Examination of witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
120. I have two issues to raise with the Minister.
The first is that you have said that you should not rule out development
in flood plains where measures are in place, and you have cited
the Thames Barrier. Are you aware that according to the Environment
Agency by 2020 or, possibly, 2030 the Barrier, " . . . will
not be able to sustain the standard of service", which I
take to mean that there might be flooding? Their estimate is that
there will be a requirement for £4 billion to be spent over
40 years in the Thames Estuary area to resolve this issue. Can
you tell us what moneys will actually be available, and would
it not be sensible to stop development going ahead in the flood
plain area if guarantees are not forthcoming that those funds
will be available over that time-scale to deal with this problem?
(Mr Raynsford) As you will appreciate, coastal defences
are a matter for my colleagues at MAFF, and I know that they are
well aware of these issues and are considering them very carefully.
I have to say I disagree with your suggestion that there should
be a moratorium on any building in flood plains because of that
potential risk in a period beyond 2020. It clearly is our responsibility
to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place and I cannot
obviously speak for my colleagues in MAFF but we will certainly
be keen to ensure that appropriate measures are taken. However,
to stop all development in the London flood plain because of a
theoretical risk beyond 2020 would essentially be to say "We
are consigning our whole brownfield strategy to the dustbin",
and that would mean far more building on greenfield sites, which
I suspect would not have the support of this Committee.
121. I do not think the Environment Agency was
saying that there was a theoretical risk if they have quantified
what needs to be spent over a 40-year period to address it, but
let us let that pass. The second issue is that we have heard from
the Environment Agency today that one million people could be
put at risk if there is not a tough PPG 25. With a toughened PPGand
you have indicated that you want thathow many people do
you think will be left at risk? Is it acceptable for any to be
left at risk, or is there an acceptable threshold which you would
be satisfied with in terms of numbers or frequency of flooding,
(Mr Raynsford) We want to ensure that in cases of
all new development no development takes place that puts people
at risk, and that is where the sequential approach that I have
suggested is absolutely fundamental to ensure that we are always
looking for the sites that provide the safest option. However,
I cannot, I am afraid, repair the damage that has been done by
inappropriate development in the past in areas that may be vulnerable.
As far as new development is concerned, our aim will be to ensure
that all development is properly protected, either because it
is in a site which is not deemed to be at risk, or because appropriate
defence measures have been taken to safeguard that site. One cannot
give an absolute guarantee because there are extreme climatic
circumstances that we cannot anticipate now, which could, in the
case of a tidal wave, completely overwhelm any defences. What
I can say is that on the normal risk base assessment our aim is
to ensure that no development takes place that is not protected
in an appropriate way.
122. So your aim is to ensure that in relation
to each and every one of those one million people currently identified
in possible developments in flood plain areas nobody would be
(Mr Raynsford) Our aim would be to ensure that all
developments that take place are protected, either by the nature
of the site or by the defensive measures that are taken to protect
that site, and that those should provide a more than adequate
safeguard against risks that can be reasonably foreseen.
123. Is your Department and that of MAFF putting
their heads together to look at future risks of tidal flood within
the Thames Estuary, which might include looking at options for
a lower Thames Barrier and other measures?
(Mr Raynsford) We are, and the Deputy Prime Minister,
as I mentioned earlier, has been particularly keen to discuss
the wider issues. He emphasised that the recent floods are a wake-up
call to ensure that we do look more seriously than we have in
the past. He is currently in Holland for reasons you will know
to do with the important conference in The Hague, but he is today
visiting some sites where specific defences have been put in place
to safeguard against the risk of flooding in that country, which
is even more vulnerable than much of the UK. So I can assure you
he is very much appraised of the problems and he is discussing
with a wide range of other bodies, including other government
departments and the relevant agencies, what needs to be done in
the longer term, not just in the short term.
124. Which could include a lower Thames Barrier,
amongst other things? Is it not important to distinguish in your
answers and in our questions the differences between the fluvial
flood plain and the tidal one? Supposing a local authority were
minded to not allow residential development in an area of fluvial
plain, or very close to it and at risk, and yet it is not defended
in firm policy yet? Would it win?
(Mr Raynsford) We cannot, obviously, anticipate what
would happen on any individual appeal that might come to our Department
in the event of an appeal against a planning decision. It would
be wrong of me to give a blanket judgment in advance. As you know,
we have a quasi judicial role. What I can say is that we are keen
to ensure there are appropriate policies in place to provide safeguards
for any new development that is contemplated in areas where there
is a risk of flooding.
125. I am slightly confused in the answers you
gave to Mr Brake and what you said earlier. You said you want
to protect property from a serious risk of flooding, and you then
said to Mr Brake you wanted to give, in effect, absolute protection.
Is there a working definition inside the Department? Is it against
one in a thousand year floods, or is it against one in a hundred
year floods? If properties, for example, are due to be built on
greenfield that was under water 40 years ago, and defence mechanisms
could not be built, what would be the position of your Department?
(Mr Raynsford) Again, if I can just say, it is always
wrong to extrapolate on the basis of past trends because future
patterns may well differ, so I will not use that particular example.
However, your point is a valid one, that there is a hierarchy
of risk, and that is defined and that is what we are proposing
to adopt in the sequential approach that I outlined to the Committee.
Our objective is to ensureif I can clarify again what I
said in response to Mr Brakethat we are providing safeguards
against all reasonably foreseeable risks. I did say that one could
not guard against any risk at all, because some so catastrophic
that they cannot be seen and have never been experienced before
could occur, and that would make any such
126. But "foreseeable risk" includes
climate change that we appear to be undergoing due to global warming.
(Mr Raynsford) Foreseeable risks include the risks
both of tidal and coastal problems associated with rising sea
levels and other implications of global warming. They include
the flooding of river valleys which we have experienced very badly
over the last two months, associated with particularly high levels
of rainfall and the difficulty of the existing systems absorbing
that level of water. These are risks that we are defining, there
are specific testswhether it is one in a hundred or one
in a thousandthat apply in different circumstances, and
our intention is to apply those risks in the sequential approach.
127. Those tests will be clear in the new PPG
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
128. Minister, subject to Planning Policy Guidance
issued by your Department, you have quite rightly put the onus
on local authorities, in particular, to implement their planning
decisions consistent with that guidance and the wider public interest.
Trying to put this in a context, is it possible for you to supply
the Committee with how many appeals have been upheld by your Department
following refusal by local authorities to allow development to
take place on flood plains over the last ten years, let us say?
(Mr Raynsford) I imagine it would be possible for
us to obtain that. I have not got it to hand, but I will ask my
officials to look into that and I will write to the Committee
if I may with an answer.
129. Thank you. Second question. In the consultation
document to PPG 25, at paragraph 21, Planning Control, it states
(and I paraphrase somewhat) that development should be safe and
not increase the flood risk elsewhere or threaten the new designated
sites. Where necessary conditions should be attached to permissions
to secure these objectives. Where these objectives cannot be secured,
permission should be refused. Presumably, using the sequential
approach, some of those conditions would mean adequate defences
(Mr Raynsford) The sequential approach would involve
looking at sites that were available that did meet the criteria,
and if an alternative site is available which clearly is safe
then it would be perverse to permit development on a site that
was seen as a high risk or potential risk site when there was
an alternative site which was readily available which was safe.
130. I understand that, but this paragraph does
talks about where, in the wider overall interest, permission is
granted for development within a flood plain. That is the context
of the paragraph. So that is the basis of my question. Presumably,
some of the requirements may mean flood defences.
(Mr Raynsford) Yes, indeed.
131. Who should pay for those flood defences?
(Mr Raynsford) Our guidanceand this is, again,
set out in the draft PPG 25 and I have already indicated we intend
to stick to thatis that the developer should pay for those
132. Thank you. My last question is to do with
something, I must say, I do not quite understand in the guidance,
but you will forgive me. The library note on the PPG 25 consultation
document has, right at the top bullet point: "Draft guidance
advises that the susceptibility of land to flooding is a material
consideration." That is the kernel of the thing. However,
according to your consultation document "Flood issues have
long been recognised as being material planning considerations".
What has changed?
(Mr Raynsford) The change is from circulars which
were the vehicle by which concerns were previously expressed by
Government, and circulars were issued in 198217 in 1982and
circular 30 in 1992. The Planning Policy Guidance which we are
now issuing is an upgrade of the seriousness with which the issue
is taken, because Planning Policy Guidance notes do have a formal
status in the planning system, and by definition have to be considered
in all planning matters. It is upgrading the concern and importance
of the subject
133. Your Department has strengthened its intentions?
(Mr Raynsford) We have strengthened that, but above
all it is the content of the guidance that has been strengthened.
134. Subject to Mrs Dunwoody's permission, I
would like to press you on that for clarification. If I am sitting
on a development control sub-committee in a local authority and
I see material considerations have always been there (and you
are saying it should take material considerations into account),
I think I would want more clarity in what you are actually saying.
I understand you have beefed it up and made it a PPG rather than
a circular, but what criteria change has there been? How is that
going to be reflected in the details that local authorities must
take into account when considering what is material and what is
(Mr Raynsford) Both the force of the statementthe
initial presumption that there should not be inappropriate development
in an area of flood plain unless that can be protected in the
way I have outlined in response to questionsand the sequential
approach, the search sequence to go through sites to ensure that
one is concentrating development on sites that are safe sites
and sites that can easily be protected, are new and tougher statements.
135. Plus, presumably, the developer pays for
any defences. So these are new, they were not contained in either
previous circulars or PPGs in the past.
136. Some of the guidance has been rolled forward,
clearly, but this is a much stronger statement. There are a number
of new elements proposed, that I have outlined this morning, which
go far beyond previous guidance.
137. The G in PPG stands for Guidance, so we
have got to assume, for the very good reasons that you stated
earlier, that there will occasionally be properties built in flood
risk areas. Given what we now know about risk and the needs to
explain risk to people, would it not be appropriate to go further
than a PPG and require local authorities to issue flood information
with the local government search?
(Mr Raynsford) We are keen to ensure that there is
improved information, and that is one of the things we have been
talking to the Environment Agency about, including flood plain
maps and other advice and information which really does ensure
that people locally are aware of the full-scale risk, because
it is in no one's interestsand this does apply to existing
property that is already developedto put themselves in
a position of risk unknowingly. So information is crucially important.
However, I do think it is equally important to have clear guidance
that does set the framework for planning decisions to ensure that
those decisions do reflect the issues that we are all concerned
138. I understand that you want to make the
information available, and all of us who have been on this Committee
and have looked at floods, when we go to buy a property, you can
be pretty sure we will make inquires about floods, but most of
our constituents will not. Unless you make it a statutory requirement
for local governments to tell people about flood warnings when
they are issuing local government search information, nine times
out of ten it will not happen.
(Mr Raynsford) Again, this is a question where the
interpretation could be quite problematic. Let us just take the
illustration I have given about the 36 per cent of brownfield
sites in London that are on the defined flood plain. If there
were to be a blanket requirement of a flood risk warning to be
issued in those cases, this could well deter development because
people would be reluctant to occupy it, because they mighton
the basis of seeing a note saying "This is potentially at
risk because it is in a flood plain"not look further
at the issue to analyse whether there were effective defences
in place or not.
139. Would the flood warning in that case not
say "This property is in a flood plain but it is protected
by the Thames Barrier. There is no risk until 2030 when the Thames
Barrier is taken down"? Whereas somewhere else it might say
something completely different.
(Mr Raynsford) I think that would be a very difficult
issue to put in a document, which might be the subject of legal