Headlines: March 31st, 2008

Local authorities are being urged to take a leading role in dealing with the threat of flooding. Sir Michael Pitt, who is currently carrying out a review of the lessons that can be learned from last summer’s floods, wants councils to see his forthcoming report as “an opportunity to step into the leadership vacuum at the local level.”

Sir Michael told delegates to a Local Government Information Unit event on flood mitigation and adaptation that thirds of the recommendations in his final report are likely to be about the important part that councils can play in easing the impact of flooding.

The report, which is due to be published in the summer, is expected to recommend that local authorities lead on gathering information on the assets in an area, identify places at risk and co-ordinate work by all local agencies as well as taking action to improve the information that is given to local people. Sir Michael told the event there was a huge coordination role for local authorities and councillors needed to give the public the vital reassurance and advice they needed during times of crisis. “In terms of scrutiny, we want to highlight the importance of local councillors in holding to account in the locality all the organisations relating to flood risk management. Local authorities have shown in their scrutiny of health services that they can be challenging in holding bodies to account,” Sir Michael said.

The event also heard from the Environment Agency chairman, Sir John Harman, who spoke about the need for more restrictions on building on flood plains. Peter Jones, the deputy chief executive of Gloucestershire County Council, described the response to last summer’s floods in the area, which was one of the worst hit.