Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2001
MR S THOMAS,
MR D MARKHAM
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.
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
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.
188. They issue those every month.
(Mr Gilliland) Yes, that is right, the figures are
issued every month.
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
(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
roleone expects and that is what they sayin 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
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 inappropriatea
general wordroad 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