Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001

MR S THOMAS, MR D MARKHAM AND MR P GILLILAND

  180. So you do not know what they do. It could be 25 per cent or it could be less.
  (Mr Gilliland) No, 25 per cent is a minimum requirement.

  181. Are you satisfied that the MCA is in fact complying with that minimum?
  (Mr Gilliland) Oh, yes, there is no question of that.

  182. They are complying with the minimum.
  (Mr Gilliland) There is no question of that. Our concern is whether that is enough. I am just saying that it is not that the UK has chosen 25 per cent, this is something which has been agreed. In fairness I cannot quote another state where they are doing more than the minimum as direct evidence of what the effect of doing more is. This is construed to be an effective tool for trying to ensure better equipped and safer ships and therefore prevention of pollution. Indeed the detention figures for 1997-99 indicate that there has been a decrease in the number of infringements which have been found during inspections, which suggests that perhaps it is working. There again, there are estimates, and there was a report in The Guardian at the end of last year, that 10 to 20 per cent of the world's tanker fleet is defective in some way. If 25 per cent of inspections seems to be an effective tool and is leading to a decrease, yet we have that proportion of the fleet out there with problems, and given that once a pollution occurs it is really about minimising impact and therefore you ought to look at trying to ensure prevention, then should we not be looking to up that percentage because it would appear to be even more effective? As to what the figures should be, I could not say, but tie that to the cost question and the figures in the Business Plan suggest, if I understand them correctly, that the inspection and prosecution element of their work is about half a million pounds per year. The counter-pollution unit's budget is about £15 million. It seems to me it would be sensible to try to minimise the amount of counter-pollution work you do by trying to focus a little bit more on prevention. So if you up that budget to £1 million you could up the figure to, say, 50 per cent.

Mr Bennett

  183. On this question of discharges at sea. Who exactly is responsible for checking it out? MAFF if it goes down onto the sea bed, but the MCA if it is just tipped out onto the sea surface?
  (Mr Gilliland) If it is ship derived inputs then yes, it is the MCA.

  184. How much evidence do you have that when they are checking up they look to see whether the amount of rubbish coming ashore from a ship is proportional to the amount of rubbish which should have been created during the journey?
  (Mr Gilliland) I cannot really answer that question. It is not an area of their remit that we have really majored on. What I would say, however, and it is there in their Business Plan, is that they are looking at improving port waste reception facilities to try to minimise the amount of waste that is discharged at sea and encourage it all to be brought into port. In terms of the actual figures which come out, it is not something I know.

  185. Are you aware whether they do anything about checking up on what rubbish is washed ashore on beaches, where it may have come from and whether there have been any breaches?
  (Mr Gilliland) I am not aware that they have taken a leading role in that.

  186. You must be aware as English Nature that there are some beaches which are substantially polluted, particularly by waste plastic and other things like that.
  (Mr Gilliland) Indeed. The Marine Conservation Society particularly are good at gathering figures to support the quantities which are dealt with. What I would say is that indirectly the MCA take note of this because they are looking at trying to ensure that there are port waste reception facilities to encourage waste material to be brought inshore. I am afraid that litter is not an issue which we have majored on in terms of our dealings with the MCA.

  187. What about their prosecution practice? Do they prosecute any ship owners and if so are the fines significant?
  (Mr Gilliland) Yes. They appear to follow up their detentions from the 25 per cent inspections they carry out. They appear to follow them up and prosecute really quite quickly. I do not know what the figures for the fines are but I am told that they are quite substantial.

Chairman

  188. They issue those every month.
  (Mr Gilliland) Yes, that is right, the figures are issued every month.

Mr Bennett

  189. May I turn to the question of geology and the Highways Agency? You mentioned that they are really much better at letting your staff go on and have a look when construction work is under way about the geological information which is released. Are there any discussions about the way in which they could allow cuttings to be left in a state that people driving along could actually look at the geology? How far is it sensible for people to look while they are driving along? How far do they look at making viewing points so that people can walk to look at that, since geological exposures in this country are somewhat limited, are they not?
  (Mr Markham) The issue of access has been very much at the centre of the discussions we have had, in particular the health and safety implications of the sorts of measures you are talking about. It is fair to say that we have not got as far as actually actively working with the Highways Agency to develop those sorts of opportunities. We have been running a pilot down in Devon with a local authority and the Highways Agency has been involved in that but we are really moving onto the next stage now of rolling that out across other parts of the country with the Highways Agency. Clearly those issues which you raise will need to be very much to the fore.

  190. What about highway verges, motorway verges, embankments? The Highways Agency appears to have been much better at planting wild flowers on those where work has been completed, but in some cases they do not appear to have actually planted wild flowers which are typical of the locality. You think of the North Wales roads they have done where they have put a huge number of cowslips in which are not necessarily compatible with the sort of wild flowers which would have been there in the past. Are they getting better at making it locally relevant? Are they really looking at management? The problem with a lot of those cowslips is that they will be there and very nice for the first two or three years, but unless they have a cutting regime of cutting the verge once a year at least, they will quickly be pushed out by development of scrub.
  (Mr Markham) Clearly the North Wales example you mention is outside our particular remit so I am not familiar with that. I have to say I have no evidence of any improvement. I suspect you are right in saying that there has been but it is not something we have studied in any detail.

  191. If we turn to the Ten-Year Transport Plan, do you feel that is really a shift of emphasis within the Department and the Agency so that we are actually going to get a lot more roads and a lot less environment?
  (Mr Thomas) We would be concerned if it were.

  192. I am asking you whether it is.
  (Mr Thomas) Our understanding, having read the plan, is that it is very much a framework for future resourcing and it gives some indicative resource levels and there is obviously a suggestion that this much money would buy this many roads. In all our discussions with both the Department and the Highways Agency, there has been no sense that a huge road building programme is on the cards. What there is is a long-term investment in all sorts of transport provision and the game is still very much to play for with a shift to the regional dimension to develop the precise nature of the schemes.

  193. Do you think Friends of the Earth have it wrong and really there is not going to be a major number of bypasses which are going to cause environmental problems?
  (Mr Thomas) There will be increased investment in the road infrastructure and in transport generally. We would hope that the majority of those schemes would be making better use and improvements to the existing network. Inevitably some new roads will be built and we would want to see them being as least environmentally damaging as possible. Friends of the Earth and ourselves are right to be concerned at this stage. There is bound to be more money going into infrastructure investment and it is our job and the Highways Agency's job to make sure that they are as environmentally sustainable as possible. We are right to have a concern because inevitably there will be more investment.

  194. Do you feel if they are going to concrete over a lot more of the countryside there is going to be good water storage within those schemes to minimise flooding or do you think it is going to speed up water runoff and flooding problems?
  (Mr Thomas) The whole interaction between the housing debate, which will then link into the flooding and reaction to flooding and our wide use of flood plains, which English Nature is obviously very supportive of, and then the link into the housebuilding agenda with the provision of new transport infrastructure to meet the 4.4 million homes, is a really important wide-ranging debate and it is not just about road provision, it is about actually finding solutions which do meet the needs of the population.

  195. I was asking about the Highways Agency and whether in some of their new schemes they have already made sure that water storage is included which will slow down the discharge of water.
  (Mr Thomas) As the schemes come forward, one factor will have to be the consideration of their effects on flood water, flood levels, but that is all provided for within the planning process and I hope with the Environment Agency taking a more active role—one expects and that is what they say—in the planning process those decisions will be better reflected or completely reflected in the sorts of schemes which are finally chosen. The Highways Agency in the end will be the implementer of the schemes as they emerge from the planning process.

  196. In one or two places they have put pipes and other devices under the road so that various forms of wildlife can get under the road rather than be splattered on the road. Do you think those schemes are value for money?
  (Mr Thomas) My knowledge of them is yes, they are normally fairly low cost and they are efficacious. It is my experience that they do the job.

  197. Frogs actually use them rather than go across the road.
  (Mr Thomas) Yes; frogs, otters. I am not a construction expert but I assume they are low cost and they do normally meet the requirement.

Mrs Gorman

  198. Do you see your role as discouraging road building or accepting that we have to have roads and trying to make them nicer?
  (Mr Thomas) Definitely discouraging inappropriate—a general word—road building but if for example roads are flattening or damaging or destroying nationally important wildlife sites then we would say that is the end which is unacceptable. Inevitably some new roads will be required and in the end there is a balance between safety, economy, transport and the environment. What we do not want to see is roads which provide marvellous transport but at a huge cost to wildlife. What we do want to find are solutions somewhere more in the middle.

  199. We do hear hysterical comments about the country being covered in concrete, do we not? Do you agree with the British Road Federation who state in their figures that less than two per cent of our land mass is actually occupied by roads of any sort, of which one per cent is trunk roads, 75 per cent urban roads and the rest local government secondary roads. Would you agree with those figures?
  (Mr Thomas) I do not know whether those are the exact figures but it would seem to me that it is often less about road coverage and more about congestion. People's ability to move about is more important than the amount of road space and that is why we have been very supportive and continue to be in general of increased investment in public transport along with improvements to the road network and what we see as being likely to be of less environmental damage.


 
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