Examination of witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
20. You had a lot of talks and you told them
what you wanted. Was that reflected in PPG 25?
(Dr Mance) The fact that it became a PPG as opposed
to a circular reflected some recognition of what we were saying.
That is a welcome shift. It gives it more standing. We believe
that the document has not gone far enough. We say that there should
be a sequential approach, which is that you start with no flood
risk; if you cannot achieve that because you are in such a low-lying
area you have no choice but to go to an area with some flood risk,
so then you go to a low-flood risk area, then a medium-flood risk
area and only at the end to a high-flood risk area. As the flood
risk increases it is not just a matter of allowing land development,
as there is now published guidance from the Building Research
Establishment on how to flood-proof properties so that they are
easier to re-occupy and the initial impact of a flood on them
is much less dramatic. We believe that in situations where development
in flood risk areas is unavoidable, the onus should be on the
developers to show that the development has been designed and
constructed in a way that reduces the risk and the disruption
caused by flooding. We find it very distressing when we see bungalows
being built behind four-metre high flood defences. If the embankment
is over-topped by an extreme eventwe have seen very extreme
events in the past three weeks in Yorkshireand water comes
over the top, those people will have nowhere to go that is safe.
The roof will still be below the flood level. That seems absolutely
absurd in this day and age.
21. Could there be some way of refusing access
to a mortgage or insurance if the risk of building on that flood
risk was deemed by you or PPG 25 to be too high?
(Dr Mance) That is clearly an issue for the insurance
industry and the mortgage industry to consider. We believe that
it is important, and increasingly so, that clear information about
the flood risk is publicly available and is actually picked up
in a conveyance search and so on. In that case people can make
decisions with their eyes open and they would have all the information
available to them.
22. What action has the agency taken when it
discusses a planning application with the local planning authority
and there is no mitigation to prevent flooding and the agency
knows that there is a significant danger? What action do you take?
(Dr Mance) As I commented earlier, increasingly robustly
we have made the point to a planning authority that it is a flood
risk area and that development in that location is inappropriate.
We have increasingly maintained that objection and even when it
is made clear sometimes they wish to continue and give approval.
23. How do you reflect that?
(Dr Mance) We would put that formally into the planning
system. I think we are required within 14 days to make a response
on each application to the planning authority.
24. It stops at that level, does it? Do you
take the matter higher up?
(Dr Mance) On large developments we would push harder
and talk to planning officers. We would raise the matter with
the relevant director of the local authority to try to ensure
that the issue was fully in focus and understood.
25. But the agency has a responsibility direct
to the Minister? Do these matters never go to the Minister?
(Dr Mance) We have a right to request a "call-in",
but the standing of that right to request a call-in is no different
from you or I, as members of the public, doing it.
26. Presumably if the agency comments, it has
more weight than someone else doing it. How many have you called
(Dr Mance) Legally, our advice that the issue should
be called in has the same standing as though it were given by
a member of the public.
Mr O'Brien: But the agency obviously has all
the research, all the information, so if it submits a case to
the Secretary of State, it would be much more important than an
ordinary individual doing so. How many have been called in recently?
Mr Blunt: How many times have you requested
a call-in and how many times has it happened?
27. While we are on this matter, the new PPG
25 says that if a local authority wants to approve a planning
application against your advice then they have to reconsult you.
(Dr Mance) Yes. That is a welcome advance.
28. Is that strong enough? What concerns Members
is how often you have used the power. Supposing I was going to
look at a delightful estate and somehow the developer managed
to avoid telling me that it was in the middle of a flood plain,
how would I have access to that information?
(Dr Mance) We would hope that your solicitor would
pick it up in conveyancing.
29. If we rely on solicitors we are in trouble.
(Dr Mance) From the first week in December you would
be able to go onto the Internet and see the flood risk maps on-line
and you would be able to call up by postcode the area you were
looking at to see whether it has a flood risk or not.
30. Now tell us the answers to the questions
that you have been asked.
(Dr Mance) I am not sure that we have any statistics
with us. Perhaps I can put in a supplementary memorandum on that.
31. It is something that you have done, is it?
(Dr Mance) Yes.
Mr Blunt: You would be able to tell us how many
you have asked to be called in and how many have actually been
Chairman: Have you a vague idea? Can you make
an informed guess?
32. Every time you ask for a call-in do you
get one, or every time you ask for a call-in does it hardly ever
(Mr Steward) Perhaps I may turn away from planning
applications to development plans. That is where we have some
call-in powers, if you want to call them that. We want to ensure
that the focus is at the development plan stage. Very early in
the planning process you can have clarity about the flooding issues.
If we are concerned about the plan allocation made by a local
authority, through that process we can maintain an objection to
that and ensure that it is given due consideration by a planning
inspectorate, or at the Secretary of State level, if the local
planning authority wishes to continue with that allocation. That
is the first and top priority as far as we are concernedthe
development plan process. In relation to planning applications,
we maintain objectionswe maintain a fair numberbut
when we understand that a local authority actually wants to grant
planning permission, often it is the case that we will try to
get the best out of that situation. So we go back and try to get
33. It sounds like Ministers negotiating with
(Dr Mance) That is a reasonable analogy. We shall
come back to you in regard to the statistics.
Chairman: That would help.
34. Getting away from the flood plains, in urban
areas where we have drains for the general drainage of an area,
and a development takes place that interferes with that drainage,
who is responsible? Is the Environment Agency responsible for
the drainage or the local authority?
(Dr Mance) If it interferes with the water course
and the ability of the water course to drain, then it requires
a land drainage consent from ourselves. We would, therefore, seek
to prevent interference with the drainage system. Our larger concern
is not necessarily with the surface drainage through streams but
through the sewerage system. Clearly, we have expressed our concern
as to whether investment in the infrastructure is adequate. As
there is in-fill development in areas, we are concerned whether
the sewers are checked to see whether they can carry the run-off
from the site adequately, or will we get increased frequencies
of release during storms from those sewers because they have not
been upgraded? That is quite a significant issue for us, both
in flood terms and in terms of pollution.
35. I want to pursue that point. What sort of
relationship do you have with the regional water authorities?
(Dr Mance) A mixed one. We have quite a good dialogue
with them about problems and issues and in places where we co-operate,
say, on conservation and pollution or whatever, but at other times
it is inevitable that we have a robust and confrontational interface,
where they are clearly not doing adequately in terms of pollution
36. The water authorities know their areas.
They are all based on river basins.
(Dr Mance) Yes.
37. Surely, they have a wealth of knowledge
about flooding and the general water run-off in the whole of the
river basin area. Are you saying that they are not managing that
(Dr Mance) Specifically in urban areas, where surface
run-off and drainage from a site goes to a sewer and mixes in
with foul sewage, there is clearly a temptation where there is
in-fill housing to connect more and more houses or commercial
developments to the same facilities and not necessarily upgrading
the capacity of that sewer system to cater for that increased
demand. In those situations you get problems with the pipes not
being able to convey all the water and during storms there are
extra releases from those systems into the local streams which
act as storm overflows which gives us pollution problems.
38. What advice are you giving water authorities
on this and other matters, given the fact that our weather patterns
do seem to have changed? We have had a spate of two-months rain
in a couple of weeks. That is a developing trend, so what sort
of talks are you having with the authorities to ensure that that
is taken fully into account?
(Dr Mance) Through the exercise of the periodic review
of water prices, we have made it clear that we effectively have
created a benchmark for existing problems. We have made it clear
that we are robust in taking action against any new problems that
emerge through a failure to maintain infrastructure. That relates
to pipework below ground. We have also raised this with the Environmental
Audit Select Committee in their inquiry into the recent price
review, and we are discussing it with OFWAT, as the price and
economic regulator, to try to ensure that this issue is properly
addressed and resourced. The DETR has also been engaged in those
39. As an agency, do you support the fact that
global warming is causing this freak weather?
(Dr Mance) I am not sure whether we can state categorically
that what we have seen is as a result of global warming.