New community group to set out vision for River Arun
Local groups and agencies have come together to form a new group to consider how the Lower River Arun should be managed in future.
The Arun Valley Vision Group (AVVG) will be a community-led group to include farmers and landowners which will work with the Environment Agency an other organisations to develop a plan to address issues such as the risk of local flooding.
The Group was set up at a conference of local stakeholders and landowners convened by Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert on Friday (21 January) at The White Swan in Arundel.
Delegates included representatives of the Environment Agency, local councils, the National Farmers Union (NFU), farmers and landowners, together with other groups who have a stake in how the River Arun is managed.
Mr Herbert convened the conference after receiving representations from a number of constituents who were concerned about how the River Arun would be managed in future. The Environment Agency’s plans to change the Internal Drainage Board and its draft Lower Tidal River Arun Strategy (LTRAS) had caused some local controversy.
The MP also raised concerns about confusion over flood management responsibilities after he led efforts on behalf of residents to rebuild the river wall in Arundel after it collapsed last year.
Mr Herbert opened the meeting by setting out the issues which had led him to call the event: the challenge of climate change which would see river levels rise, pressures on public funding; the trend towards localism which would see more power, control and responsibility devolved to local communities, and the repatriation of environmental and agricultural policy following Brexit.
James Humphrys, Solent & South Downs Area Director for the Environment Agency, underlined the need for collaboration with the widest group of stakeholders, especially on the matter of flood defence work. He confirmed that the Arun Valley Vision Group will aim to be independent of the Environment Agency.
Two nominees to lead the Arun Valley Vision Group were put forward. Mrs Gill Farquharson and Dr John Godfrey DL, both from Arundel, agreed to co-chair the project, while the Environment Agency will provide administrative support. In a joint statement, the Chairs said: “We are delighted to be working together on what is a hugely important issue for the Arun Valley. We will work to find a way forward which is both workable and acceptable to all stakeholders.”
Riparian owners who live next to a river have responsibility for the maintenance of their part of the riverbank. It is understood that there are 150 agricultural ratepayers on the Lower Arun, a part of the river which protects over 500,000 residents in the catchment.
The conference agreed the need to work together to develop a new vision for the Lower River Arun that will continue to protect properties, habitats, and farming.
Tom Ormesher, Regional Environment and Land Use Adviser for the NFU South East, said: “With half the population of West Sussex living within the catchment, the outcomes of this project will have a bearing on a great many people. The Arun Valley Vision Group will be a genuine attempt for the whole community to address flood risk and river maintenance issues in an area where many farms, businesses and houses were severely affected during the 2013/14 floods.
“We are pleased that the inaugural meeting called by Nick Herbert had the outcome of agreeing two independent chairpersons to steer the project. Whilst there continues to be a public spending squeeze, it’s important that we don’t lose our ability to actively manage flooding and this new initiative will help identify the best way forward.”
Mr Herbert said: “Over the last two years I have had many separate conversations with the Environment Agency, local landowners and others about the management of the River Arun, and I felt it was important to bring them all together.
“I also realised after the problems we’ve had in Arundel following the collapse of the river wall at one property that there’s a need to sort out future responsibilities for flood management.
“My idea of holding a conference fitted in with the Environment Agency’s desire to consult about changes in how it will work locally. While some of their proposals have been controversial, there was a really positive atmosphere in the room and a desire for everyone to work together to get the best outcomes for the future management of the river.
“I’m delighted to have helped initiate this important Arun Valley Vision Group, and I am especially grateful to John Godfrey and Gill Farquharson for generously agreeing to give their time voluntarily to co-chair it."
1. Photograph: Arun Valley Conference delegates with Nick Herbert MP (centre) at The White Swan in Arundel. L-R, front row, Nigel Draffan (Angmering Park Estate), James Humphrys (Environment Agency), Gill Farquharson (Co-Chair Arun Valley Vision Group), Nick Herbert MP, Dr John Godrey DL (Co-Chair Arun Valley Vision Group), Caroline Harriott (landowner), Tom Ormesher (NFU), Sara Denton (Environment Agency), Adrian Waller (West Sussex Biodiversity Project, landowner), Colin Hedley (Arun to Adur Farm Cluster Partnership), Paul Strudwick (Castle Farm Partnership, landowner).
2. The Lower Tidal River Arun strategy (LTRAS) outlines recommendations for managing flood risk in the Arun Valley, from Pallingham Weir to Littlehampton and Ford for the next 100 years. For more information see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lower-tidal-river-arun-flood-risk-management-scheme/lower-tidal-arun-flood-risk-management-scheme.