This week I submitted my response to the initial non-statutory public consultation by the River Thames Scheme and its leading partners, the Environment Agency and Surrey County Council.
The floods in 2013/14 were an awful demonstration of the extent of the flood risk that residents and businesses in Runnymede and Weybridge and neighbouring areas face each year, as we are located on one of the largest undefended floodplains in the UK. In response, the Government committed to taking action, and the resulting River Thames Scheme will be the largest and most ambitious infrastructure project Defra has undertaken. With investment of £500 million from both central Government and Surrey County Council, the River Thames Scheme will help protect our homes, businesses, and communities for generations to come. Getting it built as soon as possible has been among my top priorities over the last three years; working alongside DEFRA and HM Treasury, as well as the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council, our local borough councils and local resident groups to help drive this forwards. The River Thames Scheme has the potential to provide more than just flood defences, it will also improve local infrastructure and green spaces, protect and enhance local biodiversity and provide many jobs during its construction.
It is absolutely right that every opportunity is taken to receive input from the public when designing these defences, as they in turn will help to shape our communities. I therefore welcome this non-statutory consultation that has afforded local residents their first chance to comment on and shape the scheme and the benefits it can deliver for our communities.
You can read my comments on the flood alleviation, the importance of getting on with the Development Consent Order (DCO) stage as quickly as legally appropriate, and the associated open access and green space works alongside the scheme in my full consultation response in the PDF link below.
Prior to completing my response, I was given a briefing by key members of the RTS project team at Defra’s headquarters in London and shown more details of the mapping, survey and flood alleviation analyses that have been carried out, as well as discussing the timeline to go through the DCO and associated planning applications that are necessary but do take time.
While a project of this size is understandably complex and will take time to deliver, there is already significant frustration that it is not expected to be completed until fifteen years since the 2014 floods. This timescale must not be delayed further. I would welcome any possibility for looking at ways to ensure the necessarily rigorous process for submission of the DCO and ultimate approval from the Secretary of State for DEFRA is pursued as quickly as appropriate.
I look forward to the feedback from residents and key local stakeholders that will be provided by this non-statutory consultation and how this can be incorporated into the Scheme’s design and processes. There will be further opportunities for residents to have their say through the statutory consultation processes due to begin next year. I look forward to continuing to work with the River Thames Scheme team and its partners to drive forward this incredibly important project and get it in place, working and protecting residents while enhancing our local natural environment.