Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency


  The organogram is annexed.

2.  Details of what has happened to planning applications since the introduction of PPG25, and specifically what happens when a local authority simply allows an application in the face of advice about flooding risk.

  Awareness of flood risk has been dramatically raised by the publication of PPG25 which gives advice on how to treat flood risk more systematically. Anecdotal evidence suggests that local planning authorities are taking flood risk more seriously. It is important that the Agency and local planning authorities work closely together on this matter and achieve better outcomes in the future than they have in the past.

  The Agency will continue to collect evidence on planning applications where development goes ahead against its advice and report annually to Government under the High Level Targets. The next report will cover the 12 month period from the publication of PPG25.

  Government policy on the calling in of planning applications depends on whether the impact of the development is likely to be of more than local significance. Call-in in these circumstances is more likely to be considered appropriate if substantive objection from the Agency is in prospect of being over-ruled by the local planning authority without sufficient counter-balancing reasons.

  With regard to Scotland, National Planning Policy Guidance 7, Planning and Flooding (1995) requires that:

    "Where the planning authority intend to approve an application contrary to the advice of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that there is a risk of flooding, the planning authority shall notify that application to the Secretary of State who shall have 28 days to decide whether to call in the application for his own decision."

3.  Table setting out the finances relating to flood prevention and flood defence including what has been asked for against what has been delivered and promised.

  Expenditure outturn and plans for flood and coastal defence is provided below, together with a comparison of the indicative requirements as identified in the research on the National Appraisal of Assets at Risk. It must be emphasised that the research results are based on incomplete data and significant assumptions and therefore are only intended to provide indicative results. It is also the case that capital flood and coastal defence works can have lengthy lead times and the operating authorities will need time to build up to increased programmes. The following table starts at 2000-01 (which is the base year for the National Appraisal report) and is a "best estimate" of the breakdown between capital maintenance and other (eg flood warning, operational costs) expenditure as detailed figures are not readily available.


for Longer
* Indicative requirement to maintain current standards of defence, to improve to indicative standards in longer term and mitigate climate change impacts.

** Expenditure increased to carry out emergency repairs following the autumn 2000 floods.

  The sources of funding for flood and coastal defence expenditure are as follows:

£ million
DEFRA (grant, Supplementary credit Approvals and contributions)
DEFRA (Storm Tide Forecasting, R & D etc)
DTLR funding delivered through local authorities
Other (approx)
* Includes contributions, as opposed to grant to the Environment Agency of:

£9mfor emergency response and repair costs
£3mfor special funding for feasibility and design costs
£1.7mfor catchment flood management plans
£1mfor flood warning public awareness campaign
£0.8mfor other flood warning initiatives and the national flood and coastal defence database.


  In 1999 a review by the Advisory Committee on Research into Flood and Coastal Defence recommended that the previously separate flood and coastal defence research programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (as it was then called) and the Environment Agency (EA) should be combined into a Joint Programme. This arrangement was instituted for the current year 2001-02.

  The programme has a budget of £3.8 million per annum for 2001-02, with DEFRA contributing £2.6 million and the EA £1.2 million. The budget will rise to £4.1 million in 2002-03 with DEFRA contributing £2.6 million and EA £1.5 million. Funding in following years is subject to review under the Spending Review 2002.

  The DEFRA/EA Programme for Flood and Coastal Defence R & D is set within a wider landscape of R & D expenditure. Collaborative links and synergies are actively sought wherever possible to avoid overlaps and increase value for money. Some examples are:

    —  climate change is being researched through the UKCIP;
    —  effects of changing land-use are of wide interest in DEFRA;
    —  links are frequently made with industry through CIRIA;
    —  NERC has recent and current programmes such as the LOIS and the LOCAR projects;
    —  a combined £4.5 million NERC/EPSRC Floods programme is planned for 2003-04; and
    —  European Union projects (FP5 programme) are co-funded, eg Wave Overtopping of Coastal Structure.

5.  The number of river engineers in the Environment Agency

  The Environment Agency has some 750 river and coastal engineers working in flood risk management in England and Wales together with over 500 engineers that are available from national capital programme framework consultants. This does not take into account the engineers employed by other consultants that are used periodically.

6.  What improvements to flood warning systems will result from the investment of £100 million on the next decade? Is £100 million enough?

  The current strategy for flood warning improvements (approved in 2000) identified the following main outcomes:

    —  improvements in coverage of the warning service by identifying additional areas at risk and installing the necessary systems to provide flood forecasts;
    —  improved effectiveness of the system (through improved instrumentation, improved links with the Met Office, better models and more effective techniques for distributing warnings); and
    —  a more effective response from those who received warnings through improved liaison in emergency planning, emergency exercises and public awareness campaigns.

  This is to be achieved by investment in extending telemetry, radar and other instrumentation; public awareness campaigns; local flood plans and emergency exercises, supported by R & D.

  The Agency is reviewing this strategy and some further requirements have been identified, in particular the need for further investment in telemetry improvements, weather radar, improved messaging systems and improved modelling. The additional investment is intended to improve the certainty with which an improved service can be delivered.

7.  What plans do you have to ensure that the Automatic Voice Messaging Service can provide more specific warnings? Would it be possible to disseminate warnings tailored specifically, say, to the risk of flooding in a particular postcode.

  Technology and an appreciation of the needs of target audiences will assist in improving the specificity of the direct warning service. Emerging communications technologies such as e-mail, Internet, SMS texting, pager, fax and digital TV/Radio will be exploited. Research is underway to elucidate the needs of vulnerable groups who are affected by flooding. Also liaison with community groups will assist promotion, development and application of the service.

  Since early December 2001, the Environment Agency has used the Internet to disseminate 24-hour real time flood warnings to the public. The site shows the real time flood warning situation with the number, type of flood warnings in force and their location. Users can search the site by town, postcode, river, warning status and from a flood warning area map.

8.  What is the latest statistical evidence of global warming? To what extent have sea levels risen, the weather become warmer and heavy downpours become more frequent?

  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their 2001 Summary for Policy makers identified the following evidence (amongst others):

    —  20th Century surface temperature increase has been 0.6+/- 0.2 degC;
    —  surface temperature warming since 1979 has been 0.15 +/- 0.05 degC/decade; and
    —  20th Century global average sea level rise has been 0.1 to 0.2 metres.

  For precipitation specifically in the UK it has been suggested[2] that winter precipitation intensity has increased and summer precipitation intensity decreased over the period 1961-95. Using longer records which are less spatially representative the winter trend is maintained whereas the summer is not, demonstrating the intrinsic variability of weather systems. No coherent trends have been identified for autumn or spring.

  Following the autumn 2000 floods the Department commissioned a research project to examine whether these floods could be attributed to climate change. This work was carried out jointly by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Wallingford and the Met Office. They concluded that these events were extreme but could not in themselves be attributed to climate change. They noted, however, that heavy rainfall and peak river flow of similar durations have been increasing in frequency and magnitude over the last 50 years. They also stated that this pattern is consistent with model predictions of how human induced climate change is expected to affect rainfall but it is not yet possible to say how far such events can be attributed to climate change as opposed to natural variability.

14 December 2001

2   T J Osborn et al "Observed trends in the daily intensity of UK precipitation" Int J Climatol. 20: 347-364 (2000). Back

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