THE new Environment Secretary Liz Truss says she wants to secure Government funding for the multi-million pound Bridgwater Barrage.
The barrage across the River Parrett downstream of Bridgwater is a main feature of the 20-year flood action plan, ordered by Ms Truss' predecessor Owen Paterson, and would hold back the highest tides, preventing flooding.
Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger met with Truss alongside leaders of the Somerset Levels and Moors Flood Action Plan (FAP) during her visit to Somerset today (July 28).
Mr Liddell-Grainger said: “Since speaking with the flood leaders she wants to get the proposal for the Barrage ready for the Autumn Statement to ensure Government money is put aside for that project.
“I'd say around two thirds of the meeting saw the discussion of the barrage or sluice. She listened and understood and she hopes to return to the county around September.”
He added FAP leaders are aiming to get proposals for the Barrage to Ms Truss within the next three weeks.
Other schemes discussed included Beer Wall, Thorney Ring Bank, Muchelney, plans for increasing the capacity of the River Sowy and the development of the Somerset Rivers Board.
Councillor John Osman, Chairman of the FAP Leaders Implementation Group and Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “The new Environment Secretary took a keen interest in the updates on work being undertaken by Flood Action Plan partners and is committed to working with us in taking them forward.”
Ms Truss visited Burrowbridge this morning to see the progress of dredging. She told the press: “In the past, mistakes were made. I want to make sure we get on with this plan.”
She added: “I am treating this as a high priority.
“I will look at the whole case on its merits, but we know dredging is important.
“I want to look at proposals for a barrage/sluice but I need to look at the full evidence before putting my findings forward for the Autumn Statement.”
Ms Truss was asked about the crippling impact the floods had on tourism in the county.
She said: “I want people to have the confidence that we can deal with floods. I know tourism is a vital industry in Somerset and I wanted to come here as soon as possible because I know how devastating the floods were.
“I want to make sure we are taking every available action and I am meeting with the Environment Agency, Drainage Board, councils and local farmers.”
When the Mercury asked Ms Truss how many farmers she was meeting with, she was unable to say, but added: “This will not be my only visit to Somerset and I would be open to speaking to more local people.
“I'm clear it is people who are farming and working the land here who know it best and they are the people we need to listen to.”