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


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (FPO 7A)

DEVELOPMENT ON, OR AFFECTING, THE FLOODPLAIN

  During the Agency's oral evidence, information was requested by the committee on the following matters:

1.  THAMES TIDAL DEFENCES

  The Agency is developing a strategy for managing flood risk throughout the whole estuary up until the year 2100. Previous plans have only considered the years up to 2030, but this has changed now due to the complexity of the systems involved, and the potential long-term impact of any major strategy decisions, which may be made over the next few years.

  Preliminary investigations indicate that the continued provision of a 1 in 1,000 defence standard to the year 2100 is feasible but modifications of the Thames Barrier and other defences will be required. At present we estimate that investment of £4,000 million will be needed over the next 40 years to maintain the current standard of defence until 2100. This is based on works to the existing barrier and defences. The Agency has not actively investigated the building of a "lower Thames Barrier", ie another Thames Barrier downstream of the existing location.

  Current estimates are that sea level relative to land could rise between 0.6 and 1.0 metre over the next 100 years in this part of the country. This is partly as a result of the sea level rising, and partly due to post-glacial ground levels falling. There is a considerable amount of uncertainty over these figures and we are keeping close to the latest research and scientific recommendations. Due to the funnelling effect of the Thames Estuary, the effects of sea level rise are anticipated to be greater closer to London than in the more open estuary. It is expected that Climate Change will increase the frequency, severity and unpredictability of storm and surge events. This would affect tidal and fluvial flooding issues and our flood warning procedures are being continuously improved.

  Major developments have been built and others are proposed, which would place increasing numbers of people at risk in the event of extreme flooding. One example is Thamesmead on the South Bank, where large numbers of houses are built as low as four metres below normal high tide level, and are only prevented from flooding by embankments and four substantial pumping stations. Further development is proposed for this area, increasing the reliance on these methods of flood defence.

2.  KEY STATISTICS—ENVIRONMENT AGENCY EFFECTIVENESS RE: PLANNING APPLICATIONS (APRIL 1999—MARCH 2000)

Criteria
Total
per cent

Number of planning applications seen by Environment Agency
97,693
Number of seen by Flood Defence
17,568
18
Number of objections on flood risk grounds
1,558
9
Number of "maintained" objections
818
53
Number of planning permissions granted against Agency advice
215
26


  These statistics are a crude snapshot of the extent to which decisions on Planning Applications address flood risk issues under current guidance. The statistics do not reflect in any way the scale or location of development, nor cumulative increases in flood risk arising from development and changes in land management.

  A broader picture is provided by considering the amount of development proposed in floodplains (from commercial databases). For example, 4,000 houses were proposed in floodplains in 1996, compared with 20,000 so far this year.

  The statistics do not provide a full analysis of flood risk issues in the development and planning processes. The effectiveness of the PPG should be evaluated against the performance of Regional Planning Guidance and Development Plans in achieving safe development.

  These data show that further work is needed to ensure that PPG 25 achieves the intended policy objectives.

3.  CALL IN OF PLANNING APPLICATIONS

  Planning applications of more than local significance can be "called in" by the Secretary of State. The Agency has no more power than any member of the public does to require that a planning application is "called in". The Agency has not made any requests to the Secretary of State for planning applications to be "called in" between April 1999 and March 2000.

  The Agency will maintain necessary objections to policies and/or land allocations in Regional Planning Guidance and Development Plans to ensure that those policies and land allocations are considered by the Secretary of State or Planning Inspectorate.

ENVIRONMENT AGENCY IMPACT ON PLANNING APPROVALS IN FLOOD RISK AREAS

  The statistics provided by the Agency in its evidence reflect the impact of the considerable efforts of the Agency to persuade Planning Authorities of the significance of flood risks. The serious floods of Easter 1998 in the Midlands and subsequently elsewhere have helped make this persuasion successful.

  The Agency's experience, however, is that the memory of flooding in the planning system can be short-lived, 2-4 years. The Agency is therefore concerned that, in the absence of a strong, clear, Government policy on development in flood risk areas, a few flood free years will result in progressively less success in influencing the planning system.

Dr Geoff Mance
Director of Water Management

30 November 2000


 
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