Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (L3)


Committee Report published: 5 August 1998
Government Response sent to Committee: 15 October 1998


  1.  The Government continues to make significant progress in implementing the agreed recommendations in the Committee's report. We have already reported that interim High Level Targets for Flood and Coastal Defence were published by MAFF in May 1999 followed by more comprehensive targets in November 1999. The latter targets took effect from April 2000. The targets impact on many of the Committee's recommendations and address its particular concerns about delivery of national policies and objectives for flood and coastal defence. Published alongside the targets was an Elaboration of the Environment Agency's Flood Defence Supervisory Duty.

  2.  A particularly important target is the requirement for the flood and coastal defence operating authorities to produce, by 31 March 2001, publicly available statements of their policy for implementing the Government's policy aims and objectives. A template was issued in June 2000 to assist in the production of these statements.

  3.  Linked to a number of the Committee's recommendations is implementation of the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Easter 1998 Floods (the "Bye" Report). The measures to ensure the Government's stated aim of a seamless and integrated approach to flood forecasting, warning and response were incorporated into the Environment Agency's Action Plan for implementing that report, published in November 1998. The Government closely monitored progress in implementing that Action Plan, reporting to Parliament at regular intervals.

  4.  Since the Committee reported there have, of course, been a number of serious river flooding events including the Severn (October 1998), Derwent (March 1999), South West (Christmas 1999), Northern England (June 2000) and—most seriously of all—the widespread floods of Autumn 2000. There has also been sporadic tidal flooding, particularly following winter storms on the South coast.

  5.  At the time this note is being prepared the Autumn floods have yet to recede and their full impact and causes remain to be assessed. However, it is already clear that they are on a comparable scale to the seminal river floods of 1947. The Government has asked the Environment Agency, once they have dealt with the immediate effects of the flooding, to produce a comprehensive report as early as possible in the New Year. The report will include an assessment of the causes and effects of the flooding, the effectiveness of flood forecasting and warning and of the emergency response arrangements. It will also set out the impact of development in the flood plain, including the number of newly developed properties that have been flooded.

  6.  Following many complaints about inadequate warnings during the Easter 1998 floods, a key recommendation was the need for improvements in the flood warning system. Since then we have worked with the Agency on improvements to flood warning and have subsequently agreed a flood warning improvement strategy under which in excess of £100 million will be invested in flood warning improvements over the next 10 years. Whilst it may be too early to reach firm conclusions on the current flood event, quite clearly the flood warning system fared far better than in 1998.


  7.  This section is in two parts. Part 1 sets out the action taken by the Government in pursuit of the recommendations to which it agreed (or provides any updating which is likely to be of interest to the Committee). Part 2 sets out those recommendations to which the Government has nothing to add to its initial response to the Committee.


Government's Plans for Flood and Coastal Defence Expenditure (recommendation b)

  8.  The committee were encouraged by the increase in funding agreed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Since then we embarked on a major research project which investigated the potential economic impact of flooding on the nation's economy to provide data to inform future investment strategies. That data was used to inform the 2000 Spending Review and two further increases in spending have been agreed.

    —  in the 2000 Spending Review, provision for MAFF financial support was further increased by £10 million in 2002-03 and £20 million in 2003-04, with another 4 million for enhancements in the Storm Tide Forecasting Service and related activities; and

    —  the Autumn 2000 floods provided further evidence of the potential economic impact of flooding on the nation and a further £51 million was made available for this and the next three years, particularly to provide additional investment in river flood defence schemes, allow new whole catchment area studies to proceed, and make an earlier start in flood warning improvements.

  9.  The Committee may find it helpful to have the following table showing flood and coastal defence funding by the Government over the past decade, with forecasts for the next three years:

Table 1


MAFF Grant and other expenditure
DETR funding delivered through Revenue Support Grant

  Note: RSG figures for 2001-02 onwards assume increases in line with general SR 2000 settlement (4.3% annually).

Survey of Flood Defences (recommendation e)

  10.  Arrangements for inspecting and recording the condition of all flood defences (including those in private ownership) are a key feature of MAFF's High Level Targets. Under these, a National Flood and Coastal Defence Database is being established with arrangements in hand for its further development and updating. There are also targets for defences to be identified and inspected, the results recorded on the database, and flooding and erosion risks assessed. These assessments will be reported annually to the Ministry starting in April 2001.

Existing Funding Arrangements for Flood and Coastal Defence (recommendations f, g and h)

Constraints on Flood and Coastal Defence Projects of Current Funding Procedures (recommendation i)

  11.  A consultation paper on a joint MAFF/DETR review of flood and coastal defence funding mechanisms was issued in April 1999. In addition to inviting comments on the current funding arrangements, the consultation paper also sought views on specific issues such as the distinction between the funding of capital and maintenance works, central funding and ring fencing. The responses were somewhat disparate and initial consideration of the options arising was put in hand by both Departments.

  12.  However, following the Spending Review 2000, the Government decided that a wider and more fundamental review of funding should take place, for completion by September 2001. This will embrace the review of funding mechanisms but go wider to consider issues such as the distribution of the burden of financing of flood and coastal defence, investment priorities and administrative arrangements.

  13.  The Government continues to work with the Environment Agency on the development of a possible block grant payment to the Agency to support the capital programme.

Project Appraisal Guidance Note (PAGN) (recommendation j)

  14.  MAFF committed itself to issue a significantly expanded and updated suite of Project Appraisal Guidance as follows:

    —  FCDE PAG 1-Overview;

    —  FCDE PAG 2-Strategic Planning and Appraisal;

    —  FCDE PAG 3-Economic Assessment;

    —  FCDE PAG 4-Approaches to Risk;

    —  FCDE PAG 5-Environmental Appraisal; and

    —  FCDE PAG 6-Post Project Appraisal.

  15.  Volumes 3, 4 and 5 have been issued. Volumes 1 and 2 are just completing their consultation phase with publication expected early next year, at which time we will begin the process of writing Volume 6.

  16.  The Government response to this recommendation referred to the Priority Scoring system that MAFF had introduced in 1997, on a pilot basis, as a means of optimising the allocation of available funds for flood and coastal defence. MAFF is about to initiate a review of this system.

Rationalisation of Legislative Base of Flood and Coastal Defence Policy (recommendation k)

  17.  The Government's undertaking to consider with the Environment Agency and other operating authorities how best to encourage and build on best practice has been addressed through the High Level Targets. In producing publicly available policy statements, all operating authorities will be required to show how best practice will be adopted and shared.

Improving the Delivery of National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Defence (recommendations l, m, n, o and p)

  18.  The introduction of High Level Targets, and the accompanying Elaboration of the Environment Agency's Supervisory Duty, is a significant step forward in the Government's response to these recommendations. The targets were developed through consensus and in consultation with representatives of all of the flood defence operating authorities and will be regularly reviewed. Information on achievement of targets will be published. Other issues such as the composition of Regional Flood Defence Committees and Central Government funding will be addressed through the funding review referred to above.

  19.  At present the Environment Act 1995 effectively restricts the number of regional flood defence committees (RFDCs) to ten. This would inhibit a future decision to move to a single tier of RFDCs, by abolishing local flood defence committees (LFDCs), as some of the present regions are probably too large to be managed by a single RFDC with no supporting LFDCs. To address this, it is intended that the proposed Water Bill, upon which DETR have recently initiated consultation, will include a provision to allow additional RFDCs to be created.

Improving Co-ordination between Competent Agencies in the Coastal Zone (recommendations q, r and s)

  20.  The High Level Targets require the relevant operating authorities to complete the strategy plans necessary to implement Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) and also update SMPs in accordance with MAFF guidance (a revised guidance note is currently out for consultation and planned for issue early in 2001). There are also targets relating to Coastal Habitat Management Plans and on development in areas at risk of coastal erosion.

Integrating Flood Defence Requirements within the Planning System (recommendation t)

Financial Obligations on Private Developers (recommendation u)

  21.  In consultation with MAFF and the Environment Agency, DETR issued a consultation draft of new and strengthened guidance to local planning authorities on development in the floodplain (to replace Circular 30/92 "Development and Flood Risk"). This stresses the need for LPAs to move towards a risk based approach to such proposed development and to take account of the likely impacts of climate change. The guidance also addresses the issue of contributions from developers proposing to build in the flood plain. Following comments received, this draft has been further developed and DETR plan to issue it shortly.

  22.  The Committee will be aware that the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee has announced that they are undertaking a short inquiry into development on or affecting the flood plain, with oral evidence from the Minister for Housing and Planning on Wednesday 22 November 2000.

Dissemination of Information to the Public and Acceptance of Flood and Erosion Risk (recommendation v)

Availability of Flood Risk Information (recommendation gg)

  23.  In line with its Action Plan for implementing the Bye Report, the Environment Agency has completed the mapping of indicative floodplains for all watercourses with a catchment greater than 10 square kilometres in England and Wales. The maps have been delivered to all Local Authorities for use in their development control and emergency planning functions.

Water Level Management Plans (WLMPs) (recommendation aa)

  24.  MAFF issued further guidance to facilitate Plan completion in 1999. The High Level Targets required relevant operating authorities, in partnership with English Nature, to complete WLMPs in European sites by March 2000 and in other SSSIs by December 2000. Additional targets provide for the implementation and review of WLMPs and for reporting to MAFF on progress.

Habitat Conservation and Recreation (recommendation dd)

  25.  The policy statements required by the High Level Targets are intended to set out the arrangements that the operating authorities have in place to protect and enhance the environment when carrying out flood defence works. Specific targets for reporting progress on Biodiversity and Coastal Habitat Management Plans are also in place.

Environment Agency's Flood Defence Priorities (reommendation ff)

  26.  The Government continues to regard flood warning as the highest priority in flood and coastal defence. The Agency initiated a number of measures following the Easter 1998 floods including completion of a review of the Flood Warning Strategy for England and Wales and the setting up of a new National Flood Warning Centre to help ensure a more uniform approach to flood forecasting warning and response. MAFF has offered financial support to a number of projects for improving telemetry, better public awareness campaigns and enhanced flood warning systems. These measures, and more, are contained in the Agency's 10 year, £106 million programme to improve flood forecasting and warning arrangements.

Flood Warning Dissemination (recommendation ii)

  27.  The Environment Agency has developed a Communications Strategy which sets out the approach to raising public awareness and understanding of flood risk, flood defence and the flood warning service. An initial public awareness campaign, part funded by MAFF, was completed in October 1999. This was further developed with another campaign in September 2000, a key feature of which was the introduction of new flood warning codes to replace the previous colour coded warnings. These codes (Flood Watch, Flood Warning and Severe Flood Warning) rapidly became familiar to the public in the Autumn 2000 floods.


  28.  The Government has nothing to add to its initial response to the following recommendations:

      human intervention in flooding and erosion processes (recommendation a);

      the changed policy context for flood and coastal defence (recommendations c and d);

      long term adaptive policies at the coast and inland (recommendations w and x);

      departmental responsibility for flood and coastal defence (recommendation y);

      fulfilling the Government's national strategic aim for flood and coastal defence (recommendation z);

      rewarding individual action benefiting the community (recommendation bb);

      accelerating the implementation of soft engineered approaches to flood and coastal defence (recommendation cc);

      difficulties in predicting floods (recommendation ee);

      MAFF flood disaster contingency fund (recommendation hh).

17 November 2000

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