The impact of partnership funding on the delivery of flood risk management projects – Insights from the Lower Thames, England

By Dr Ana Paula Micou

In England, the Coastal and Flood Erosion Resilience Partnership Funding (‘Partnership Funding’ – Defra 2011, implemented in March 2012) describes a new approach to funding which requires the costs of flood risk management projects to be shared between national and local funding sources, such as via local governments, the private sector or civil society. Thus the costs for the project are distributed across funding partners according to risk sharing arrangements and defined in a legally-binding contract. The introduction of Partnership Funding was driven by the need to unlock additional revenue streams and broaden risk sharing arrangements under scenarios of increasing risk. However, a consequence of this policy change is also a further impact upon the governance at a project scale; including the arrangement of actors, their responsibilities, their relationships as well as the power they exert within a decision-making process.

Paula Micou_Photo_compressed2The Partnership Funding is impacting on the implementation of one particular project which due to its magnitude needs millionaire sums to come from local sources. The River Thames Scheme (RTS) (Southeast England) involves the construction of three alleviation channels to control floods in the Lower Thames (a 40 km-length segment of the River Thames, situated West from London), alongside other measures; including efforts to increase flow capacity via weir amendments, property level products and the improvement of warning systems, protecting in total 15,000 properties. The project is an example of joined – up working between the Environment Agency, the Local Authorities, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the water company which serves the area. Although the project has been approved, this remains subject to locally-sourced funding. Approximately 80% of the total cost of the project (£302 million or €418 million) has been sourced via different sources, mostly from the central government (£220 million) and local levy corresponding to the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee[1] (£30 million). The funding gap corresponds to local government and civil society (£50 million or €70 million still required).

Partnership Funding is both enabling and constraining flood risk governance at the local scale. On one hand, it has facilitated the ‘go ahead’ after decades of struggling to achieve a favourable cost-benefit ratio. Hence, the RTS demonstrates the advantage that this new funding mechanism brings to the Flood Risk Management agenda, in particular the increased flexibility which has permitted the delivery of this scheme in the Lower Thames. However, the implementation of the RTS is dependent of securing additional funding to fill the current funding gap. This is proving problematic at the local scale, partially due to the high amount of funding required and also due to the existence of different interests. Those councils which can see very clearly the benefits are really keen on participating; however they are worried about how they will find funding. Some of these Local authorities (Las) are really small districts with small budgets, so even if their whole budget went to the Scheme, it would still be small in comparison to what they have to pay. Local tax levy is a delicate issue and all the LAs agreed they will not consider the possibility of a tax increase. The main reason for this is that even if a local tax levy was imposed it would still be insufficient, and might cause political tension for a very little amount of money. An increase in taxes can also restrict the possibility to rise funding for other issues, due to an existent cap on council tax, and raises concerns of whether it would be fair to apply the tax to all the tax payers, as not all tax payers will benefit, as they are not all at risk.

On the other hand, interesting aspects emerge as a consequence of the need to secure funds, like the development of new ways of actors’ interaction and partnerships (e.g. the Environment Agency is working very closely with local authorities in order to push the Scheme go forward) and more local ownership of flood risk management. This means there is more decision at the local level on how to secure funding by, for example, the delivery of multi-stakeholder workshops to identify wider benefits from the Scheme. The necessity to raise money locally has brought local authorities and other stakeholders to work together in aspects of flood management due to –apart from the threat posed by flooding- the need of finding sources of funding. Making local residents more aware of their risk is another goal of this Scheme not only as a way of increasing people’s resilience, but also because the local authorities need to convince different sectors of the society of the benefits the Scheme will bring to them, both for receiving local support and future funding.

Although it is not yet clear all these aspects will bring the necessary funds to implement the Scheme, the RTS is a clear example of engagement at different levels (from Government to local communities) and is considered as an example of good practice, crucial for assessing legitimacy in terms of transparency and participation of different actors at the local level.

The diversification of measures the Scheme proposes makes it a special case within the STAR-FLOOD countries where most of the flood management initiatives are still mostly focused in flood defence and engineering measures. The RTS involves a diversification of approaches and brings a large amount of community engagement and local participation, being a crucial case for the evaluation of legitimacy and resilience as studied within the project.

 

I would like to thank Meghan Alexander for her comments on this column.

 

[1] A levy on local authorities raised by the EA’s RFCCs. These committees bring together members appointed by LLFAs and independent members with relevant experience, to ensure there are coherent plans for managing flood and coastal erosion risks across catchments and shorelines.