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Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 37, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 46, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 48, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. McNulty.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.

10 Jan 2001 : Column 1203


Motion made,

the Lords Message [12th July 2000] communicating a Resolution relating to Human Rights (Joint Committee), be now considered;
this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution; and
the following Standing Order be made:
(1) There shall be a Select Committee, to consist of six Members, to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords as the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
(2) The Committee shall consider--
(a) matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases);
(b) proposals for remedial orders, draft remedial orders and remedial orders made under Section 10 of and laid under Schedule 2 to the Human Rights Act 1998; and
(c) in respect of draft remedial orders and remedial orders, whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to them on any of the grounds specified in Standing Order No. 151 (Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee));
(3) The Committee shall report to the House--
(a) in relation to any document containing proposals laid before the House under paragraph 3 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or
(b) in relation to any draft order laid under paragraph 2 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether the draft Order should be approved;
and the Committee may report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said proposals or draft orders.
(4) The Committee shall report to the House in respect of any original order laid under paragraph 4 of the said Schedule 2, its recommendation whether--
(a) the order should be approved in the form in which it was originally laid before Parliament; or
(b) that the order should be replaced by a new order modifying the provisions of the original order; or
(c) that the order should not be approved,
and the Committee may report to the House on any matter arising from its consideration of the said order or any replacement order.
(5) The quorum of the committee shall be three.
(6) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.
(7) The committee shall have power--
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom, to adjourn to institutions of the Council of Europe outside the United Kingdom no more than four times in any calendar year, and to report from time to time; and
(b) to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference.--[Mr. McNulty.]

Hon. Members: Object.

10 Jan 2001 : Column 1204

Flood Plains (Vale of York)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. McNulty.]

11.45 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate on planning guidance for developments on the flood plain in the Vale of York. The topic is very important to my constituents. The background to the debate is the recent flooding, but the debate is very timely as we await the much delayed consultation document PPG25, which deals with planning policy guidance for developments on flood plains.

I am pleased that this debate is not being held at such a late hour as was the case yesterday, and it is always a pleasure to appear opposite the Under-Secretary.

The recent maps of the flood plain published by the Environment Agency show that, at a conservative guesstimate, a very large proportion--between about 30 and 35 per cent.--of the Vale of York appears to be on the flood plain. I believe that the presumption should be against development on what is considered to be a functional flood plain.

The Government appear to be in conflict with their own targets for development of brownfield sites that are functional or potentially functional flood plains. Respect for the status of flood plains and the flooding that could happen on them should overrule Government targets for building on flood plains.

Paragraph 14 on page 13 of the consultation document PPG25 states:

That raises some important questions. How can a property owner protect land from acts of God such as floods caused by unprecedented weather that persists over several days, when the impact of that natural hazard is compounded by the actions of public authorities? The Environment Agency is looking closely at the impact on the flooding of the newly developed and recently opened park-and-ride scheme at Rawcliffe.

The floods caused 170 homes in Rawcliffe to be flooded and their occupants to be evacuated in the first week of last November. The park-and-ride scheme was deeply unpopular among residents, who resented it. The glossy, flashy consultation exercise cost many thousands of pounds, but not one resident of Rawcliffe received a leaflet about the scheme, or was consulted about it. People there could not believe their misfortune when the outcome of the consultation was to move the scheme, which had been so successful at Clifton Moor business park, to a greenbelt site at Rawcliffe. Injury has been added to insult: many of the families evacuated from the 170 homes have no realistic chance of returning for two or three months yet.

The park-and-ride scheme may have compounded the effects of the flood. Rumours that City of York council officials are to be feted, welcomed and congratulated in Downing street are especially inappropriate and insulting to residents of Rawcliffe, as the evacuees have no homes to go to.

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Evidence given to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs showed that car parks and other developments can compound flood conditions. Tarmac allows water to accumulate until it is released in one big and dangerous whoosh.

In addition, farmers have suffered especially badly as a result of the floods. A strong feeling exists among the farming community that vast areas of farm land were flooded to save towns and cities. Many people would argue that that was inevitable, but farmers have incurred heavy financial losses as a result.

A constructive way in which farmers could be invited to help would be to relax existing Treasury rules. With the farmers' agreement, designated farm land could be recognised as a potential flood plain area, through the creation of new riparian wetlands. Farmers could be reimbursed through a Government-funded voluntary scheme.

Such a strategy could benefit farm planning by identifying areas prone to flooding, and estimating the relevant periodicity of floods. It could benefit farm incomes by providing adequate compensation, for the public good, in connection with flood storage. It could benefit flood protection by providing less intrusive flood defences. It could also benefit biodiversity and water resources. I hope that the Minister will pass on my plea, and my suggestion that not just farmers but the local community could benefit.

The strategy might work in, for example, the Ings, north of York, where farm land has been allowed to be flooded in order to avoid flooding in houses within the inner ring road. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--who has responsibility for matters connected with flooding--will respond to that.

The strategy would have other potential benefits. It could secure incomes from riverside land in an increasingly unstable climate. It could reduce the speed at which water runs off agricultural land, thus reducing river speeds. It could create water calming zones, which allow rivers to widen gradually and reduce the impact of flooding. It could help to replenish the nation's groundwater reserves by allowing greater interaction between river systems and groundwater. It could create natural barriers that would enhance soil retention and improve river water quality, while increasing the area of wildlife habitats.

Let me also draw the Minister's attention to the serious loss to local businesses in the Vale of York--in, for example, Thirsk and Boroughbridge. In many instances premises and stock were severely damaged, and sales were seriously affected. The pursuant rail disruption, on top of the impact of the floods, has hampered the local economy further. Longer-term detrimental effects are feared: lower visitor numbers, fewer overseas student admissions to York university and lower inward investment. Job losses are also feared. The repercussions for local businesses are far wider than the immediate physical damage to their properties in the aftermath of the floods.

In their planning policy guidance on development and flood risk, the Government absolve themselves of any statutory responsibility to make good losses to businesses, farmers or home owners. I fear that they may find the electorate unforgiving in this regard.

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In its conclusions, the Select Committee recommended that only very exceptional development should be allowed in the functional flood plain. It also said that flood-proof construction techniques should be encouraged, and that sustainable drainage systems should be adopted.

I heard today that tomorrow morning, at York race course, the Environment Agency's regional office for Yorkshire and the Humber will announce, together with the flood defence committee, a 63 per cent. increase on this year's flood levy for 2001-02. By any standards that is a massive increase--an increase of £10.7 million--and it will inevitably be passed on in an increase of at least 1 per cent. in council tax payments.

In connection with this debate, the Association of British Insurers wrote to me:

In its submission to the Select Committee's report on development and flood risk, the ABI wrote:

In revising PPG25, we have an opportunity to block further developments on functional flood plains, to make Environment Agency advice obligatory on planners and developers alike and to streamline the archaic and arcane procedures involved in flood protection. Why do such diverse operating authorities as the Environment Agency, the Internal Drainage Board, local authorities and other bodies have the power to make or maintain works for the drainage of land? Bodies such as the Environment Agency must give warnings of imminent flooding while others, such as the drainage boards, need not.

Key features are envisaged for PPG25. For example, the susceptibility of land to flooding is a material consideration for planning purposes and the Environment Agency has the lead role in providing strategic advice on flood issues. Many of us--members of the Select Committee and others--hope that following such advice will be made mandatory so that planners and developers can no longer ignore it. Policies in development plans should outline the consideration that will be given to flood issues, recognising the uncertainties inherent in predicting such events. Planning decisions should apply the precautionary principle to flood risk, avoiding such risk where possible and managing it elsewhere.

Developers should contribute to the cost of flood defences required because of development. In particular, I hope that that aspect of PPG25, should it be included in the Government's final document, will be used if it can be proved that the park-and-ride scheme at Rawcliffe led to serious flooding there on the first weekend in November. We hope that PPG25 will determine that planning policies and decisions need to be applied on a whole-catchment basis and should not be restricted to flood plains.

I repeat that where the Government's targets for brownfield sites and what appears to be a functional flood plain coincide, the purposes of the flood plain should have

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priority over meeting housing requirements for brownfield sites. There should also be a clearer allowance made in urban areas protected by flood defences for locally agreed solutions that take into account the alternative locations for development, the risk of flooding, the scope for design solutions to mitigate risk and other local considerations. The recent flood was one flood too many.

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