Memorandum submitted by the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
PROGRESS SINCE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS AGRICULTURE SELECT COMMITTEE FOLLOW-UP
REPORT ON FLOOD AND COASTAL DEFENCE
The Government responded to the Agriculture
Select Committee's Follow-up Report on flood and coastal defence
in April 2001. The Government response addressed calls made by
the Committee for more action to be taken to remedy shortcomings
identified by the Committee in its 1998 Report and to consider
a number of new issues.
The purpose of this memorandum is to inform
the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of progress
made since the Government's response in April 2001 focusing in
The institutional and funding arrangements.
Development in the flood plain.
The adequacy of funding for flood and coastal defence.
Means for ensuring delivery of the long-term strategy.
Accountability and leadership at local level.
The structure of this memorandum is the same
as that of the Government's response in April, with the Committee's
earlier recommendations and comments highlighted in bold print.
Paragraph 3 (Recommendation)
Nevertheless we reiterate our belief that
there is a need for far more fundamental institutional reform.
Paragraph 4 (Recommendation)
We welcome this [funding] review but are
concerned at the prolonged timescale, especially as it provides
an excuse to delay response to all questions on funding or other
arrangements whilst the review continues.
The institutional framework which governs decision-making
responsibilities is inextricably linked to the current arrangements
for funding flood and coastal defence work and reflects the relative
responsibilities of the Environment Agency and local authorities
in this area. The Flood and Coastal Defence Funding Review Steering
Group evaluated both funding mechanisms and institutional arrangements
with a view to ensuring funds were appropriately sourced and targeted
and delivered effectively and efficiently. The Group presented
its findings to Ministers at the end of September 2001 and its
Report will shortly be published along with a consultation document
based on the Steering Group's conclusions. The consultation exercise
will consider both long-term and short-term changes.
The options for change encompass core principles
identified in the Stage 1 Report of the Financial, Management
and Policy Review of the Environment Agency which considered how
the current funding and institutional arrangements impact on the
efficiency and effectiveness of the Environment Agency.
Whilst the Review was underway, MAFF/DEFRA and
the Environment Agency continued to collaborate successfully in
introducing measures to streamline scheme processing and in utilising
the additional funding provided in the 2000 Spending Review and
in the Autumn 2000 "package" to accelerate river flood
defence works and to undertake Catchment Flood Management Plans.
Government provided £17.5 million to repair and strengthen
defences damaged in 2000 and to assist the Environment Agency
and internal drainage boards with their emergency costs. Government
also exceptionally funded design and feasibility costs for EA
accelerated river flood defence schemes, thereby reducing the
call on local authorities for levies.
Paragraph 5 (Recommendation)
We add our support to the ETRA Committee
recommendation that only very exceptional development should be
allowed in the functional flood plain. The Government should consider
whether the Environment Agency should have the power to refer
planning applications on which it has reasonable concerns regarding
flooding to the Minister.
The Government is pleased to report that Planning
Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 25 Development and flood risk was
published in July 2001. It contains guidance for local authorities
on how flood risk should be taken into account as part of the
planning and development process, so helping to ensure that flood
plains are used for their natural purposes, continue to function
effectively and are protected from inappropriate development.
The Government considers that a Flooding Direction
could be a useful tool to guard against the risk of local planning
authorities wilfully ignoring Agency advice, or the Agency sustaining
unjustified objections. However, it seems sensible to wait and
see how effective the PPG is before introducing such a measure.
The Government has given a commitment to review the guidance three
years after publication in the light of experience and will continue
to monitor closely the impact of the guidance.
Paragraph 6 (Comment)
We look forward to reading this ["lessons
learned"] report and any subsequent Government proposals
"to improve the responses and improve the structures we have
in place to protect people from floods".
As well as highlighting successful aspects of
the handling of the autumn 2000 floods, the "Lessons Learned"
Report drew attention to areas where there was room for improvement.
These included further enhancements to the flood warning arrangements
and addressing the confusion in the minds of the public about
whom they should turn to for advice in the event of local flooding
and the range of problems it can cause.
In respect of flood warning the EA aims to issue
warnings two hours before flooding starts by four routes: direct
automatic voice messaging (public have to register); loudhailer;
volunteer flood warning; and sirens. In 2001, 322,000 more homes
have access to all four warning systems than in 2000. The EA has
extended flood warnings to new communities;
run national and regional public awareness campaigns;
targeted recruitment drives to enlist more people
to receive flood warnings direct;
run flood warden recruitment drives; and
preparing a revised investment strategy designed to
deliver further improvement.
In respect of clarifying responsibilities, the
EA is checking the feasibility of its "Floodline" service
acting as a "first stop shop" for enquiries. Clear contact
details are being provided in TV weather reports and free publications,
which also provide guidance on action for homeowners to take before,
during and after flooding. Plasticised guidance cards are also
being issued to those affected by floods previously or in high
As part of the Government's review of emergency
planning arrangements (launched by the Home Office but now being
led by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office),
a public consultation period ended on 31 October. A report is
expected to go to Ministers by the end of the year.
Paragraph 7 (Recommendation)
On the face of it, the £51 million announced,
though welcome, is insufficient. The Government should reassess
this provision urgently.
Aggregate annual investment in flood and coastal
defence is currently of the order of £400 million in England.
MAFF/DEFRA funding to support capital works is set to increase
by more than 50 per cent from an outturn of £66 million in
2000-01 to £114 million in 2003-04. In addition, some £268
million is provided to support local authorities' expenditure
on flood and coastal defence through the revenue support grant
arrangements. This profile reflects a realistic view of what operating
authorities can achieve in building up the programme. Updated
research results available on estimates of risks to national economy
from flooding and coastal erosion will inform investment decisions
in SR 2002.
Two reports have recently been published which
have implications for future investment needs. Climate change
research concluded that no single event or set of events could
be attributed to climate change but they are consistent with climate
change predictions. Further research has been commissioned to
examine the potential impacts of climate and other changes on
flood occurrence and conclusions will be incorporated in future
guidance. The second recent report is on technical approaches
to river flood risk management and has been produced by the Institution
of Civil Engineers' Presidential Commission. The Government is
considering the recommendations.
The funding review referred to above has also
evaluated, and will make recommendations on, the mechanisms for
ensuring delivery of Ministerial priorities for flood and coastal
defence with a view to ensuring funds are targeted appropriately.
Paragraph 8 (Recommendation)
We believe that the Government should explore
ways of taking account of these additional costs in the year in
which they occur.
The Government has explored options for improving
the funding mechanisms through the Funding Review which will report
shortly. DTLR are also proposing to publish a Local Government
White Paper later in the year which will include consideration
of the scope for reform of local government financing arrangements.
Paragraph 9 (Comment)
The Government responded to the situation
by relaxing rules on CAP schemes, including extending application
dates and showing flexibility on set-aside regulations. Mr Morley
also expressed his willingness to consider other measures such
as "using agricultural land as winter flood storage areas
and water management areas". We welcome the Government's
willingness to exercise national discretion to help farmers in
this dire situation.
The aim of the Catchment Flood Management Plans
(CFMPs) is to provide the vehicle for an holistic view of flood
risk management in each catchment. This could include land use
management to reduce run-off or provide for the storage of floodwater
if this assists with flood management. CFMPs will provide the
information on which those individuals and authorities responsible
for such decisions can be encouraged to act in a co-ordinated
The launch of the CFMPs initiative has been
brought forward with national funding and has been placed on "fast
track" for development of the programme of plan production.
Delivery is on target for launch of the main programme in early
2002. The whole project will probably require a four to five year
programme which will be carefully prioritised to give early results
for particularly sensitive areas.
Paragraph 10 (Comment)
We are pleased to note that Mr Morley has
promised that a draft proposal "will come out in the near
future" on assessments in relation to ploughing up natural
and semi-natural grassland.
The first round of consultations on options
for implementation of the uncultivated land provisions of the
Environmental Impact Assessment Directive was completed earlier
this year; the second round on the implementing legislation and
associated guidelines finished on 31 October 2001. The Government
is considering the responses received to the second consultation
with a view to making regulations shortly.
Paragraph 11 (Comment)
Even at the very top there is an awkward
division of responsibilities between MAFF and DETR and no obvious
"Mr (or Ms) Flood", a designated person ultimately responsible
for flood and coastal defence.
Flood and coastal defence policy in England
rests fully within DEFRA, with Margaret Beckett and Elliot Morley.
In order to ensure a "joined up" approach to flood and
coastal defence, arrangements are in place to reconvene the inter-Departmental
Task Force as needed, chaired by the DEFRA Parliamentary Under
Secretary (Commons), Elliot Morley, and supported by the Civil
In addition the Central Local Partnership established
a Severe Weather Sub-Group which meets regularly to enable representatives
from central and local government to discuss and ensure a co-ordinated
approach to ongoing initiatives to reduce the risks from flooding
and coastal erosion and other severe weather issues.
Paragraph 11 (Recommendation)
The ongoing review of funding gives the Government
an opportunity to develop a clear, long-term strategy and the
means for ensuring its delivery. We believe that the Government
must take this opportunity and recommend that it do so.
The Government retains its current policy aim
to reduce the risks to people and the developed and natural environment
from flooding and coastal erosion. In order to advance the national
strategy for delivering this aim, MAFF introduced a series of
High Level Targets (HLTs), applicable primarily to all operating
authorities, to facilitate a more certain and integrated delivery
of Government aims and objectives and national priorities and
to make possible assessment of achievement. These HLTs have been
in effect in England since 1 April 2000 and in Wales since 1 April
2001. Reports on achievement are becoming available to Ministers
who have undertaken to publish them. The Reports will provide
a basis for assessing the effectiveness of the implementation
of policy. The Government recognises that the HLTs will need amendment
and extension following experience over the first one or two years.
Paragraph 12 (Recommendation)
It is clear that accountability and leadership
at a local level is required and that either greater powers are
required by the Environment Agency or stronger direction from
The reports on High Level Targets will help
to identify shortcomings in delivery of the Government's aims,
objectives and priorities and will provide a basis for decisions
on the need for remedial action, and its form. The Government
has undertaken to consider the present institutional arrangements
in the Funding Review.
Paragraph 13 (Comment)
It is vital that both major capital works
and actions taken by individual householders are based on the
best possible science, rather than panic measures; and it may
be that more funding or research effort needs to be invested in
this area. All these issues should be addressed as part of a long-term
approach to a sustainable policy on flood defence.
As indicated above further work is underway
on the impact of climate change. In addition, the EA are continuing
work to improve the definition of flood risk areas.
In order to further encourage sustainable development
of flood and coastal defences the EA has submitted a report recently
on how the decision-making framework supporting investment could
take account of social impact, health, frequency and scale of
flooding, and consistency in standards of defence in each locale.
The issues raised in this and the Institution of Civil Engineers'
Presidential Commission report will be addressed through the forthcoming
consultation on the Funding Review.
23 November 2001
1 Eighth Special Report from the Agriculture Committee,
Session 2000-01, HC 437, Reply by the Government to the Third
Report from the Agriculture Committee, Session 2000-01, "Flood
and Coastal Defence: Follow up" (HC 172). Back