ENVIRONMENT Secretary Owen Paterson says he is pleased dredging can start “as soon as it is safe to do” as part of the 20-year flood action plan.

The plan includes “immediate” dredging of five miles of the Rivers Parrett and Tone as soon as it is “safe and practical”.

Mr Paterson said the action plan would support farmers to manage flood risk better and ensure new developments meet the “highest standards” for water and drainage.

Three Government departments will provide the £20.5 million funding for the plan, Mr Paterson said.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is providing an £10 million for flood related work in Somerset, while The Department for Transport will give a further £10 million. The Department for Communities and Local Government has also pledged £0.5 million.

“This gives a strong base to take forward work,” Mr Paterson added.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “We understand the devastating effect flooding and storms have had on communities and the people of Somerset have been among the hardest hit. We want to help affected areas recover as swiftly as possible.

“That is why we are providing £10 million for Somerset to fix damaged roads and improve the network's ability to cope with tough weather conditions and flooding.

“This is on top of the extra £33.5 million for urgent road maintenance work we have already announced for the rest of England and a £31 million package of resilience measures for rail in the south west.”

Mr Paterson said farmers on the Levels believed dredging of the Tone and Parrett, a new pumping station at Dunball and work on a ‘pinch point’ on the Sowey river would help prevent a repeat of the floods.

He confirmed that the Bridgwater Barrage plans were being looked at, saying: “We are looking at big project, possibly putting a barrier on the Parrett.

“That could protect 17,500 properties around Bridgwater, it would be a significant payoff.”

As part of the action plan, 4km (2.5 miles) will be dredged on the River Parrett upstream of Burrowbridge, while a further 4km (2.5 miles) will be dredged on the River Tone - returning the rivers to their 1960s profile.

This will ‘ideally’ begin from the end of March and will be completed by autumn 2014 ‘weather permitting’, the plan states.

Mr Paterson acknowledged that dredging “clearly should have been done, otherwise we wouldn't have had these terrible floods”.

He said the Environment Agency had been asked to look at proposals for a barrage on the Parrett.