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


Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000

DR GEOFFREY MANCE, MR JONATHAN CHAPMAN AND MR PATRICK STEWARD

Mr Blunt

  60. You think that that should be in the policy planning guidance, when it is redrafted?
  (Dr Mance) The redraft should make it clear that the onus is on the developer to prove that it is safe and appropriate to develop in those locations in terms of flood risk.

  61. Earlier you referred to the pricing review of the water industry. I have a dozen areas in my constituency that flood regularly with a combination of sewage and run-off water every time it rains heavily. Thames Water says that in the last price review they were given only sufficient funds over the next five years to protect 1,500 further homes that were at risk of flooding. It appears that the number of homes that are flooding is increasing rather than decreasing. It is your view that that was a wholly inadequate part of the pricing review. As far as the water companies were concerned in relation to the resources that they were able to develop to protect people from sewage flooding, that was wholly inadequate and should be changed at the earliest opportunity so that they can put in more resources with the effect that prices will go up?
  (Dr Mance) I think we made it clear that we had our doubts about whether adequate resources were being made available to the water companies to deal with the maintenance of their infrastructure. Slicing that down to individual items is a problem. We agree with the Environmental Audit Select Committee in their recent report, where they again said that there should be much more emphasis put on infrastructure.

  62. I am encouraging you to be robust.
  (Dr Mance) We try to be.

Christine Butler

  63. Do you have a firm opinion that the local development plan, from the draft stage to the deposited plan, should clearly show flood plains on the map, based on your data?
  (Mr Steward) We believe that it is important, yes, that development plans and proposal maps show flood plains.

  64. I meant the map because that is a little more graphic. If it were hidden away in words people would argue about it, but it should be on the map, as a designated thing. It would be sourced from your agency and not from any other opinion.
  (Mr Steward) Yes.

  65. You talked about the Thames Estuary. Were you talking about the whole of the estuary, the catchment area which is massive, or were you talking about the reaches of the Thames which are navigable?
  (Dr Mance) I meant purely the tidal defences on the estuary. The most visible part is the Thames Barrier, but there are 150 kilometres plus of defences downstream of the Thames Barrier, which contain the water otherwise the Thames Barrier itself would generate flooding, seawards of the barrier. For the whole of that system alone we estimate £4 billion over 40 years.

  66. My constituency includes Canvey Island. What is your opinion of having a lower Thames Barrier?
  (Dr Mance) The barrier's design has a planned standard of service which climate change and sea level rise means will not be sustained beyond I think 2030, although it may be 2020. That is why we have been looking to see what we need to do to the system to maintain that standard of service through to 2100.

  67. Could we have some notes on that, including what research you have done on the possibilities of a lower Thames Barrier?
  (Dr Mance) We can provide you with a note on the assessment that we have done of investment need and how the system should be upgraded to maintain the standard of defence.

  68. If you have had any thinking or meetings on the possibility of a lower barrier can you give that to the Committee? Finally, you will be aware that you do not have enough powers. I find it astonishing that the Environment Agency sometimes does not use the power that it has. I am going on now to the system of dykes and drains that exist in various parts of the country and which are dominant on Canvey Island. The Environment Agency is willing not to take enforcement action where they have been filled in in an authorised way, relating to developments that have no planning permission and they have been allowed to be culverted or filled in. Would you please take a more robust stance in such matters because we expect that they are there for flood capacity and quite plainly I can see dire effects?
  (Dr Mance) Perhaps I can pick up the detail outside the meeting.

Mr Stevenson

  69. It occurs to me that in additional to the high and consistent level of rainfall, many factors that exacerbate the situation take place in other areas other than where the flood actually happens. Would you agree with that? Do you think that there needs to be more emphasis on the regional aspects of planning guidance?
  (Mr Steward) There is already quite a lot of emphasis on regional planning guidance. Recently we have had published PPG 11 which gives firm guidance. It promotes the consideration of catchment-wide issues.

  70. What is your relationship like with regional development agencies?
  (Mr Steward) Very good.

  71. Who is responsible for flood defence measures and the costs? Is it your agency?
  (Dr Mance) I wish it were a simple answer. We are responsible for the main arterial drainage, funded by a levy on council tax from county councils, metropolitan councils or unitary authorities, supported by MAFF grants. For smaller water courses outside of internal drainage boards, the responsibility is that of the local authorities at district council level and within internal drainage boards it is the internal drainage boards responsibility funded by a local rate.

  72. In other words, it comes out of the public purse?
  (Dr Mance) Yes.

  73. Where development takes place that is not consistent with your advice—in other words is contrary to your advice—do you not think that there should be a facility like a 106 agreement, where the developer pays for those flood defences? Why should the money come out of the public purse, especially when it takes place against your advice?
  (Dr Mance) I entirely agree. The difficulty is that we do not enter into the 106 agreements; it is the planning authority. The onus is then on the planning authority to do so and enforce the agreement.

  74. I understand that, but you would have no objection to that. If it were contrary to your advice there would be an onus on the developers to ensure that they pay for the necessary flood defences.
  (Dr Mance) There are examples of it happening now—

Chairman

  75. Could you give the Committee a list of the sort of things that are already happening?
  (Dr Mance) Yes.

Mr Bennett

  76. On the consultation on PPG 25, the department has given us a summary of the issues that are now outstanding. Are you happy with the way in which the negotiations are going with the department?
  (Dr Mance) We have not had the benefit of the advice that they have given you. That is slightly difficult. Jonathan may wish to comment on the current state of the discussions.
  (Mr Chapman) In section 2.1 of our memorandum we identify the main issues from our original response to the PPG. In section 2.2 we talk about issues relating to the recent floods. The department has taken on board a lot of the comments that we made.

  77. What has it not taken on board?
  (Mr Chapman) The main area that we would seek to be clearer on is how the issue is to be sorted out. We all know what the issue is; we want to have the solutions clearly identified in a systematic way for all the players to go through and a level playing field all around.

  78. Do you worry that there is still vagueness in the proposed changes to the draft?
  (Dr Mance) We have had some very positive discussions. We have not seen a recent redraft to know how far they are permeating into the text.

  79. What impact have the recent events had on your staff?
  (Dr Mance) In parts of the country our staff are exhausted. I would like to take the opportunity to thank both our staff and those of local authorities, the emergency services and the Armed Forces who have worked round the clock for several weeks. In Yorkshire they are still on 24-hour rostering, three weeks in, and that will carry on for a good few days yet. It is often forgotten that they are, therefore, tired; they have not had a social life for three weeks; and their whole family lives have been disrupted. The general view—not just our own—is that the response has gone well and has been professionally handled. There are obviously odd cases where perhaps we need to go back and see how we do things, but it is a very different picture from, say, three years ago. The staff are tired now and looking forward to someone turning off the tap so that they can rest.


 
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