Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the County Environment Director, Devon County Council (L 5)

  The County Council welcomes the opportunity to contribute written evidence to the Agriculture Select Committee in its consideration of Development Control in the context of fluvial issues related to flood defence. As you will appreciate, given the very short notice for the submission of written evidence, this response is not as comprehensive as we may have wished.

  While the County of Devon have been fortunate in that it has avoided for the most part the extreme conditions and catastrophic flooding experienced elsewhere in the nation over the recent weeks, here damage to property has been severe and communications have been disrupted. At the time of writing the Tarka Line (Exeter to Barnstaple rail link) remains closed due to flood damage.

  Having previously experienced major incidents of flooding in the County, the County Council has been particularly concerned over the issue of flood risk in the County and has been pro-active in addressing these issues. In March this year the County Council organised and hosted a roundtable meeting with interested organisations including local authorities, the Environment Agency, Flood Defence Committee, South West Water, MAFF, CLA and NFU, which culminated in the issue of a summary of outcomes. This document has led to subsequent recommendations in respect of storms and flooding in Devon for adoption by the County Council, and was referred to all Devon MPs.

  I enclose a copy of the "Summary of Outcomes" (Annexe A [not printed]) together with the recommendations made to the County Council's Environment Scrutiny Committee (Annexe B [not printed]) for your information.

  The County Council was also pleased to respond to the DETR consultation on new PPG 25 "Development and Flood Risk" in June 2000, copy of this is enclosed. (Annexe C [not printed]). These papers together provide a catalogue of measures which the County Council commends for consideration and appropriate action by Government.

  In respect of fluvial issues, we would draw these following matters to the attention of the Select Committee:

    (i)  That MAFF and the Environment Agency be urged to enforce stricter control over the removal of hedgerows and drainage ditches via the Land Drainage Act in order to reduce the impact of heavy rain in causing floods;

    (ii)  That if in the past, Government encouraged the removal of hedgerows by grant subsidy to farmers and thus possibly increased the risk of flooding, the Government should now use the same mechanism to encourage the creation, regeneration and maintenance of hedgerows and other forms of drainage-delay schemes, especially on steep agricultural land directly adjacent to towns and villages;

    (iii)  That farming practices that are likely to increase rapid run-off of rain water and therefore subsequent flooding, such as the increased growing of maize as a forage crop, could be the subject of an objective investigation by the Environment Agency, (in Devon possibly using land on one of the County Council's smallholdings on which to collect data);

    (iv)  That as the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) moves away from increased production towards subsidising environmentally aware regimes, the NFU and CLA should advise farmers on how to draw down CAP subsidies to incorporate flood minimisation schemes on their land;

    (v)  That the Government (?) investigates the possibility of grant aiding the creation of reservoirs and ponds on farms, both for added value to the farmer and to alleviate potential flooding risk;

    (vi)  That MAFF be requested to include on their subsidy application form for arable area payments, a box for indicating the slope of the land in question, as well as providing specific simple guidance in relation to the appropriate type of crop for growing on steep slopes;

    (vii)  That MAFF should redirect its subsidy payment away from the number of cattle held on a farm as this leads directly to overstocking and subsequent decline in the rural environment and greater tendency to increased water run-off;

    (viii)  That the Government should address the problem of conflicting signals and incentives to the agricultural industry in matter which may adversely affect the environment;

    (ix)  That notwithstanding the above, in the view of the Council it is not unreasonable to expect that individuals and businesses should on their own initiative seek (a) to avoid or minimise actions which they know or suspect may be damaging to others and to the environment in general; (b) to pursue wherever possible course of action which are environmentally beneficial.

  We understand that the proceedings of the Select Committee are not an opportunity to make representations on the subject of flood defence funding which is a subject of other initiatives. We would, however, hope that the Select Committee would endorse the views that to permit proper planning and prioritisation of the flood defence programme, the Government should commit itself to a funding programme where (say) three or five years, rather than the present annual round, and that there is a need to reform and simplify the present funding mechanism for flood defence which is over complex, and that these views be advised to the appropriate body.

20 November 2000

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