Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2000
20. Can I take you to the role of national Government.
Should national Government be involved in all aspects of flood
prevention and flood reaction or is it better for that to be co-ordinated
through the Environment Agency, local fire brigade and so on and
(Dr Mance) I think Government clearly needs to be
involved in setting the right policy framework, the contextual
framework, and ensuring the adequate resources are available.
I am not convinced at the moment the present interface between
us is as sensible as it could be. I think the funding interface
between us is unnecessarily complicated in terms of Government
grants. We have been exploring with Government, with MAFF in this
instance, a block grant arrangement for the last two years which
is currently awaiting Treasury approval which would simplify the
capital scheme area, for instance, and that would certainly make
life a lot easier. I am not sure it is appropriate for Government
to get involved in every aspect all the time. I think when one
gets up to a genuinely national scale calamity, and we did not
get that far this time contrasted with 1953 flooding for instance,
which cost the nation about five per cent of its GDP, on that
scale then Government would want to be involved in disaster mode
management. I think in terms of the operational delivery often
that is best for people who specialise in operational delivery
rather than policy. I think this time the system has worked well
in that mode. There is now the question of coping with the aftermath.
21. Finally, can I look at this idea of the
National Joint Strategic Flood Group which obviously you were
in favour of but failed to persuade national Government of its
merits. Why was that and is this now worth revisiting?
(Mr Utteridge) The National Joint Strategic Emergency
Group is, I think, what you are talking about. I mentioned earlier
the Easter Flood Action Plan for the 1998 flood and that was an
action we had in there to explore. At the time we felt there would
be some merit in such a group. Dr Mance has mentioned exercises
that have taken place since the 1998 floods. We did build the
lessons learnt in to the procedures, as has been explained, of
local authorities, fire service, police and ourselves. Government
decided, I think, that what we had done was enough and it was
not necessary to proceed with something such as that strategic
22. Would you aim to revisit that now?
(Mr Utteridge) We shall revisit, yes, in the light
of what has just happened and again examine it within the lessons
23. Dr Mance, you mentioned that one of the
issues, and certainly it was found in my area, some of the minor
water courses, other drainage systems caused almost as many problems
as what was happening in rivers. Some communities were inundated
both from the river and from the fields around them. That does
imply that the recommendations this Committee made two years ago
for a more strategic grasp of the various means of achieving drainage
across an area was necessary and that leaving separate functions
with a variety of different bodiesnot all of these drainage
systems are controlled by local authorities which you touched
on, for examplewas really an unsatisfactory approach to
this. Would you now reconsider this and urge on Government a much
tighter framework for managing the strategy? I think you made
the fair point that on the actual delivery of emergency services
on the ground, people responded as the Brits tend to rather well
but the planning and getting things straight in the first place
is not our strong point and there needs to be improvement there.
(Dr Mance) One of the changes since the Committee
reported back in 1998 was the introduction by MAFF Ministers of
High Level Targets for flood defence. One of those targets requires
reporting of the condition of so-called critical minor water courses.
We have worked with the Local Government Association and the Association
of Drainage Authorities to come up with a common view of what
that means, that is basically those water courses which could
give rise to significant flooding of property. Given those have
now been identified it would seem sensible, to have a look at
rationalising responsibilities. We inherited from our predecessors
a very chequered mix of so-called arterial drainage. One refers
to arterial drainage, but when I was operating in the Midlands
region I know I had some field drains because in the dim and distant
past a wealthy landowner had been on a flood defence committee.
We certainly put no effort into them at all but on the statutory
maps they still show as the main river or main arterial drainage
and that seems nonsensical. I think rationalising so, if you like,
the expertise and resource goes into the water courses which actually
matter would be sensible.
24. We have started to map them and have them
(Dr Mance) Yes.
25. We have not actually done anything about
what we have found?
(Dr Mance) That is not quite true. Brian will explain
what we have been doing.
(Mr Empson) Brian Empson, Flood Defence Policy Manager.
Within our evidence we did say that the Agency in the Easter Flood
Action Plan had completed its inspection of flood defences. We
did write to local authorities and held meetings with them to
seek their assistance in carrying out inspections but over 25
per cent of local authorities were unwilling to carry out inspection
on these ordinary water courses in urban areas. These are the
sorts of water courses which are going to be classified as critical.
26. This was a voluntary exercise that you were
involved in so they could say "No, I am sorry, we are not
going to do it" and you had to walk away?
(Mr Empson) I think under the High Level Targets which
came out previously, the Government were trying to very clearly
show responsibility on who does what. It is very clear that the
local authorities do have responsibility for ordinary water courses,
so against that background local authorities were aware of their
27. It sounds as if private landowners will
often have some substantial responsibilities as well from the
allusion you made to this well connected individual who offloaded
(Dr Mance) In the precis I gave of the start of administrative
arrangements, I picked out the fact what in urban areas local
authorities tended to have responsibility. In rural areas then,
the riparian owners, whoever they were, could well have responsibility
for the maintenance and upkeep.
28. What are you going to do to bring this together
to provide a properly planned response?
(Dr Mance) I do not think we should look to bring
every water course, irrespective of where it is or how critical
it is, under the remit of one body. However, I do think it would
be sensible to look at rationalising it so that the ones which
matter, in terms of urban flood risk, are brought under the aegis
of one body.
29. I represent a rural area so your constant
reference to the urban context, while I can understand it, it
is not necessarily
(Dr Mance) If you question urban, villages in my responsibility
count as urban. It is anything where housing or commercial property
is at risk.
30. One last point. Do you see a role for insurance
companies in this? When the discussion was focused on communication
with residents about risk, it is their business, so some co-working
might seem quite sensible.
(Mr Utteridge) We have a very good working relationship
with the Association of British Insurers. In fact, in the information
we have sent out, there has been reference to ABI. ABI, in some
of their material, make reference to flood risk. Our understanding
from the Association of British Insurers is that there is a need
to spread the risk. That insurance is available for flood risk
victims. But that they do see the need for reliable flood defences
to be in place if this is to continue. So the willpower is there
within the insurance system.
31. Can you decode that because the way you
put it is that they might be considering their risk in these areas
if there was not a very substantial investment in flood defence.
That is how I heard it.
(Mr Utteridge) As I understand it, if a property or
a series of properties are subjected to regular flooding, then
the insurance companies would look to the flood defences being
improved if they were going to continue insuring the property.
32. Have you had any indication from your dealings
with the ABI that they are thinking of declaring some areas uninsurable?
(Mr Utteridge) I have not, no. The ABI have said to
me that there are enough insurance companies out there to spread
the risk across the whole policy format. That is the general message
that we have been getting from the ABI. We have actually had 30
floods in 30 months, if you look at all the statistics, some of
which have been more minor and some have been more major. Where
the ABI are starting to lookif this is a sign of climate
change and flooding is starting to bite and become more regularthen
I have no doubt they will be saying to Government that they would
like to see better standards of flood defence, if Government wish
them to keep insuring property.
33. You do not think the map you are going to
produce, which puts the imprint of the Environment Agency across
the country, particularly when we are identifying potentially
flood risk areas in a general sense, is going to upset the insurability
of properties in a sort of insurance blight, which you might be
spreading across the nation as a result of your analysis?
(Dr Mance) The insurance industry itself has its own
research, which means that they have had the information shown
on our maps for about four or five years, and we have seen no
evidence of it so far. It is far more important that we clearly
make available very readily to everybody where the flood risk
areas are, so that they can take some responsibility for looking
after themselves, their families, and their property. We have
had it available on CD ROM to local authorities, planning authorities,
for some 15 months. It goes live on our website next week, so
you will be able to go to our website and access it on your post
code. But we have something like 1.8 million homes, 135,000 commercial
properties in flood risk areas. If we want people to understand
flood risk, to take an interest in it, to register it, and to
behave responsibly they need to know they are at risk. Even silly
things like keeping your insurance policy upstairs in a polythene
bag. It sounds daft but if your insurance policy is downstairs
and saturated with flood water, it is damned difficult to deal
with the insurance company, with the best will in the world. Many
people do not even remember who their insurance company is without
looking at the policy. So there are some basic simple things that
we need to get across. To do that, people need to know that they
live in a flood risk area.
34. I am beginning to feel out of place in this
flood feast because Grimsby has not had any. I have got nothing
more to say in your favour than that. Indeed, the problem of flooding,
the River Freshney which runs right outside my house, did not
rise because of works put in by the Environment Agency and maintained
by the Environment Agency, so I owe you a debt. Having said that,
I am still going to be nasty about funding. You estimated in 1998
that the capital and maintenance needed were under-funded by about
£35 to £40 million. You got in that year's Comprehensive
Spending Review about £7.6 million a year extra, £23
million over three years, something like that, which clearly was
not enough. Can you give us any examples of works that were not
done and which needed to be done because of that under-allocation.
(Dr Mance) A clear example, which has some relevance
given the events over the two or three months, is Lewes in Sussex,
where we can justify a local capital scheme; but the local Flood
Defence Committee has been unprepared to provide the necessary
funding. The money available has gone to higher priority coastal
work. So for two years we have proposed works in Lewes. We require
about three-quarters of a million pounds' funding through the
levy system to enable us to proceed with it, with matching grant,
and that has not been forthcoming. That means that the people
of Lewis flooded this autumn because we were under-funded.
(Mr Utteridge) If I can add to that. We have also
taken on the elaboration of the Agency supervisory duty, following
the last session of evidence that we gave to the Committee. We
have expanded our flood warning role. We have run two public awareness
campaigns that have been mentioned, where MAFF have given us 50
per cent grant on that. So we have actually been doing increased
other things with the monies that you referred to, where we have
not received any special funding allowance.
35. What I am asking is whether the situation
would have been much different, indeed much better, had you got
from 1998 the extra funding you thought then was necessary?
(Dr Mance) It would have been a bit better.
36. Just a bit?
(Dr Mance) If you have been running under-funded on
that scale for years, you clearly do not turn it round overnight,
as was seen on the rail network. The risk of under-funding in
the long term is that it takes you a long time to catch up once
you decide you are going to. That is the concern. Therefore, it
would take us probably, if we had adequate resources, it could
take us five or ten or 15 years to catch up with the backlog.
37. So this is as a result of a long legacy
of inadequate funding?
(Dr Mance) Yes. You effectively have a form of utility
infrastructure which has been in the public sector for the whole
of this century. As we have seen in most of the other utility
infrastructures, they do not necessarily attract the level of
funding needed to maintain them.
38. You are now agreeing that the study commissioned
by MAFF, you are saying that you need an increase of £100
million for capital works. Now that is a lot more than £30
to £40 million. That is a £100 million a year.
(Dr Mance) May I give a little caution. When one talks
about: we need £100 million a year shown by the MAFF study.
(Dr Mance) It applies to all operating authorities,
not just the Agency. So you need to bear in mind internal drainage
boards and the 400-odd local authorities who also undertake flood