Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
100. Do you recognise there is a problem that
if you build hard defences around areas that are a priority to
defend that that can have the effect of encouraging either flooding
or erosion in other areas where that would not take place had
the strategic decision not been taken to build hard defences?
I think that does raise the issue then of compensation for those
landowners or properties affected and consultation about how the
whole process is managed around those properties because generally
the assumption is if the property erodes that is the landowner's
problem but if government is taking decisions in terms of hard
defences around certain areas that lead to the erosion of land
further down the coast, then obviously there is an argument that
there is some national responsibility to those landowners that
(Mr Morley) You are absolutely right, Chairman. Any
engineered scheme, in fact any scheme at all that is approved
for grant aid by the Department must go through an assessment
of, first of all, whether it is technically right, secondly, whether
it is cost effective and, thirdly, its environmental impact, and
part of that assessment is whether or not if the scheme goes ahead
it will impact on other communities or indeed the dynamics of
the waterways of the coast. The Agency engineers are, of course,
very well aware of this, as indeed are our own engineers from
DEFRA so no scheme is approved until that assessment has been
(Sir John Harman) It is fair to say that quite often
people feel there has been an impact and it is quite hard to evidence
that, things pass into folklore. We were talking earlier about
the Humber, the whole of the decision-making around the Humber
is taken in the context of something called the Humber Shoreline
Management Plan. The whole estuary is such a dynamic system you
really do have to think about it altogether and you cannot take
individual flood defence decisions in that particular location
without a planning system.
(Mr Morley) It is a very good planning system.
101. I want to come on to flood risk because
that is what it is all about. Are you going to do anything or
are you not, so you have got to work out does it need it or does
it not, is it worth doing it? The Institution of Civil of Engineers
concludes that current methods of estimating and reducing flood
risk suffer from "a serious inadequacy in representing the
dynamic effects of land use changes, catchment processes and climatic
variability." Do you think you do suffer from serious deficiencies?
Are you inadequate in what you can do?
(Mr Morley) I sometimes feel I am! But I think what
they are talking about is a fairly narrow aspect in relation to
their comments there and that deals with the estimation of the
developments on flood plains and the impact that they can have.
I would accept that we do need more sophisticated computer modelling
and we do need to do a lot more work on that, but overall it should
not be taken as a generalised criticism of the approach. It is
to do with specific issues of estimating the effects of possible
future changes in land use, catchment processes such as rainfall
infiltration, and also climate change and trying to quantify the
impacts of climate change. That is what they are talking about.
We accept that and we are doing a lot of work and putting a lot
of investment into research and development on how we can address
102. I have got here a News Release of September
2001 "Elliot Morley announces an update of the assessment
of national flood and erosion risks". You have talked about
computer modelling there. Are you going to put in extra computer
modelling so they have the tools to do the job properly?
(Mr Morley) We have a departmental R&D budget
and I can send the Committee details of what some of the studies
are. For example, on climate change, we are supporting the Hadley
Centre for forecasting with £5 million or £6 million,
just from memory, and of course we do support various studies
in relation to coastal dynamics and river systems so that is an
on-going process but I can give you the details of what we spend
(Sir John Harman) Can I add to the Minister's answer
on that. Going back to your first question, I accept what the
Institution said but not how it was reported. The Institution
said there was a serious inadequacy in the models that we use
in the fact that they are static rather than dynamic models. There
is not a serious inadequacy in the flood risk assessment that
those models give and I think it is quite important not to undermine
confidence in what we know about flood risks in catchments. Yes
we can make it better. The fact we are using static models based
in many cases on data collected in the early 1990s means that
of course those models need updating. It is a bit like the Census
and, indeed, we are doing that at the moment. Better than that
would be to have a model that could make predictions about what
will happen in terms of flood risk if a particular development
takes place in a catchment, if one makes assumptions about increased
rainfall or patterns of rainfall, if one makes assumptions about
the hydro-geology of the area or you want to change those assumptions.
So dynamic models will be an improvement, I agree very strongly
with the Institution on that. But I do not think you should have
any lack of confidence in the utility of the models we are presently
operating. They do give pretty good results. They could be better
but they are not inadequate.
(Mr Morley) The Institution was also very supportive
of the recent flood risk handbook produced in 1999 with a lot
of ICE input, as a matter of fact. The Committee might also be
interested in an example of what we are talking about in that
there is a joint R&D project between DEFRA and the Agency
for a computer-based modelling and decision support framework
on the MDS model. This is just being developed. The first edition
is currently being tested and it will be made available for those
carrying out the first round of the catchment flood management
plans at the beginning of 2002, so we are making good progress
103. All of this is very important because people
do not get the flood defences that they want or need until the
risk assessment has been fully carried out. As Sir John has said,
lots of places, including the River Severn, are relying on the
early static models that were done in the 1990s and I know that
in the Severn there has been a lot of talk about completely re-modelling
and updating that work because so many changes have gone on and
we know so much more and we know so much less. Has the remodelling
for the Severn been completed?
(Mr Morley) The Severn is one of the river systems
where we are financing whole catchment plan studies and that is
under way at the present time.
104. It is under way, it is not finished?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
105. The second thing I want to go onto is the
same Institution of Civil Engineers said that "the appropriate
technical skills are lacking within the industry, from drainage
engineers in local authorities, to river engineers in the Environment
Agency, and skilled hydraulic specialists in universities."
In fact, there is a skill shortage all around according to them.
To what extent are you suffering from this skills shortage and
what are you doing about it so you get the necessary people in
with the necessary technical knowledge and skills so that we can
do the appropriate work?
(Mr Morley) This is a national problem, Chairman,
in that there has been a shortage of people entering university
to study civil engineering. Engineering generally has never had
the image that some other professions have had in terms of attracting
students, which is surprising because it is a very fulfilling
profession and it is a key role for people to have. I know that
the Institution of Civil Engineers are very keen to encourage
more people to go into training. I know that the Agency has some
training courses itself in terms of flood defences and flood engineers,
and we recently have been talking from DEFRA to our colleagues
in the Department for Education and Employment about what we can
do to encourage people to go into skill shortage areas. So we
do recognise that there is a need to encourage the number of people
going through and qualifying as engineers.
106. For instance, how many river engineers
does the Environment Agency employ?
(Sir John Harman) I would have to go away and look
that one up. Is there a shortage? Yes, there is. Has it prevented
us adequately delivering our programme? No, it has not because
we have done a great deal of internal training. It has been necessary
to do that training. If we are looking (and I hope we are looking)
at a much increased programme in flood defences, then the issue
of the skills available in the industry will have to be addressed.
There is a shortage and we are just about managing at our present
107. Just about managing?
(Sir John Harman) Just about managing.
108. Gentlemen, we have had quite a wide-ranging
discussion this morning. You were going to give us some figures
in writing about the investment levels correlated to the risks
which they are intended to address because obviously there is
a correlation there. I would personally find it helpful to have
an organogram of who does what in this business. If it rains like
it did last year again this year then I can find out who I am
supposed to get hold of. Who does sewers, who does drains, who
does little rivers, who does big rivers, who does land above X
feet, who does land below X feet. I still think that is information
which people do find very confusing.
(Mr Morley) We can certainly provide that for you,
Chairman. Generally speaking, if there is some kind of crisis
issue you will find my name linked with it somewhere!
109. One valedictory question, if we were to
get a repeat of the winter that we had a year ago, are you confident
that we are much better prepared now, or are the time lines in
the investment such that you would be able to make that predication
for next year or the year after?
(Mr Morley) I am confident that we are well prepared.
I am not complacent about this. I think there is a lot that we
need to do, and John touched upon some of the development work
that the Agency is doing, particularly on its Flood Line network,
which I think has great potential in terms of helping individuals
and I am very keen to see that progress. In terms of the emergency
response that we would need in any flood situation, I am very
confident that we have a good and well-tried and well-prepared
response structure available for people. I am also confident that
we are "making good progress", it is a phrase that Mrs
Shephard used, in terms of reducing risk. We can never take away
completely the risk of flooding in this country. We cannot guarantee
that flooding will not happen and that was the theme of the ICE
Report. In fact, the very title of the ICE report was Learning
to Live with Rivers, and was about managing risks, managing
rivers and managing these issues, but our job is to reduce risk
to the people of this country, and I believe we have a programme
in place that is delivering in that but it is a long-term programme
and, of course, because river systems are dynamic, the weather
system appears to be changing, we have to take into account the
implications of such things as global warming, and we must respond
to that in a dynamic way as well. You cannot do that overnight.
I believe we have the process in place which is improving service
delivery, which is reducing risk, and we are also open-minded
about future changes, taking into account some of the recommendations,
for example, from your last Committee Report. We are in the process
of trying to think through that and, as I say, you will see that
the report on the funding review does address many of the suggestions
that came forward from this Committee in the last report and that
will go out to consultation very soon.
110. I have a very sneaky question because I
was meant to be here and unfortunately I had to slip away. We
are going on to look at alternatives to traditional use of farmland,
and there is the idea of tendering in flood land that is being
(Mr Morley) Yes.
111. I am just very interested in the model
of the National Forest and that tendering process. Is that applicable
to farm land that could be used as flood prevention? Is that a
(Mr Morley) Not at this stage but all options are
open as far as I am concerned. The idea of flood storage catchment
and using farm land for that is a very interesting one, and it
is certainly one that we are giving very serious thought to in
river plains and river catchment areas. The reason why we are
thinking about this is that if we can expand winter catchment
areas on flood plains then you can reduce peaks and if you reduce
the peaks going down the river you protect a lot of small communities
who may not qualify at the present time for expensive defences,
and of course you are taking pressure off existing defences. We
are very seriously considering this approach but it needs much
112. It has been a great relief to have had
a session of two hours in which the phrases "cross-cutting",
"joined up" or "rolling out" have not occurred.
(Mr Morley) We can soon rectify that!
Chairman: We are grateful that we have communicated
with each other in something resembling English and we hope we
continue to do so. Thank you very much indeed.