Failing to fund River Thames Scheme could see Windsor & Maidenhead in court

FAILURES to fund an essential flood alleviation scheme has triggered a parish council to threaten the Royal Borough with court action.

Wraysbury Parish Council has sent a ‘letter before action’ to the council and the Environment Agency (EA) advising them they intend to pursue a judicial review on the decision for the £640 million River Thames Scheme (RTS) to proceed without the Royal Borough.

The scheme was set up with three channels to protect 15,000 homes from Datchet to Teddington from flooding.

The River Thames Scheme Sponsorship Group – chaired by the EA and Surrey County Council – decided to kick channel one, the Royal Borough’s part which would stretch from Datchet to Bells Weir, out of the project due to the council failing to secure enough funds.

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The Royal Borough only committed £10 million out of its £52 million contribution and could not afford to part more money after failing to lobby government to implement a flood levy in order to fully fund their part.

Wraysbury Parish Council did have their petition, which had nearly 1,600 signatures, heard at a full council meeting in April, urging the Royal Borough to “honour its commitment” to fund its part of RTS.

However, lead councillors and officers said the scheme is ‘unaffordable’ as it would cost £1.3 million per year for 50 years to repay the borrowing.

In the letter, the parish council say they had a “legitimate expectation” for RTS to be fully funded as the council promised to do so and add it is “irrational” to believe that another flood alleviation scheme can replace channel one.

Map of the original River Thames Scheme - before the Roya Borough was kicked off the project

Map of the original River Thames Scheme – before the Roya Borough was kicked off the project

Datchet, Horton, and Wraysbury councillor Ewan Larcombe (National Flood Prevention Party) said the borough and the EA “need a good kicking” after spending capital funds on other projects.

He said: “All I see is us here at an ever increased risk of flooding because of climate change, if not nothing else.

“The borough was quite happy to acknowledge climate change and to do things in order to reduce but won’t do anything about flooding.

“We’re a Grenfell Tower here but Grenfell Tower only burnt once where we get wet quite regularly. They [the council] really don’t care because they don’t have to suffer flooding or live with it.”

Cllr Andrew Johnson

Cllr Andrew Johnson

The leader of the council, councillor Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams) emphasised the RTS sponsorship group made the decision to kick the borough out of the scheme – and believes they will not allow the council back into the project even with the funds as it will cause major delays.

Re-joining RTS would also lead to “significant” costs to the Royal Borough than the original £52 million, the leader told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

He said: “It wasn’t a conscious decision not to proceed because we didn’t want to do it, or we didn’t believe in the project, it was simply the fact that we couldn’t afford to borrow the money.

“It was a hard decision. There was no real choice in that because financially, we can’t afford it.

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“We just could not have gotten it signed off because when it came under the inevitable scrutiny, it would be painfully apparent that we couldn’t physically borrow that money.”

Cllr Johnson maintained the view RTS should’ve been fully funded by government rather than local authorities to ease financial pressures.

When asked if the leader would’ve made RTS more of a priority in the council’s capital programme than his predecessors, Cllr Johnson said he would’ve put it “higher up in the hierarchy” of the projects to fund.

An EA spokesman said: “Although the proposed Berkshire stretch of the River Thames Scheme is no longer going ahead, we will continue to work with the affected parties, including Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, to reduce local flood risk, as we take forward the wider River Thames Scheme in Surrey and south-west London.”

Royal Borough Observer | Windsor