Focus on Building Partnerships at 80th ADA Conference

The need for strong partnerships and close working relationships between government, national agencies and local bodies was the overriding theme during the 80th ADA Conference, held at One Great George Street, London on 16th November.

A fully-booked conference heard from keynote speakers including Thérèse Coffey MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Defra), Sir James Bevan (Chief Executive, Environment Agency), Councillor Derek Antrobus (Lead Member for Planning and Sustainable Development, Salford City Council) and Lord Deben (Chair, Committee on Climate Change), as they addressed the key issues facing those who work to manage rivers and flood risk across the United Kingdom.

ADA conference

During this special anniversary year, it was also a poignant day, as Henry Cator DL OBE stepped down as chair of ADA after ten years of incredible service. He officially handed the chairmanship to Robert Caudwell following his formal approval during the AGM, immediately following the conference.

Welcoming the full-house, Mr Cator warned of three main threats to effective water level and flood risk management. He spoke of over-regulation representing the biggest danger, with environmental management potentially being strangled by bureaucracy.

Mr Cator was also concerned in a lack of investment, particularly as some 60 per cent of grade one agricultural land falls within districts managed by internal drainage boards. He also commented that there appeared no long-term strategy in place for future planning of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), stating this was not acceptable.

He finished by stressing the need to work together with Government and create strong partnerships to plan for the future.

Mr Caudwell, also a farmer of some 350ha of arable and horticultural land north of Boston in Lincolnshire, echoed Mr Cator’s view, stating, “I passionately believe in partnerships, and the message to all is we will work with you, if you work with us.

“But we must work as equal partners, and that means ADA, IDBs, local authorities, Government, the Environment Agency and national agencies working on an equal footing. Partnerships take a lot of work and trust, but you can deliver more.”

He concluded, “Every solution requires a partnership approach at all levels. It must be the norm. There will be difficulties, but we must work as partners.”

Thérèse Coffey MP then took to the stage, returning for a second successive year to address some of the points raised during the previous year and also to announce the publication of new statutory guidance on the designation of ‘main river’. This guidance sets out the basis on which the Environment Agency should decide whether or not a river or watercourse is treated as a ‘main river’. These are usually larger rivers and streams, designated as such for the Environment Agency to manage. The guidance was published as part of the progression of de-maining pilots that were launched earlier this year.

Essentially, the de-maining process involves passing river maintenance and operational activities from the Environment Agency to IDBs or local authorities where there is mutual agreement, a locally generated appetite, and a benefit to do so.

Dr Coffey also said she was keen to reduce the administrative burdens, claiming this will make environmental protection easier. She also stated Government was keen to work together on SuDS, before describing IDBs as the ‘unsung heroes’ of drainage, water level and flood risk management.

During an extended Q&A session, several familiar topics were raised. Sir James Bevan responded to a question from the floor to state that the Environment Agency held a genuine partnership with ADA. He also tackled the subject of SuDS, suggesting a greater incentive and pressure on developers was needed to make SuDS work.

Many expressed their gratitude and thanks for the work of Henry Cator, as he stepped down from his role as chair. Innes Thomson, ADA chief executive, commented, “ADA has truly flourished under Henry’s leadership. He has always had the foresight to see those ‘tidal waves’ approaching so we can square-up and ride over them to come out stronger on the other side and, of course, to spot important opportunities when they arise.

“It was great to see a full-house at this year’s conference to salute Henry as he handed over the chair to Robert Caudwell. My team and I would like to add our sincere thanks for the way he has continually supported and encouraged us.”


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