Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (L2)


  1.1  Since 14 September 2000, parts of England and Wales have experienced repeated flooding, with the most widespread flooding for more than sixty years in the first two weeks of November. These caused widespread disruption and misery for thousands of people. Fortunately, loss of life has been minimal. In February 2001, a "Lessons Learned Report" for these recent floods will be published by the Agency.

  1.2  This review by the Committee is timely and is welcomed by the Agency. In September of this year, we completed the Action Plan resulting from the Midlands flooding of Easter 1998. This culminated in the launch of new flood warning codes on 11 September 2000. Details of the Action Plan and flood warning codes are given in Annexes A and B respectively (not printed).

  1.3  In our response to the Committee's Report in 1998 we identified a number of specific actions. Here we offer a concise summary of progress. This is then elaborated, with the Agriculture Committee recommendations shown in bold and italics.

  1.4  The Agency remains convinced that there is an urgent need to streamline flood and coastal defence institutional and financial arrangements for flood and coastal defence to achieve a more efficient, effective and better value for money service that can deliver long term sustainable policies.

  1.5  The Agency does not support the Committee's proposal for administrative arrangements that would implement all inland Flood Defence policy by Regional Flood Defence Committees and all coastal flooding and erosion policy by Coastal Groups.

  1.6  The Agency response to the Committee in 1998 stated it would:

    1.6.1  Work with Government on:

    —  a review of National criteria to assess how rationalisation of Flood Defence Committees may best be achieved.

      —  awaits outcome of funding review;

    —  to determine how the Agency's supervisory and enforcement role may be strengthened.

      —  a statement has been issued with Government support and implemented;

    —  the development of asset management plans on a nationally consistent basis by all operating authorities.

      —  after consultation, Government has set a High Level Target;

    —  the production of national guidelines for funding priorities for Flood Defence Committees.

      —  the Agency has given guidance to Flood Defence Committees;

    —  the production of a revised Project Appraisal Guidance Note to include social and environmental criteria.

      —  a Research and Development project is to commence shortly, funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food;

    —  the development of minimum standards of performance for all involved in flood defence.

      —  not addressed by the Project Appraisal Guidance Notes.

    1.6.2  Work with the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) on:

    —  the rationalisation of Internal Drainage Districts through consortia or amalgamations based on national criteria.

      —  progress has continued;

    —  improved partnership arrangements on day to day service delivery.

      —  progress has continued.

    1.6.3  Work with Local Authorities on:

    —  improved partnership arrangements on scheme promotion to maximise the potential for procurement arrangements.

      —  the Agency has focused on grouping its efforts to achieve best value procurement.

    1.6.4  The Agency believed Government should:

    —  consider providing clearer and stronger guidance against development on the floodplain.

      —  new Planning Policy Guidance 25 to be published in December;

    —  local authority planning departments to enter into Section 106 agreements with developers.

      —  to be encouraged by new PPG25;

    —  seek to streamline the administration of flood defence.

      —  no change.

    1.6.5  The Agency would:

    —  encourage Regional Flood Defence Committees and Local Flood Defence Committees to provide the necessary funding for flood warning, flood risk mapping and the River Defence Asset Survey.

      —  This has been successful but at the expense of capital works;

    —  develop proposals to better educate the public on the roles and responsibilities of organisations involved in Flood and Coastal Defence.

      —  Two Public Awareness campaigns run at a cost of £2 million each;

    —  ensure Ministerial priorities are met consistently and to agreed timescales across the country.

      —  achieved with some delay;

    —  develop a firm but fair, active supervisory role.

      —  clear statement issued and implemented.


Committee recommendations relating to the existing fragmentation of policy responsibility/institutional change

Recommendation z, o, k, l, m, p, s

  2.1  As a condition of the recent Government Spending Review, which provided increased allocation of funds to flood defence, a review of the financing of flood defence commenced in September 2000. The Agency believes it is logical for this to be completed before any review of Flood Defence Committees is undertaken.

  2.2  The Agency believes that the review of funding arrangements is needed to ensure that it can cope with the significant additional funding required (£100 million pa extra) and by the potential increasing frequency of flooding due to climate change, which will create an even greater investment need.

  2.3  The Agency is currently the subject of a Financial and Management Policy Review by DETR as part of the normal five year cycle for NDPBs. This will include consideration of the arrangements for both sponsorship and delivery of flood defence by the Agency.

  2.4  The recent flooding has increased awareness of the interaction of the Agency and of flood defence with:

    —  Local Authorities

    —  Town and Country Planning

    —  Sustainable Construction

    —  Climate Change

    —  Emergency Planning and Response

  As well as environmental and heritage issues.

  2.5  The widespread and extreme flooding in Yorkshire, and on the Medway in Kent, highlighted the need for integrated management of both rivers and tidal waters during flooding. We remain convinced that they should not be separated.

  2.6  The Agency acknowledges that Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) continue to provide a good service in lowland areas whose communities and local economies depend on good drainage. MAFF introduced a target for IDB Administration in November 1999 as part of a suite of measures under the High Level Targets for Flood and Coastal Defence. The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) were to produce and distribute to IDBs guidance on the means by which efficiency can be improved through amalgamation and consortia by 1 June 2000. In reality the 247 Boards are now served by 68 management units, 8 less than when the Agriculture Select Committee met in 1998. A further 15 Boards are in the process of amalgamating down to 4.


  3.1  The Agency has regrouped all its capital works management in a single national unit. This has been linked to the adoption of modern best practice for capital procurement and is yielding better value to the Agency. This grouping is also enabling the development of expertise and a career structure.

  3.2  Where a Local Authority is not able to sustain the necessary skills in house, the Agency believes there would be benefits in this expertise being available to act on behalf of the Local Authorities.

  3.3  To promote greater awareness and co-operation, a joint working group has been established with the Local Government Association (LGA) as part of the published five-year Plan of Co-operation with the LGA.

  3.4  The Agency continues to provide considerable technical support to the Association of Drainage Authorities, which gives guidance to Internal Drainage Boards.


  4.1  In response to both the Agriculture Select Committee and the Independent Review (Bye Report) of the Easter Floods 1998, the Agency published the elaboration of its Flood Defence Supervisory Duty. This is directly linked with the MAFF High Level Targets, published November 1999.

  4.2  The High Level Targets and exercise of the Supervisory Duty will result in annual reports exposing the state of the major elements of the flood defence service provided by each of the operating authorities. The Agency believes such open public access to information to be important in raising public awareness of flood risk.


5.1  Main River/Non-Main River

5.1.1  The distinction between main river for which the Agency is responsible, and non-main river for which IDBs or Local Authorities (LAs) are responsible, is still confusing to the public, particularly in the case of the latter. We have not developed criteria to rationalise these categories. As part of the response to Easter 1998 our priority has been to develop criteria in conjunction with ADA and the LGA to identify "critical ordinary watercourses". These watercourses have the potential to put large numbers of people and property at risk from flooding. IDBs and LAs are responsible for the inspection of these critical ordinary watercourses and the intention has been to focus scarce resources on the high flood risk locations.

5.2  Inspection of Defences

  5.2.1  The High Level Targets require reporting of condition of the critical watercourses and the state of any flood defence assets alongside them. Both the Agriculture Select Committee and the Independent Review Report of the Easter Floods placed priority on a national visual survey of the state of river defences. The Agency completed the inspection of defences under its own jurisdiction by 1 April 2000.

  5.2.2  In February 1999, the Agency wrote to all LAs and IDBs to seek their assistance in carrying out inspections of flood defences on critical ordinary watercourses. By February 2000, 69 LAs had replied that they were unwilling or unable to carry out inspections and a further 13 LAs had not responded to the Agency request.

  5.2.3  In those cases where LAs had decided not to inspect defences on critical ordinary watercourses and had not provided information on the location of defences, the Agency has, on a "best endeavours basis", sought to identify and inspect them.

5.3  State of the Defences

  5.3.1  MAFF set a target for all operating authorities to identify and provide information on all flood defences that are their responsibility by 1 September 2000, to correspond with the original target date for the development of a National Flood and Coastal Defence Database by the Environment Agency. The Agency has met the target in respect of recording its own defences.

  5.3.2  To facilitate the production of a national database for all defences, irrespective of ownership, the Agency and MAFF jointly submitted a bid for allocation of expenditure from the Capital Modernisation Fund. The bid for £4 million would have allowed the Agency to develop a single computer database to store, manipulate and present information on flood and coastal defence risk, assets and associated natural habitats, supported by and available to all operating authorities. Unfortunately, the bid was unsuccessful and due to other funding pressures it is now expected to take five years to complete. There is also a question of how the inclusion of coastal protection works will be funded.

  5.3.3  The result of the Agency's visual surveys on the condition of the river defences on main rivers is shown below.


Condition rating (%)
Very good
Very poor
North East
North West
South West

  Although the overall picture is of fairly good condition for main river flood defences, further work is required to identify the integrity of these defences.

  5.3.4  Two riverside walls that were visually classified as in fair condition failed under the high river levels experienced during the June 2000 floods in the North East Region. These walls were not owned or maintained by the Agency. Similar failures occurred again in the North East Region on non-main river defences in the recent October/November floods.


Recommendation h, i, f, g, o, hh

  6.1  The Agency estimated that the shortfall in funding for capital investment and maintenance was £30-£40 million per annum in 1998. Pressure for expenditure on issues such as flood warning arising from the Easter 1998 Action Plan have meant further delays to capital schemes, studies and flood warning improvements.

  6.2  In the light of the October/November 2000 floods, the Agency believes that the study commissioned by MAFF is a reasonable assessment of the future funding requirement for flood defence. The report concluded that an increase of £100 million per annum for capital works and maintenance investment is needed, compared with the current total expenditure of £280 million per annum by the Agency.

  6.3  In the Comprehensive Spending Review 2000, MAFF was successful in increasing the level of grant aid to all operating authorities as follows:


  Additionally, the Rate Support Grant element for flood defence funding for the Agency will increase by approximately 4.4 per cent for each of the three years. There remains no certainty that this will appear fully in the Flood Defence Levies paid to the Agency.

  6.4  In response to the recent flooding, the Government has announced additional funding of £51 million over the four years 2000-01 to 2003-04 to enable early progress on schemes for towns affected by river flooding, improvements to the flood warning system and the development of catchment strategies.

  6.5  The Agency believes that simplification of the current system of administering capital grant payments to the Agency is still appropriate. A Government decision is awaited.

  6.6  The Agency Board approved a sequence of priorities for funding flood defence in December 1999. Flood Defence Committees were asked to follow this priority sequence and were requested to identify, in their minutes, works that would not proceed due to lack of funding. The priority sequence is shown in Appendix C [not printed].

  6.7  The outcomes of the levy round for England, on a national basis, are as follows:

Recommended Levy
£ million
Approved Levy
£ million
£ million


Recommendations t, u, v

  7.1  The Agency has provided a formal submission to the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions on the consultation draft of Planning Policy Guidance 25 (PPG 25)—Development and Flood Risk. This is subject to an Inquiry by the Select Committee for Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, (November 2000) Select Committee.

  7.2  In summary, our response to the Government's consultation in June 2000 highlighted that the draft PPG 25 must be more specific and go further to:

    —  Ensure the use of a more sustainable approach to development and flood risk.

    —  Emphasise that flood defences reduce the risk of flooding, they do not eliminate it.

    —  Clearly define the Government position on flood safety and new development.

    —  Promote development in low flood risk areas first, and use a sequential search sequence to promote development away from areas of high flood risk.

    —  Prescribe minimum standards of flood defence for new development.

    —  Emphasise more strongly that development can and should be made more "flood-resistant" through innovative design.

    —  "Future-proof" development by using current climate predictions as the basis for design.

    —  Ensure that emergency services are involved in the planning of new development.

    —  Ensure that new development does not add to the cost of maintaining, operating and replacing existing flood defences.

  7.3  In the light of recent floods we suggest that the PPG must:

    —  Take a much firmer line to prevent properties being flooded, making allowances for climate change.

    —  Adopt a precautionary approach to prevent flooding problems in the future.

    —  Be reinforced by Building Regulations and other relevant guidance to ensure that development is better designed to be safe and to resist floods.

    —  Be reviewed against specific targets for the amount of development permitted in flood risk areas at National, Regional and Local levels.

    —  Instigate a review of the flood risk to and from sites already identified in Local Authority Development Plans.

    —  Encourage Local Authorities to set standards for flood defence at a higher level than the minimum prescribed in the PPG.

  7.4  The Agency welcomes guidance on developer contributions within the draft PPG25. We believe Local Authorities should enter into agreement under Section 106 of the Town and County Planning Act 1990 to ensure that the developer carries out the necessary works and that future maintenance commitments are funded by the developer.

  7.5  The Agency is promoting the need for Development Plans to include strategic flood risk assessment on a river catchment basis to provide a broad understanding of the issues and the impact of development. Where development is proposed then developers must be required to pay for a detailed flood risk assessment.


Recommendation c, bb, j

8.1  In accordance with MAFF priorities, direction and grant funding the Agency is well advanced with implementing a strategic approach to coastal management. Recent flooding events from rivers clearly demonstrate the importance of over-arching catchment strategies that take a holistic view rather than focusing solely on capital solutions. Progress with these has been constrained by lack of funding and robust guidance. Restructuring within the Agency should provide more impetus.

  8.2  The Agency believes that the current relatively strict adherence to cost benefit analysis in investment decision making needs to be extended. Research is starting to enable the social impact of flooding to be quantified and we would hope that this will enable its inclusion in more balanced decisions in future.

  8.3  We believe there is a need to introduce scenario planning into decision making to enable the potential effects of climate change to be considered. Given predictions of increase in both the frequency and severity of storms, there is a need to err on the side of caution in investment decisions.


  9.1  This is included in full as Annex A [not printed]. However, the main elements are briefly highlighted here.

  9.2  In October 1998, MAFF Minister Elliot Morley MP agreed the Agency's Action Plan and set out his own requirement in a Ministerial Statement for a "seamless and integrated service of flood forecasting, warning and response".

  9.3  The Agency's Action Plan outlined a number of activities which encompass the many improvements to the Agency's own operational procedures and policies and those we conduct in liaison with our partners in Local Authorities, emergency services, public utilities and the media.

  9.4  Key completed actions include the following:

  9.4.1  In October 1999, the Agency launched a major ongoing public awareness campaign on the issue of flooding. In addition to the advertising campaign, some 311,00 homes and businesses in flood risk areas were mailed reusable plastic flood kits containing practical information and advice. The lessons learnt from analysis of the first campaign were used in the development of a second expanded campaign involving direct mailing to some 843,000 properties which was run in September 2000. At the heart of the public awareness campaign is a new national telephone information line called Floodline (0845 988 1188) which provides 24 hour flood warning information throughout England and Wales.

  9.4.2  A new National Flood Warning Centre has been established which will ensure that the Agency continues to develop its capabilities to meet the needs of the public in terms of flood forecasting, warning and response. As part of the work of the Centre a 10 year strategy has been produced identifying the need for investment of some £107 million over the period.

  9.4.3  The first phase of the telemetry network improvements has been completed. An additional 109 river level gauges, 16 river flow gauges and 65 rain gauges have been added to the system, which enables conditions to be monitored during flooding and allows calibration of flood models.

  9.4.4  A new warning code system (see Annex B [not printed]) has been developed following extensive consumer research and consultation with professional partners. This replaced the original colour-coded warning system which research showed many people had found difficult to understand. The new codes went "live" on 11 September 2000. Experience of the October/November floods indicate these have worked well.

  9.4.5  To ensure that emergency services and Local Authorities, who take the lead role in responding to the needs of those affected by flooding, are aware of the areas at risk of flooding, a set of Indicative Flood Plain Maps were published and distributed in electronic and paper format. The maps are also being used by Local Authorities in undertaking their role as Planning Authorities. The maps are also available in paper format to members of the public and other organisations and have been updated in 2000. These will be available on the Agency's internet site in December of this year.

  9.4.6  A separate review of the Agency's internal management structure was completed. This led to the introduction of new national standard management structures by September 2000.


  Since Easter 1998, much progress has been made in improving the flood warning and defences for the benefit of the businesses and people in flood risk areas. However, further change and progress is needed if we are to sustain this momentum and provide the seamless and integrated service the Minister requires.

17 November 2000

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