Examination of witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
140. What about other activities that might
increase the risk of flooding, like farming activities, for example,
which are not really covered by PPG. What do you intend to do
(Mr Raynsford) As you rightly say, they are not covered
by Planning Guidance because agriculture and agricultural activities
are not within the planning system. That is why we, obviously,
talk to our colleagues in MAFF about arrangements that are taking
place which are designed to help ensure that coastal defences
are effective and that land is not put at unreasonable risk of
flooding. However, I cannot use the planning system, as you know,
because the planning system does not apply.
141. Do you know whether MAFF are intending
to issue guidance to farmers to adjust practices in flood risk
(Mr Raynsford) I do not know, at the moment, but I
am more than happy to discuss that with Elliot Morley and colleagues
and come back to the Committee if there are any conclusions that
we would like to bring to your attention.
Chairman: We would like you to have some conclusions,
Minister, even if they are not readily available after you have
had your talks.
142. Just one final question: you are right
you do not have direct responsibility for agricultural practices,
but given that you do have responsibility for housing and areas
where housing development takes place, would it not be appropriate
for your Department to initiate a review of agricultural practices
in those areas by pointing out to MAFF "Here is an area at
risk, with development please make sure you have looked at it"?
(Mr Raynsford) No, I think the right approach is for
there to be continuing discussions between departments. I do not
think it is appropriate for one department to initiate activities
in an area which is the responsibility of another department.
143. All districts, when they are producing
their district plan, would have a view in their mind of the sort
of housing requirement they would have to make provision for over
the next ten years. Looking at the flood plain land which is in
the consultation document, there would be very little development
in North Kent because the whole of North Kent is identified in
the document as at risk of flooding. If North Kent is not going
to have any development, your plans for providing housing on greenfield
or brownfield sites are going to be in ruins. How are you intending
to address those issues with local planning?
(Mr Raynsford) That was exactly the point that I was
trying to get across earlier in the discussion, that it is inappropriate
to take a blanket view that there should be a presumption against
any development in a flood plain, because it would clearly entirely
prejudice our prospects of achieving 60 per cent brownfield development.
In the Thames Gateway area there is substantial brownfield land,
existing development sites, which are able to be developed with
appropriate safeguards against the risk of flooding. That is the
approach that we believe is right. Those safeguards should be
in place and they should be paid for by the developer if there
is a need for new safeguards. Therefore, we would maximise the
use of appropriate sites that can be developed safely but ensure
that there are safeguards there.
144. So will your Department be having specific
conversations with the districts that might be affected by this
problem, to discuss with them how they should approach the problem?
Or are you just leaving it to the PPG to give them that guidance?
(Mr Raynsford) It is more than the PPG, because that
is the way we formally issue guidance to local authorities. We
also liaise with the authorities through a number of other means.
In the case of the Thames Gateway authorities, the Thames Gateway
strategic framework and partnership is a way in which central
government and local authorities work together, and PPG 3 already
issued does have some pretty pertinent things to say about development
of housing on brownfield sites, including those where there is
a risk of flooding. So we have already issued guidance and we
will continue to ensure that local authorities have access to
145. I am even more confused. I thought I heard
you say in answer to Dr Ladyman that it would be inappropriate
to issue statements or warnings, whatever it may be, "this
development is in a flood plain", which was the brownfield
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
146. My area, Stoke-on-Trent, is more than meeting
its targets of houses on brownfield sites and it is riddled with
ex coal mines. Where developers come along everybody knows that
mine shafts have to be identified, everybody knows they have to
be filled and capped, and everybody is told about it. What is
the difference between an area like mine that is doing the brownfield
stuff, that is more than meeting its targets, knowing full well
there is a problem, making it clear there is a problem, making
it clear to the developers that they have got to put it right
before the development takes place and everybody who buys a house
knows that it has been put right? What is the difference?
(Mr Raynsford) There is not one. I am entirely in
147. Why do you not do the same for the flood
(Mr Raynsford) What I was arguing against was a statement
issued saying "this property is safe for a period of up to
20 or 30 years" because I simply did not believe that kind
of statement could be made by any responsible public authority
given the range of risks that exist. No-one in the case of Stoke
would issue a statement saying "you are absolutely safe,
there is no possible risk of subsidence".
148. I understand that and that has helped me
quite a lot, Minister. What you are saying is that if a development
is proposed on a flood plain, provided that is identified and
known, provided the necessary measures are taken, presumably paid
for by the developer, then that could go ahead and everybody should
know it is on a flood plain, measures have been taken and your
Department is satisfied about that?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
149. That is clear?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
150. That is very helpful.
(Mr Raynsford) The two worries I would haveI
am sorry if I did not make this clearwould be either just
a blanket statement saying "this is on a flood plain",
which would cause undue worry because it would not allow people
to make an informed decision based on their knowledge about what
remedial steps had been taken or, on the other hand, an overambitious
statement saying "you are absolutely safe on this site",
which for reasons I have already outlined I just do not think
would be reasonable.
151. On a local authority search people should
be able to discover information that is available to that local
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
152. Which would include whether or not the
property that they are intending to buy is on a flood plain. You
want to keep that information from people is what you appear to
be saying, those who are unwise enough not to find another route
of discovering it other than a local authority search, if the
information they were getting was simply telling them it was on
a flood plain.
(Mr Raynsford) I am sorry, I clearly have not been
making myself clear on this. I am not trying to keep any information
away from anyone.
153. Good. A simple answer to this question:
on a local authority search will you make it a duty upon the local
authorities to tell those people who conduct the search whether
or not the property is on a flood plain?
(Mr Raynsford) That is exactly the kind of simplistic
approach which I was counselling against because if the duty is
simply to say whether or not this property is on a flood plain,
this could, perfectly understandably, generate a great deal of
Chairman: You have gone through that, Minister.
I think the question is still a relevant one. What information
am I going to find when I instruct somebody to do a search?
Mr Stevenson: Chairman, when a developer in
Stoke comes along and they want to develop a brownfield site,
the first requirement is to check with the Coal Authority about
mine shafts on that site. The second requirement is for the developer
to fill them, to cap them and make them safe. Everybody knows
about that. It is clear to developers, to purchasers, to everybody,
and, when they are made safe, the purchasers know they are safe.
154. You see what we are saying, in my area
it is subsidence because of salt, in his area it is coal mines,
and those people expect to be given the information because why
should they be put in a position where nobody has told them?
(Mr Raynsford) I would entirely accept that. What
I am saying is that the information must be meaningful. If it
is simply a definition "this is within a flood plain"
without reference to
Chairman: We are not arguing with that.
155. But people will get this information on
whatever basis you seek to define it?
(Mr Raynsford) I hope so, yes.
156. Minister, will you undertake firstly to
give accurate information in as full a way as possible?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
157. We are giving you a lot of leeway because
you do not get any leeway on a mine, you are told "there
is a mine underneath this property". Talking about flood
plains seems to me a pretty mild objection. Will you undertake
to make it absolutely plain to anybody who does a local authority
search that there is a problem with the siting of these particular
(Mr Raynsford) I am more than happy to look further
into this issue because I can see that the Committee is
158. Will you give it to us in writing because
we are not very bright here and I think we are still a bit confused.
(Mr Raynsford) I think we are absolutely in agreement
that what we want is accurate information. I am expressing concern
about either, on the one side, over-simplistic information or
159. But over-simplistic for someone buying
a house is better than nothing because it alerts them to the fact
that there are then other questions they have to answer like "are
there defensive mechanisms in place" and they have to go
and discover that.
(Mr Raynsford) I do not agree because over-simplistic
information of the example that Dr Ladyman gave of saying "this
is absolutely safe up to 2020" could give people a false
sense of security.
Mr Blunt: That is a negative the local authority
is being asked to produce which is obviously a rather difficult
thing to establish.
Miss McIntosh: Minister, paragraph 14 states:
"The primary responsibility for safeguarding land and other
property against natural hazards such as flooding remains with
the owner." How can they be responsible if they may not know
it is liable to flooding?