Great Shefford Flood Alleviation Association (GSFAA) – April 2024 update, regarding meeting on 18 April

• For more information, see also this page on the Great Shefford Parish Council website.

April 2024 update

As we mentioned last month, the finishing line for Shefford’s flood defence scheme seems finally to be in sight. The project has now been formally adopted by the Environment Agency – something that for many years seemed unlikely – and the EA is holding a public engagement event on Thursday 18 April at Great Shefford School Hall. The doors will open at 5.30pm and there’ll be presentation at 6pm which will be repeated at 7pm, with the event finishing about 8pm. This will be your opportunity to find out about the construction programme and any other questions you may have.

If you would like to get in touch about the permanent scheme, please email GreatSheffordFAS@environment-agency.gov.uk.

Our last information is that the work is scheduled to start “in the spring” and that it will take “a few months.” The question should certainly be given a more precise answer by the time of the above-mentioned April meeting. Much depends on the weather and, in particular, the groundwater levels. These will have needed to have abated before the diggers move in. I understand that the pipes have already been bought by the EA so once the conditions are favourable there seems no reason to delay it. I imagine that they’ll want to crack on as soon as this happens as there’s no guarantee that another round of rainy weather won’t top up the aquifers again.

Huge congratulations are due to Steve Ackrill and many others who continued to press to have the project started, particular during the long pause from the EA’s end which followed the village having raised its contribution to the project way back in October 2019.

March 2024 update

On 7 March 2024 we received an update for the Environment Agency about this scheme.

The spokesperson confirmed that planning permission had been granted on 29 January and the details can be seen here.

During the third week of February, The Environment Agency reported that it carried out treeworks along the track. This included removing one tree which was needed to be done prior to bird-nesting season. As per the planning application, there is a full planting scheme, including new hedging, which will be in place along the farm track once the pipeline and new channel have been constructed.

The EA has also put in four new temporary boreholes in the field alongside the A338 Wantage Road. These will be useful over the next few weeks to allow the EA to closely track when the groundwater levels start to fall (which is likely to be when the plants start to grow). The construction of the permanent works will be programmed in accordingly sometime later this spring.

Please save the date for the EA’s public engagement event on Thursday 18 April 2024. This will be in the early evening in the Shefford School hall (with kind thanks to the school for hosting us). This will be your opportunity to find out about the construction programme and any other questions you may have. If you would like to get in touch about the permanent scheme, please email GreatSheffordFAS@environment-agency.gov.uk.

As for the date when the works will start, the best estimate so far is that this will happen “in the spring” and the the work will take “a few months.”. The question should certainly be given a more precise answer by the time of the above-mentioned April meeting.

Huge congratulations are due to Steve Ackrill and many others who continued to press to have the project started, particular during the long pause from the EA’s end which followed the village having raised its contribution to the project way back in October 2019. It’s not quite a done deal yet but, at last, the end seems to be in sight.

October 2023 update

The Great Shefford Flood Alleviation Association was set up in 2017 “with the aim of helping to co-ordinate, communicate and fundraise for a long-term solution” the village’s flooding problem. The easy bit, as it turned out, was raising the £80,000 contribution required by the Environment Agency, which was accomplished in October 2019. Harder has been getting the work to start, all of the the time since then being spent trying to get this onto the EA’s to-do list. This has now happened and work was due to have started this summer.

Then came yet another hold-up. This was caused, according to EA’s Richard Hancock, writing in the September 2023 edition of Great Shefford Parish News, to a combination of delays in getting the planning permission granted and also because a high-voltage cable needs to be diverted. He was keen to stress that, despite the planning-permission delay, “we have always worked closely with West Berkshire Council and remain grateful for their collaborative and supportive approach to our planning application and throughout.”

He added that “working through winter, on a hillside, with potential surface water runoff and ground water will increase costs and present unacceptable safety risks to all involved in the construction and for this reason we have taken the decision to delay the start of the works until Spring 2024.”

Writing in the October edition of the same publication, Richard Hancock added that “there’s a lot been happening in the background but there’s not that much new news to share.” He anticipated that there would be more to say towards the end of the year as the project gets closer to the construction start date. presumably one of the first bits of news will be to confirm when this start date will be.

February 2023 update

The Environment Agency has finally confirmed that it is planning to build the long-awaited Great Shefford Flood Alleviation scheme later this summer. A spokesperson explained that this would “reduce the groundwater-fed fluvial flood risk in Great Shefford. This is essentially the risk of flooding from the Great Shefford Stream itself.”

The next step in this project is to apply for planning permission, the intended submission date is around the end of February.

The Environment Agency would like to give the community an opportunity to view the documents and to ask them any questions. A public information session will take place between 4.30 and 7pm on Thursday 9 March 2023 in Great Shefford Village Hall, RG17 7DR.

“This is an engagement session,” the spokesperson continued. “Everyone is welcome at any time and we’ve arranged for two brief presentations, one at 5pm and one at 6pm. We will also have a number of staff on hand to be able to talk to people in individually or in small groups in the hall.”

For more information, please email GreatSheffordFAS@environment-agency.gov.uk.

May 2022 update

The matter of the flood scheme was, not surprisingly, raised at Great Shefford PC’s Annual Parish Assembly and the PC had arranged for Richard Hancock of the Environment Agency to address the meeting (as he did in 2019). The main upshot of this was that EA’s funding is in place and is confirmed not be time-limited (so will still be available even if the scheme is delayed again). The work can only take place at certain times of the year due to groundwater levels and it’s hoped that this will have started by about this time next year (May 2023).

If there’s any change to this, we’ll edit this post (yet again) to reflect this.

March 2022 update

Residents of Great Shefford will have received a letter from local MP Laura Farris about the flood scheme (see last month’s entry). It now seems that this date mentioned might be a bit optimistic.

Representatives from the Environment Agency (EA) were recently in the village assessing the scale and nature of the work. Further investigations and reports are required; and then planning permission needs to be sought – as anyone who has been through this process will testify, this alone can occupy months. The work then needs to be scheduled by the EA, materials ordered, staff allocated and all the rest of it. At least a project manager has now been appointed, an important first step with any such scheme.

The good news is therefore that things are happening, even though the speed of progress with projects like this is often hard to spot with the naked eye. The donations which local residents have made are safe and will in due course be added to the pot. All the signs are that the flood defence will be built. However, it would be unwise to put any money on when. “This year, next year, sometime, never” are the four traditional options for these kind timescales. At least the last one seems to have been ruled out as has, almost certainly,  the first. Which of the two remaining ones will apply should become clearer in the coming months. As soon as we have any definite news, we’ll let you know.

February 2022 update

At the February meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council, the Chairman Steve Ackrill reported all residents should had received a letter from MP Laura Farris to confirm that the preliminary work is on its way and that construction should start this year.

Councillor Ackrill confirmed that a project management team had been formulated, that a risk assessment register is being completed and that discussions with the contractors are being held. The £80,000 funding raised by Great Shefford community is still  “work in progress” concerning how this can be passed to the Environment Agency. Further updates will be provided when there is some progress.

October 2021 update

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of delays and discussions, some excellent news to report. On 27 September, MP Laura Farris – who has been involved in helping to resolve this issue, as was her predecessor – wrote the the GSFAA to say that “I’m pleased to inform you that we have been successful in our bid for Other Government Department funding and have secured an additional £1.2 million to support the delivery of the project. This is supplemented by funding already allocated to the project by the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC) and an additional £200,000 bid secured from the Department for Education in 2019. This means we have successfully closed the funding shortfall that prevented the project from progressing in 2018.”

The scheme is expected to cost £2.7m overall, including an estimated £400,000 which has already been spent. Laura Farris suggested that work is “due to start in the next 18 months.”

“It’s a massive step in the right direction,” GSFAA Chair Steve Ackrill told Penny Post shortly after this announcement. “The extra funding is very welcome but also very much needed to allow the project to go ahead – costs have been constantly increasing whereas, until now ,the available funding hadn’t. There’s still a lot the achieve in a relatively short space of time as my understanding is that the extra £1.2m needs to be spent prior to April 2023. Due to ground water levels, the works therefore need to take place during the summer of 2022.”

At the meeting of Great Shefford Parish Council on 7 October, a letter from the Environment Agency on this subject was discussed. This is reproduced verbatim below.

We have been successful in securing a further £1.2 million of funding for Great Shefford Flood Alleviation Scheme from a bid submitted this summer. This is from £802 million, Other Government Department funding made available to support delivery of projects that have had significant funding gaps and have not been able to progress.

This is supplemented by funding already allocated to the project by the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC) and the £200,000 secured from the Department for Education in Autumn 2019.
This means that we have successfully closed the funding shortfall that prevented the project from progressing in 2018. Subject to updating project cost estimates and securing appropriate spending approvals, we can progress with the project.

The project team has been working to update the financial approvals required to progress the project which will be submitted this Autumn. As well as updating the Outline Business Case that was submitted last year, to change the approach from a community delivered, to Environment Agency delivered project. The team is also working with our suppliers to update project cost estimates.

As soon as there’s any further news, we’ll let you know.

August 2021 update

Once again – nothing further to report (see June entry below).

June 2021 update

Extraordinary as it may seem to many, the situation in June 2021 is much as it was 16 months ago in February 2020; indeed, not much further advanced from the position in October 2019 (see below). The GSFAA and Great Shefford Parish Council have been attempting to move matters forward as best they can but so far the EA has not seen fit to make a decision on when the work will start or who will do it. It’s to hoped that any floodwater that might again strike the village before the scheme is operational moves at a similarly glacial speed…

February 2020 update

It appears that situation remains much as before, with discussions continuing as to how and and when by whom the work will be done. It’s hoped that a further update will be provided at the next Great Shefford Annual Meeting. The date for this in 2020 has yet to be confirmed but is expected to be in early April (2019’s was on 4 April and you can read a report of that here.)

October 2019 update

The village’s £80,000 contribution to the scheme has now been raised (see Background and Finances below) but – as reported at the Parish Council’s (GSPC) annual meeting in April, and confirmed at various times since – the Environment Agency (EA) has been unable to provide a timetable for when the work will start (See The Next Steps below).

One of the issues is that a contingency fund needs to be in place for over-runs on the cost. Enquiries by the GSPC have established that the contingency for this project is in the region of £600,000. The GSPC minutes of 19 September 2019 report that the EA said that such sums ‘are used most of the time.’ The concern was, and is, that residents will expect a reasonably quick return on their investment in terms of a flood defence and it’s unlikely that this can happen if the EA has to allocate this sum first.

As a solution to this, it has been proposed by the EA that Steve Ackrill, the GSPC Chairman, should project-manage the work with a view to reducing the costs and speeding up the start of the work. The project would then be owned and managed by the GSPC – another example of a responsibility being devolved downwards to a local organisation which has a direct interest in ensuring that the work happens. All of this is subject to final agreement between the parties concerned.

Background to the GSFAA

Due to its location and topography, the village of Great Shefford has long suffered from floods. As well as causing damage these can also lead to road closures which, as the village is on a junction, cause disruption to local residents, businesses and the wider community. None of the measures so far taken to combat this problem have been more than very localised or short-term fixes. Moreover, there’s nothing to suggest that, left unattended, the issue is going to solve itself.

A more permanent outcome was clearly required. In 2017, the Great Shefford Flood Alleviation Association (GSFAA) was established with the aim of helping to co-ordinate, communicate and fundraise for a long-term solution. GSFAA, the Environment Agency and West Berkshire Council have proposed a scheme to help steer the water coming down the side of the A338 towards Shefford away from the rear of the houses. This could take the form of either a bypass channel or a large pipe from the existing headwall structure at the entrance to the village through the arable fields adjacent to the A338 which would direct the waterflow across the reed bed and into the River Lambourn. This would reduce the incidence of the often copious volumes of water flowing through residents’ gardens and some homes along the Wantage Road.

This scheme should be effective but will not be cheap. As is common, the EA has demanded that a certain part of the cost be provided by the local community as its contribution. After discussions, it was been agreed that the GSFFA would need to raise £80,000 as its part of the funding (plus about another £6,000 to cover the administration costs of the match funding through the Good Exchange). This needed to be in place before any flood alleviation work can begin.

GSFAA has been granted charitable status which will help with many aspects of fund-raising and grant applications, now and in the future. This initial scheme, important though it is, will only address part of the problem and it’s expected that the GSFAA will thereafter need to be involved in other flood-defence measures elsewhere in the parish.

It was announced in June 2018 that the Greenham Trust was able to provide matched funding of up to £30,000 through The Good Exchange. This obviously made the task of fundraising in such a small parish that much easier and the GSFAA is very grateful to Greenham Trust for its support.

The fund has also been boosted by successful capital members bids made by the then District Councillors Gordon Lundie and Graham Jones. West Berkshire Council agreed to put this award through the Good Exchange to attract the matched funding described above.

Fundraising events

Finding such a sum required a variety of fund-raising initiatives. These included:

• The first public event was a fund-raising quiz in Shefford Village Hall on 10 March 2018. This was highly successful with well over 100 people showing up and over £1,600 being raised.

• A further quiz at The Swan in April 2018 raised another £570. Congratulations are due to all those involved, in particular to the two winners (Donna and Steve Folland’s team and Steve and Sandra Lodge’s team) for donating their prize money back to the GSFAA. A big hand also for Martin Smith who organised both quizzes and set the questions.

• A golf day in August 2018 raised over £4,000 directly and more than that indirectly. Special thanks must go to Ray Plowman who put so much effort into organising such a successful day and also Nigel Day for the smooth running of proceedings at the Golf Club, as well as to West Berkshire Golf Course. Click here for a brief report, more information on the sums raised, photos and a list of winners.

• A metal-detecting day in May 2019 raised £3,600. Many thanks to Matthew Webb for organising it and Freddie Tulloch for making the land available.

• A further metal-detecting day in September 2019 raised about £2,300.

Finances

As of October 2019, the sums raised by the GSFAA have reached £87,000. This means that all the money has been found to cover the cost of the scheme and those associated with the match funding from The Good Exchange. Many thanks on behalf of the GSFAA to all those who donated or who organised or attended fund-raising events.

The next steps

The money having been raised, matters will then be the responsibility of the Environment Agency (EA).

At the Great Shefford Annual Parish Meeting in April 2019, Richard Hancock from the EA explained about the progress: the paragraphs below have been taken from Penny Post’s notes of the meeting.

Note: see the section October 2019 Update above, which provides more up-to-date information on how the project may be completed.  

Mr Hancock was unable to provide any firm information on when work would start and spoke of funding gaps that still needed to be bridged at the EA. However, he stressed that the fact that the plan had been adopted by The Thames Regional Flood & Coast Committee (TRFCC) – which has a role of holding the EA to account on its projects and providing a link between the EA and other bodies on flooding issues – gave an air of certainty to the project. If the EA were to abandon it, the TRFCC would need to agree and he implied that that this agreement would not be given lightly. It thus seems fairly certain that the scheme will be built at some point: exactly when, however, is currently unknown.

It was pointed out that the lack of a firm start date had hindered the local fundraising as some grants could not be allocated until this was known. It was also mentioned that local residents were constantly asking about this. Mr Hancock said he could only repeat that he was unable to provide this information as it hadn’t yet been confirmed.

It was also asked whether on this occasion the EA would ensure that the presence of the flood defence, when completed, was promptly marked on the necessary maps so that insurance companies would be aware of it. Mr Hancock said that the EA ‘does its best to learn from its mistakes,’ and made reference to the flood defences in Eastbury which, despite being completed in 2015, is still not so marked as officially existing, or even planned. It was unclear what mistakes were involved but all local residents will hope that they won’t be repeated in Great Shefford.

To the question as what would happen if there was flooding before the project was completed, Mr Hancock explained that planning and technology have improved since 2014 and he outlined a number of temporary measures that the EA would take, including protective barriers on the east side of the A338 and pumping. It was admitted that these were neither ideal nor long-term solutions. As to the matter of groundwater rising into properties, he explained that this was a problem which no flood defences, nor the EA, could address.

The fear was also expressed that unexpected costs, such as the need for compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to landowners might delay the project and/or increase its cost and so make it non-viable. Mr Hancock said that although the EA had CPO powers he did not feel that matters would get to that stage in Shefford. Penny Post also understands that a generous contingency has been built into the costing, presumably based on the extra costs incurred by similar schemes in the past.

For further Information

If you would like to get involved in GSFFA in any way, please contact Sandi Ackrill on 07831 750 000, Steve Ackrill on 07721 440 200  or email steve@ackrills.co.uk.

• For more information, see also this page on the Great Shefford Parish Council website.

This post will be updated as new information becomes available.

GSFFA is grateful to Shefford C of E Primary School and to Great Shefford Village Hall for their generosity and support towards its cause and to Mr J Liddiard for his ongoing co-operation with the scheme.

 

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