UK & World News
Flood-Hit Rivers To Be Dredged 'As Soon As Safe'
A new £20.5m action plan to protect Somerset from flooding will include "immediate" dredging of five miles of the Rivers Parrett and Tone as soon as it is "safe and practical".
Announcing the measures, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the plan would support farmers to manage flood risk better and ensure new developments meet the "highest standards" for water and drainage.
Some temporary flood defences and pumping sites will be made permanent and a new Somerset rivers board will be created.
The plan was commissioned by Mr Paterson in January, after he visited communities on the flood-hit Somerset Levels.
Local councils, MPs, businesses and local residents spent six weeks drawing up the plan, which aims to protect the county from flooding in the future.
Mr Paterson, who visited Somerset again on Wednesday, said dredging the rivers was "the key thing local people asked for".
The Environment Agency will begin dredging as soon as possible, he added.
Mr Paterson said the "extreme conditions" of the last few months had led to the flooding of about 7,000 properties across England.
"Six weeks ago I visited Somerset and saw for myself the exceptional impact on the county," he said.
"That is why I commissioned urgent work from those at local level to identify how we can better protect Somerset communities over the next 20 years."
Three Government departments will provide the £20.5m funding.
John Osman, leader of Somerset County Council said the move was "a big step forward, bringing hope to our flood-hit communities".
Heather Venn, chairman of Flooding on the Levels Action Group (Flag) said: "It is absolutely crucial that the funding is there, but it is a very positive first step and we welcome much that is in it (the plan)."
The Environmant Department Defra is providing £10m for flood related work in Somerset, while The Department for Transport will give a further £10m. The Department for Communities and Local Government has also pledged £500,000.
"This gives a strong base to take forward work," Mr Paterson said.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said the £10m was "on top of the extra £33.5m for urgent road maintenance work we have already announced for the rest of England and a £31m package of resilience measures for rail in the south west."
Mr Paterson's announcement comes as planning minister Nick Boles is expected to announce changes that will ease pressure on councils to build on flood plains.
The move will mean councils are no longer forced to take other local authorities' housing allocations if it conflicts with national policy and is against expert advice.
:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.