21 The Agency is required to exercise its flood defence
operations through regional and local flood defence committees.
These committees are responsible for determining flood defence
programmes, with advice from the Agency, and for raising the necessary
funding from local authorities. In 1999-2000, some
£216 million out of £275 million spent by
the Agency on flood defence in England was raised by flood defence
committees via local authority levies.
22 The Agency advised flood defence committees on
the amount of funds needed from local authorities but
investment levels are dependent ultimately on the funds allocated
by each local authority for measures in its area. This basis is
unlikely to lead to consistent levels of investment across the
country. For example, in the North East region the Agency wanted
to extend flood warning systems to 80 communities but the flood
defence committees could provide funding for only 16. Furthermore,
the Agency said that the condition of flood defence assets in
the North East, the poorest in the country, was a result of conscious
decisions by the local flood defence committees on the level of
funding over the years.
23 The Ministry was carrying out a review of the
organisational arrangements for the provision and funding of flood
defence that was due to report in September 2001. Our predecessors
asked how the Ministry intended to address the estimated shortfall
in funding of £100 million a year in capital works and
maintenance, which did not allow for the impact of climate change.
The Ministry said that the last spending review had led
to an increase in the baseline provision of capital for flood
defence measures which by the third year 2003-04 would amount
to £25 million. In addition, in November 2000 the Ministry
had announced further funding of £51 million spread
over three years and, in January 2001 an additional contribution
of £6.6 million towards the exceptional costs of the Agency
in responding to flooding.
24 The Ministry said that climate change was predicted
to expose the country to an increasing frequency of flooding over
the next fifty years or so. The Ministry had commissioned research
into the appropriate level of flood defence expenditure. The results
of the research would provide the Ministry with a better informed
position for the next Spending Review in 2002.
25 The level of funding available meant that the
Agency had to prioritise proposals, seeking to get the best benefit
for the maximum number of people at risk. In 1997 the
Ministry had introduced a priority scoring system for the appraisal
of new flood defence schemes to ensure that limited funds were
allocated in accordance with agreed priorities. The system took
account of ministerial priorities for urban, coastal, rural, or
tidal defences, the urgency of the need for new defences and the
economic justification for each scheme. As a result of flood events
last autumn the Ministry now required a higher priority to be
given to inland flood measures and equal weighting was now given
to the protection of urban areas on the coast and on rivers. Flood
warning systems still carry the highest priority.
26 The priority scoring system was essentially an
economic assessment based on an aggregate benefit to cost ratio.
If a scheme did not rate highly enough on the priority scoring
system then it would not proceed. Detailed appraisals weighed
up the benefits and costs valued in monetary terms in order to
decide which was the best option. The Agency undertook a considerable
amount of work to identify schemes that would be most appropriate,
taking account of not only the cost-benefit but also practicality
and the topography of the area.
27 Asked how the public could be reassured that it
was receiving a reasonably consistent standard of service nationwide,
the Agency said they applied the Ministry's priority scoring system
consistently to schemes from across all regions. However, this
did not mean everyone in the country could expect a consistent
level of protection. Where the number of properties at risk was
small, the damage avoided by building flood defences would be
comparatively small in economic value, and therefore would not
score highly on the Ministry's priority scoring system. Where
there were a small number of houses a flood defence scheme might
be possible if it was relatively simple and of low cost.
28 There were areas affected by floods in 2000, some
of them repeatedly, where flood defence proposals had been made
a number of years ago, but funding had not been available. In
Sussex, for example, higher priority had been given in earlier
years to coastal rather than fluvial schemes. Many places in the
Southern Region flooded because it was difficult to provide adequate
29 The Ministry recognised the need to review the
priority scoring system and methods of evaluation, and they planned
to consult the Agency and other operating authorities. The Agency
believed that as well as taking into account the benefit/cost
ratio the decision making framework should consider the impact
on individuals, society, health and also the frequency and scale
30 The Ministry had made available extra funding
of £2 million to enable the Agency to establish catchment
flood risk management plans over the next two years. This would
enable more catchment modelling to analyse trade-offs between
different techniques; for example, building banks in the town,
building diversionary channels, or holding water higher in the
catchment. Catchment plans should enable the Agency to more readily
identify those schemes which give maximum benefit for the whole
31 In 1999-2000 the Agency spent £126 million
on the maintenance and administration of 34,000 kilometres of
main river in Englandsome 50 per cent of their annual expenditure
on flood defence. Maintenance works are not subject to central
review as funding comes mainly from levies on local authorities
but programmes of work are approved by the regional and local
flood defence committees in general terms. The Environment Act
states that the Agency should have regard to an assessment of
likely costs and benefits prior to carrying out the maintenance.
32 The Agency uses its in-house workforce on maintenance
programmes. The Agency's offices vary in their approach to, and
the level of, maintenance they provide. The results of the Agency's
condition survey of flood defence assets showed that nearly half
of the flood defence structures and a third of the barriers were
categorised as fair, poor or very poor and 165 kilometres of flood
defences were in a derelict state.
A survey of other operating authorities' assets was incomplete.
33 Asked whether the Agency could provide assurances
that maintenance work was being carried out properly, the Agency
stated that despite limited resources it had sustained the defences
in the North-East during the floods in 2000, particularly for
the large conurbations and villages, although breaches had occurred.
Where defences had been damaged in recent flooding, the Agency
had repaired and replaced them. The condition of defences reflected
its ability to do the work within the resources it was given and,
as a result, it had to prioritise available funds. In rural areas
where the number of properties at risk was small, the Agency might
only be able to do the minimum necessary to provide some form
of defence. Where defences protected land rather than built property,
the Agency might have to consider whether it was appropriate to
spend funds on such defences or to use them to protect built property
34 The Agency's approach to maintenance is determined
by its area offices and local and regional flood defence committees,
and hence the extent of maintenance varies across the regions.
This is reflected in the significantly different condition of
flood defences across regions as revealed by a recent Agency survey.
The Agency should put in place common minimum standards of maintenance
service and monitor the performance of its area offices to ensure
these standards are met. They should disseminate best practice
in maintenance programmes across the regions to ensure the most
effective use of the limited funds available.
35 Between a third and a half of flood defence assets
on main rivers are in a fair, poor or very poor state, and a survey
of the condition of assets maintained by local authorities was
incomplete. In the light of flooding in 2000 it is essential that
all parties give priority to ascertaining the true state of flood
defences under their control, and to putting in place a programme
of repair where necessary to ensure flood defences remain fully
36 The Agency uses a range of methods for disseminating
flood warnings; including automated voice and fax messaging, warning
sirens, the use of loud hailers, flood wardens, radio and television
bulletins and their telephone service, Floodline. The
most effective warning mechanism can vary depending on, for example,
the extent of urbanisation and the time of day when flooding is
imminent. The Agency aims to provide one direct and one indirect
method of disseminating flood warnings where it offers a service.
37 Asked why at that time only 40 per cent of residents
living in flood warning areas will receive a flood warning, the
Agency explained that this related to its present ability to provide
flood warnings with at least two hours notice. Over the next ten
years the Agency was seeking to increase progressively the geographic
coverage of systems from 40 to 80 per cent of the flood risk area.
The Agency had commissioned consultants to quantify the success
of their warning systems in different parts of the country during
the autumn 2000 floods. It calculated that the successful
receipt of warning had increased from 13 per cent in 1996 to approximately
60 per cent during the floods in 2000.
38 The automated voice messaging system was introduced
in 1996. It is probably
the most sophisticated of the Agency's methods for transmitting
information to individual properties. The number of
properties connected to the system has increased from 23,000 in
1996 to 58,000 in 2000. However, this represents only 3.8 per
cent of those living in areas at risk in England.
39 Asked why the national figures for the take-up
of the automated voice messaging system were so low, the Agency
replied that the system was only one of the methods of primary
flood warning, and was not necessarily the most effective for
all areas. For example, in areas where flash floods occurred it
might not be as appropriate as other methods such as loud hailers,
and in areas where people moved house more frequently keeping
the system up to date would be extremely difficult.
Nor was it necessarily appropriate for sheltered housing where
the Agency sought to warn people by other means to avoid causing
unnecessary alarm. The Agency ran awareness campaigns, including
television advertising to draw attention to the system.
40 The automated voice messaging system was only
connected to those people who requested it rather than to all
people in areas of danger, because as a computerised system, the
Data Protection Act required the occupier's prior consent for
inclusion. The Agency had publicised the system by running marketing
exercises and had sought people's agreement to go on the database,
but often received a low level of take-up. They expected recent
flood events to lead to a larger response. It was not always easy,
however, to persuade householders to be included on the database
as some were concerned about the impact on their property value.
41 The number of properties linked to the system
varied from 32,500 properties (16.4 per cent) in Southern
region to 2,500 (1.2 per cent) in the Thames region.
Asked about the regional variations in the use of the automated
voice messaging system, the Agency said that this reflected the
appropriateness of the system to the region. Southern region,
which piloted the system, had the risk of catastrophic shingle
bank collapse which would affect a substantial number of people.
The North East had the lowest percentage of potential recipients
for whom the automated voice messaging system would be a suitable
method of warning, partly due to the nature of catchments.
42 The Ministry had estimated that some eight per
cent of the total land area in England (some 10,000 square kilometres)
was at risk from flooding from rivers, tidal rivers and estuaries.
In recent years the Agency had been engaged in preparing maps
indicating flood risk areas to assist local authorities in their
planning and development control role, to assist in emergency
planning, and to raise public awareness of flood risk areas.
43 Asked how accurate the floodplain maps were and
how often they were updated, the Agency said that the maps indicated
areas with an estimated flood risk of about a one per cent probability.
They were available for the whole country and contained the best
information available at present.
The Agency had a programme of work to improve the quality of information
and upgrade maps as they received additional information from
floods or its own surveys. However, the flood risk area was a
moving target because of developments in catchment areas and the
potential impact of climate change. The Agency had also made progress
in completing detailed mappings of priority areas ("hot spot"
maps) and 57 per cent of these maps had been completed.
44 The Agency had sent letters to 843,000 properties
known to be in high risk flood areas to raise the awareness amongst
householders that they were in the floodplain. This campaign set
out where householders could find additional information about
the risks to which they were exposed. Mailing and general promotion
of flood warning systems was important, to increase awareness
and to encourage people to take appropriate precautions. Flood
risk maps had been made available on the Agency's website and
additional information was available by direct contact if necessary.
45 Our predecessor Committee asked whether it would
be desirable for a standard part of the search process in property
purchases to include enquiries about flood risk. More information
was now in the public domain about the risks and standards of
defences, so people could make informed choices about where they
lived and the impact on insurance premia. The Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions said that negotiations were underway
with the Law Society and Local Government Association on whether
flood risk information should be included as part of the house
seller's pack which is currently being developed.
46 In the last five years there has been a year-on-year
increase in the amount of development proposed in flood risk areas.
A Government objective for flood defence is to discourage inappropriate
development in areas at risk from flooding. The Agency
provides advice to planning authorities through the local plan
and on individual planning applications where flood risk is an
47 The Agency said that it would not rule out development
in the floodplain but planning and development applications needed
to be examined to consider the flooding implications. The Agency
believed that the introduction of planning guidance, PPG25, could
make a substantial difference to its ability to work with local
planning authorities. PPG25 would assist in delivering
control over future development in the floodplain and should ensure
a more sustainable approach to development and flood risk. In
particular, PPG25 was likely to use a sequential search approach
to identify sites for development, promoting sites with the lowest
flood risk first.
48 Not all people at risk from flooding live in areas
covered by the Agency's flood warning systems. The Agency should
review the availability of warnings to such people and consider
with other authorities whether a more joined-up approach to flood
warning services would improve the overall safety of those at
49 The Agency should review the reasons for variations
in the use of different types of warning systems between regions,
and satisfy themselves that the methods used are the most effective
for the circumstances rather than a reflection of local attitudes
or the willingness to make funds available for warning systems.
50 The Agency now has available maps covering the
country identifying areas of flood risk which are also targeted
for building development. However, some parties have expressed
doubts about the usefulness of the maps in their current form.
The Agency should work with other authorities to meet the needs
of planning authorities, developers and the public, and to consider
how this work should be funded, for example by charging for maps.
51 The Agency has improved the quality of its flood
warning services, and recognises the importance of making the
public aware that they live in an area of risk. The Agency should
build on heightened awareness from the autumn 2000 floods to further
encourage householders to take appropriate actions, for example
to review the adequacy of their insurance policies. The Agency
should also pursue other options of raising awareness such as
the provision of flood risk information in the house seller's
pack which is being developed.
1 C&AG's Report, Inland Flood Defence, (HC
299, Session 2000-2001) paras 2, 1.4, 1.5; Environment Agency
Review "Lessons Learned" (not printed) Back
C&AG's Report, paras 1, 1.11 Back
ibid, paras 3, 1.9 Back
ibid, paras 3, 1.8-1.20 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 1.6-1.7 Back
ibid, para 1.8 Back
ibid, paras 2.31-2.35 Back
Q83; Ev, Appendix 1, p17, para 7 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 1.10-1.12 Back
ibid, paras 20, 4.11 Back
Qs 15, 17-18 Back
Q51; Ev, Appendix 1, p18, para 13 Back
Qs 8, 80 Back
Qs 83, 93 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 2.8, 2.35, 4.11 Back
Q83; Ev, Appendix 1, p18, para 8 Back
Qs 77, 84; Environment Agency Review "Lessons Learned",
para 5.5 (not printed) Back
Qs 77-78 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 1.12-1.14 and Figure 8 Back
Qs 7, 29, 35, 82 Back
Qs 6-8; C&AG's Report, para 1.20 Back
Qs 8-9, 14 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.8; Qs 5, 72 Back
Qs 31-32, 44 Back
Qs 30-31, 82 Back
Qs 5, 32; Environment Agency Review "Lessons Learned"
(not printed) Back
C&AG's Report, paras 4.20-4.22 Back
ibid, paras 4.22-4.30 Back
Qs 34-35, 39-40 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 14, 2.17, 2.21 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.18 Back
Qs 21, 25-26, 28 Back
Qs 21-23 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.18 Back
Qs 26-29 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.4 Back
Qs 95, 73, 75-76, 95 Back
Qs 75-77 Back
Qs 19-20 Back
Environment Agency Review "Lessons Learned", para 6.1
(not printed); Q43 Back
Qs 17, 41-43 Back