowledge.
(4) The KFAGF understood that flood risk management authorities often operated under significant resource pressure, but believed that by working together, benefits could be achieved and developed.
(5) Mr Goff said that Climate Change was very unlikely to cease to be a factor and that collaborative working was at the forefront of the KFGAF’s thinking.
(6) The thinking behind the formation of the KFAGF had arisen following a contribution from Bob Hadden who was a Trustee of the National Flood Forum. It had been noted that there were many Action Groups who worked in isolation and it was understand that working together would lead to a deeper and more professional approach, saving both time and resources. Similar Flood Action Group Forums had also been set up in West Sussex and Cornwall. The idea had been taken to the National Flood Board in April 2020 and approval had been given to run pilot schemes in Kent and Shropshire.
(7) Mr Goff said that with the support of the Kent Flood Manager, Max Tant, good progress had been made despite the pandemic. The KFAGF consisted of people from Flood Groups across the County (Ightham, East Peckham, Hildenborough, Headcorn, Tunbridge Wells and Collier Street). The first meeting had taken place virtually in November 2020, and no physical meeting had yet taken place.
(8) Mr Goff then said that despite the different forms of flooding issues faced in the six constituent areas, areas of commonality had been identified and taken forward. The most important of these was riparian ownership, which provided perhaps the biggest challenge to rural areas in Kent. The existing system was failing and deteriorating year on year. There appeared to be a reluctance by the risk management authorities to address this issue. For example, Collier Street PC had written to a number of people in the village with no beneficial consequences because the Parish Council had no powers to compel. This problem had been raised with the government and was on its future agenda.
(9) The KFAGF also had great concern over the vast amount of development happening in Kent. There was a need to challenge local planning authorities in respect of inappropriate development being permitted, especially on identified flood risk areas. The water run off from some of the permitted developments was a major concern.
(10) Mr Goff said that the ageing drainage infrastructure and combined sewer and surface water flooding was becoming a significant issue for some of Kent’s communities. This was particularly the case in Tunbridge Wells due to its Victorian drainage system.
(11) The KFGAF also sought to identify any funding strands that might be able to fund those communities and properties that fell outside the current funding criteria. The recent Environmental Bill, which had just received parliamentary assent, seemed to offer some help to landowners and farmers. This opportunity needed to be carefully understood if its potential were to be maximised in order to benefit everyone. Farmers and Landowners needed to work with their communities, Parish Councils and the role of the KFGAF would be paramount.
(12) The KFGAF stressed the role of joined up thinking in the light of Climate Change and limited resources. Flood Action Groups tended to be small in size with their memberships in the upper age bracket. Local knowledge therefore needed to be documented before it was lost.
(13) Mr Goff continued that Kent had seen an increase in ground and surface water flooding during the recent summer months, with some communities being affected for the first time. Funding for properties in these communities was not easy to access.
(14) Mr Goff then said that changes in agricultural practice were causing concern in some areas. Polytunnels, water run off and soil erosion into unmaintained ditches were all aspects of this problem. The KFGAF had written to District Councils about this problem and intended to follow this up in the near future.
(15) Other activities recently undertaken by the KFGAF included giving evidence to EFRA and the Leigh Storage Inquiry. It had also been invited to join the Medway Flood Partnership Strategic Group. KFGAF was inviting people to speak to them in order to gain a better understanding of their perspectives.
(16) Mr Goff concluded his presentation by saying that KFGAF would expand in the future and would be working with the National Flood Forum on a European funded project to bring greater flood resilience to people in Kent. It would also work on supplementing the flood information provided by other agencies such as KCC, including through social media. He looked forward to working constructively in partnership with the Kent Flood Risk management Committee.
(17) Mrs Parfitt-Reid noted that Mr Goff had said that a large number of people in flood risk areas had not registered to receive flood alerts. This was an issue that Local Councillors could help to mitigate by raising awareness and informing the communities that they represented of the benefits of doing so.
(18) Mr Hood asked whether Tonbridge (which he represented) could be admitted to the KFAGF as it had very active Flood Wardens were able to disseminate information very effectively. Mr Goff replied that the national Flood Forum had attempted without success to set up Flood Action Groups in many parts of the County. Flood Action Groups had a different role to Flood Wardens and the latter often chose not to get involved at a formal strategic level.
(19) Mr Sole referred to the River Stour and Nailbourne Management Group which had a similar function to the KFAGF. Mr Goff replied that he would be delighted to talk to any such Group. He agreed that it was very important to avoid duplication. The benefit of all groups working together was that they could speak professionally with one voice when making representations to flood risk management organisations.
(20) Mr Rayner asked whether the KFAGF had made any recommendations on how to contact riparian owners. Mr Goff replied that this was a massive problem and that a mechanism needed to be identified that could enable all the agencies to tackle this problem at the same time. Parish Councils had discovered that writing to people tended to be ineffective as there was no enforcement provision open to it to use. He then said that some Parish Councils and Flood Groups experienced a disconnect with the latter putting forward ideas that the Parish Council did not take up. He offered KALC the opportunity to speak to the KFGAF in order to improve communication.
(21) Mrs Brown said that the work of KFGAF was very important as it was helping to improve communication between the various Groups, Parish Councils and the flood risk agencies. She added that it could be extremely difficult to persuade people to sign up to receive flood alerts. She hoped that one of the barriers had been removed in that flood alerts were no longer being sent out between 9 pm and 6 am. This had been a reason given by people for not registering.
(22) Mrs Wright suggested that the KFGAF could use a Facebook page, giving contact details and informing people of its existence. This would avoid the problem experienced in some parishes where different people were setting up their own Groups without being aware of the others. Mr Goff commented that this was an important idea. One of the things that had to be overcome was the amount of false information that often found its way onto social media during a flood.
(23) Mrs Brown said that KALC would be able to help because it had close contact with each Parish Council as well as the District and County authorities. She added that Flood Groups were sometimes formed independently of the Parish Councils, publishing material that revealed a misunderstanding of what was actually occurring and had the effect of scaring people.
(24) Mrs Parfitt-Reid said that it was possible to set up Facebook pages that were for information and did not allow other people to comment.
(25) Mr Mackonochie said that the Flood Wardens in his parish of Capel used WhatsApp which only the Flood Wardens could contribute to before disseminating the information locally.
(26) RESOLVED that Mr David Goff be thanked for his presentation and that its content be noted.