On Monday 5 March, David Warburton MP for Somerton and Frome introduced a private members bill to Parliament aimed at putting the Somerset Rivers Authority onto a statutory footing as a precepting body, and enabling the reform of IDB ratings annual value lists. The bill is entitled the Rivers Authorities & Land Drainage Bill and has been prepared by Defra.
The first measure in the Bill would provide the Secretary of State with powers to establish Rivers Authorities. A Rivers Authority established under the Bill would be a locally accountable body with the power to issue a precept to billing authorities, which would then collect the money from council tax payers for additional local flood risk management work.
Under the Bill the initiative to establish a new Rivers Authority must come from local flood risk management authorities as a means of supporting cooperation, planning and delivery between risk management authorities in a defined area. The Bill would enable the Secretary of State to determine the functions, funding, proceedings and composition of a rivers authority and its area would cover the whole of one or more county, district or borough council areas.
ADA’s understanding is that Defra are not expecting a flurry of requests for the establishment of Rivers Authorities. However, the Bill could enable the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA), created as a response to the floods of winter 2013/14 on the Somerset Levels & Moors, to get itself onto a firm footing. The current board of the SRA have called on the government to provide them with precepting powers.
In time the Bill could also create opportunities for places like Cumbria, also recently affected by flood events, to consider establishing a similar body to leverage greater local funding support for flood and water level management measures.
The second measure in the Bill relates to IDBs. The proportion of drainage rates and special levies paid to each IDB is dependent upon the amount of agricultural and urban land in that IDB’s district. In order to determine the special levy charge, the Land Drainage Act 1991 refers to rateable values outlined in the “non-domestic rating list of a charging authority on 1st April 1990” and “valuation list on 31st March 1990”. IDBs use this information to calculate the value of all “other urban land” in the district as part of their annual calculation to apportion their expenses between drainage rates and special levies.
In some areas, however, the 1990s rating lists are not available. This means that IDBs in these areas cannot extend their boundaries, and new ones cannot be established. The provision in the Bill would therefore allow the levy to be apportioned via an alternative methodology, which will be set out in secondary legislation subject to the affirmative procedure.
If enacted then Defra would consult on the methodology in due course. The Bill would also enable the sharing of information from the Valuations Office Agency with IDBs for the purposes of ratings.
The change proposed in this measure is one supported by ADA. It recognises the need to ensure that the methodology through which IDBs calculate and collect drainage rates and special levy sits on a sound legal basis that can be periodically updated to contemporary values better reflecting current land and property valuation.
ADA first raised the potential need for legislative change with Defra during the passage of the Water Bill through parliament in 2014. We have been working with Defra and a number of IDBs to test a new methodology using contemporary valuation and Council Tax lists that could be applied via this legislative change. This has been complete for 17 internal drainage districts and the findings have been shared with NFU, CLA and LGA colleagues and will appear in a news article on the ADA website.
The overall objective is to modernise the rating system, whilst maintaining the principles of the current system and the net balance of payments received from agricultural drainage rates and special levy. It will also unlock the opportunity to create new IDBs, or expand existing IDBs, in areas where there is local support, as has been considered in recent years in the Lyth Valley, Cumbria and Alt Crossens Catchment, Lancashire.
An adjournment debate took place to discuss the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill on Thursday 8 March in Parliament. The progress of the Bill along with accompanying explanatory notes can be read at: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/riversauthoritiesandlanddrainage.html