THE regional flood and coastal committee has confirmed its support for Godmanchester’s flood alleviation scheme to the tune of £3.25million from the local levy.
Despite a £150,000 shortfall – as discussed at a Godmanchester Town Council meeting – the committee decided to go ahead with the scheme, without the town council having to contribute any money.
The Environment Agency aims to make up the cash shortfall by making savings of up to £150,000 on non-essential works. It means that, combined with national government cash grant of £3.1m, the scheme will now progress.
Despite this good news it is clear that the extraordinary town council meeting held to discuss a possible contribution from the town council has caused confusion and concern.
Therefore I feel it is right to try to clarify the matter.
The meeting was called after a request by the Environment Agency to put its case to us before we made a final decision regarding a contribution to the project.
It was a response to our decision to offer £15,000 towards the scheme (around £2.50 per head of population) – Huntingdonshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have both pledged £175,000.
We were asked on December 6, leaving just a couple of weeks notice over Christmas, to contribute £150,000 – 10 times our offer and what amounts to more than our annual precept.
We felt that we had to give the matter a fair discussion after hearing from the EA.
It was not, as some believed, a public or open meeting as such – it was a normal council meeting and was held under the same protocols as those meetings are held.
Therefore, there was a public participation opportunity for anyone to address the meeting on the agenda item. No one chose to do so.
Although some have expressed concern that we have not contributed, it is fair to say that the council was mindful that just as many people took the opposite view and questioned whether we should be asked to pay.
Councillors found themselves in a very difficult situation. We have to listen to all viewpoints before making a decision.
We, as a council, have fully supported and backed the flood scheme and spent many hours discussing it and having an input to its final design.
However, we have to be mindful of our wider responsibilities. Being asked to make such a large contribution would saddle residents with a large loan/debt for several years.
It would impact on our ability to make grants to other causes or have any spare money for contingencies.
In the event, a councillor – having made intensive research – raised a point of order in which he expressed reservations about the legality of us making any contribution to the scheme.
With doubt over exactly what our position was – and the fact that there was no chance to check it on the night – it was felt best to take further advice.
Frustrating though this may be to some, I’m sure residents would be reassured that we are keen to make sure we do things correctly before committing ourselves.
We are happy to answer further any questions or receive any observations.
Councillor NIGEL PAULEY
On behalf of
Godmanchester Town Council