Drainage costs justified by council release

Maintenance of a smaller fen drain to remove weed growth and return the drain to its original design standard.
Maintenance of a smaller fen drain to remove weed growth and return the drain to its original design standard.

The amount of council tax which pays to help keep the area free from flooding has come under the spotlight.

Following criticism from some councillors about the money which goes to internal drainage boards, Boston Borough Council has issued a press release which attempts to justify the spend.

The release entitled ‘why half your borough’s council tax goes to drainage boards’ has laid out the roles and responsibilities of the area’s IDBs.

It also reveals the IDBs have taken part in a consultation with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) scheme for drainage costs to be shared.

Couns Paul Gleeson and Richard Austin both queried the amount of money which goes from the borough council tax to the drainage boards at the latest meeting of the Full Council, pointing out that more than half the money the council collects – £1.852 million – is diverted to the service.

Coun Austin said drainage was ‘crucially important’ but added the bill was ‘an ever growing proportion’ of the budget and he and Coun Gleeson called for more to be done to lobby Government to reduce the amount.

Officials from the Witham Fourth and Black Sluice IDBs were set to meet council representatives on Wednesday.

The release from the council on Friday, said: “The work of the IDBs is a balancing act amid uncertainties posed by nature and weather.”

Council tax collected by Boston Borough Council has, since the 1970s, gone to the IDBs with around 57p in every £1 of the borough’s current council tax share going this way.

The IDBs also collect charges from landowners direct - with round 45 per cent of their income coming from this area – and can apply for major funding for big projects from central Government grants and the EU.

The release accepts that there are ‘concerns the cost of land drainage should be more evenly shared’ and acknowledges calls that council taxpayers having to bear the cost of some of the drainage from areas where there are no boards is ‘unfair’.

The release quotes secretary of the Lincolnshire Branch of the Association of Drainage Authorities and chief executive of the Witham Fourth Internal Drainage Board Peter Bateson who, although his board does not drain as much from outside its catchment area, said he sympathised with and understood the concerns of borough councillors who face reduced funding due to Government cuts and austerity measures.

By 2020, central Government funding to all local authorities is set to cease and major funding will come from 100 per cent retention of business rates.

This is set to hit some rural areas, including those where agriculture is a major industry because many businesses in the sector are exempt from business rates.

Mr Bateson agreed a fairer system, seeing the cost of drainage shared equally across the UK, was needed.

He said IDBs have responded to a DEFRA scheme for drainage costs to be shared throughout Lincolnshire.

It is also hoped that recent maintenance works carried out willattract businesses to the area, thereby increasing rates for the council.