Examination of Witness (Questions 100
TUESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2000
100. That is what this Committee argued for.
(Mr Morley) They did, but on balance I think that
if you are delivering flood defence there is a strong argument
for local involvement through local authorities. I do have to
be honest and say that in relation to the problems that the Environment
Agency have been having in co-operation, they have not particularly
brought them to my attention so, therefore, I am assuming they
are overcoming those, but I will certainly take steps to check
that. It is fair to say, however, that there have been other problems
which have been brought to my attention and they are primarily
in relation to funding from the levy raised from local authorities.
101. They raised that problem too.
(Mr Morley) That has been brought to my attention,
Chairman, there is no two ways about that, and I have intervened
in a number of areas to remind local authorities of their responsibilities
in relation to their role in flood and coastal defence and the
fact that there is provision through their Standard Spending Assessment
which has been above inflation in the last few years to actually
provide resources for this. I would not want to pretend that there
are not problems with that. That is a consideration that we will
have to take into account but, of course, with the review which
is taking place on the funding mechanisms for flood and coastal
defence, it is an opportunity to think about those approaches.
102. In paragraph 14 of the memorandum you describe
MAFF's Project Appraisal Guidance. Could I just ask the Minister
where does that fit within MAFF and within the Environment Agency?
Is that something you share with them, those procedures, or is
that an internal MAFF approach?
(Mr Morley) On the Project Appraisal Guidance?
(Mr Morley) It is something which the Department lays
down in terms of the kinds of standards that we would expect the
Environment Agency to follow in relation to evaluating the particular
projects which they are putting forward. In the end it is partly
a process which is based on the Environment Agency in terms of
assessments of its own needs. It is a process which involves the
Environment Agency in relation to the design of the actual projects.
There is an evaluation, of course, which we apply in relation
to the environmental considerations, the cost benefit analysis,
and also the social considerations of it as well.
104. So where does the points system, which
I understand from the Environment Agency earlier today does go
right across the range from flood to coastal
(Mr Morley) Yes, it does.
105. That seemed to me to cover a number of
thingseconomic assessment, risk, environmental considerations
(Mr Morley) That is correct. The points system which
was introduced, I think, in 1997, is a way of trying to have some
priority within schemes because of course in any one year you
are always going to get more submissions and schemes than you
can actually fund, so therefore it is quite logical that you have
a scheme which is a proper, impartial way of evaluating need which
takes into account all those points which you have raised and
gives a point score, and of course those schemes with the highest
points are the ones which are brought forward. You can adjust
those points in relation to various factors. We have just recently
adjusted the points for urban river system defences because of
the recent floods and because we have to take into account that
we may be seeing more of this kind of weather, so the score for
urban river systems has been increased, so therefore that is part
of the process of changing priorities and bringing it forward.
So you can adjust the scoring system to take into account the
kind of priorities that you want. Also in relation to additional
funding, the overall score is coming down, because we have more
funding available it means the score is being lowered and that
means we can embrace more schemes as well.
106. Are you sure you are not reacting after
the horse has bolted on the urban river system? If you are trying
to see a balance between coastal and river flooding, is it that
we have not had the coastal problems yet and you will change it
again next year if there is flooding in my constituency?
(Mr Morley) We have to take into account the situation
as we find it but there are priorities for coasts. We are well
aware of the situation of coasts. In relation to the point that
Mr Jack was making, the actual impact of climate change on sea
level is much better understood than the impact on rainfall, so
in that respect we are already building in projections on rising
sea level, and that is being done now in relation to future coastal
defences. Again we have priority schemes and we know where they
are to be applied. As you will also know, we are thinking of a
more sustainable approach to coastal defences, which may mean
re-aligning existing defences.
107. Could I ask if you would be surprised to
hear that the Environment Agency told us a short time ago that
they believedI think the present system has around a 20
(Mr Morley) It has just been reduced from 22 to 20,
108.the appropriate level would be single
figures? I wondered what your reaction to that would be?
(Mr Morley) If I was the Environment Agency I would
probably say the same thing, Chairman, basically, because it does
mean they would get more schemes and more funding. Ideally that
would be great although I am not quite sure when the Environment
Agency said to the Committee they would like to see a single figure
score, whether they have done a technical evaluation and whether
they could actually deliver the number of schemes within that
score, because you would have to have the available engineers,
the available plant, the available company; there is a physical
limit to the number of schemes you can design and build in any
one year, depending on the scale and the size and the technical
issues. I am not at all sure whether the Environment Agency has
done that kind of evaluation.
109. A serious concern for the public will be
that it may be that we do have to put more money into coastal
defences and flood defences and, as you have just said Minister,
you need to build up to that capability, you are not going to
be able to do it straight away, and they will be worried you will
be wanting to do it after the damage is done. It does seem that
this year in terms of the floods and from what has been said to
us that we have got away, very narrowly, with some very major
(Mr Morley) Yes, there were some floods
110. Are you yourself convinced that the Government
is gearing up sufficiently? It does show gearing up in terms of
total expenditure. Are you satisfied?
(Mr Morley) Yes, I am largely satisfied. I say "largely"
because, of course, there is always more you can do and there
is always more money you can spend, but we have to be pragmatic,
and I have to accept I live in the real world and there is a certain
financial allocation which we have within the Department for flood
and coastal defence expenditure. It is an increasing expenditure,
it is going up year on year, and we have additional money, but
it still means that you have to have priorities, and in that sense
a priority scoring system is the fairest way in my opinion of
deciding which schemes should be brought forward. As I was saying
to you, you can change that scoring, you can change the priorities,
you can build it into the score in terms of developing priorities
in different years and different circumstances. So I do think
it is the right approach. Ultimately the score will continue to
come down. As the spend increases, which you have seen in relation
to the memorandum, it will enable the score to come down. In relation
to the point you have made about preparing and having sufficient
engineering capacity, you cannot suddenly have a huge jump in
an area like that, it is more sensible to have a gradual increase,
and then of course you will have the facilities which are being
made available to do that, to bid for it, to tender for it. We
are also looking at some other schemes as well, such as some very
big public/private partnership schemes providing coastal defence
schemes in partnership with contractors who are doing it over
a very long basis; major investment. So we are looking at a number
of ways of levering more money into flood and coastal defences
and also making sure the capacity is there to do it.
111. The NFU compiled a dossier of weather chaos,
which I am sure you have seen, and in fairness the Government
has responded as far as I can see by relaxing some of the regulations,
for example the latest sowing dates for Arable Area Payments and
also more flexibility in allowing flooded areas to be used in
set-aside, which is great. Are there any other schemes or ideas
which the Government has had to assist farmers?
(Mr Morley) Not as at this moment. Those are schemes
where we have some national discretion and we have used that national
discretion to give immediate support to farmers in flooded areas.
As you say, we have offered them the opportunity of 100 per cent
set-aside for fields under water, we have also offered flexibility
on the green cover rule on set-aside when of course they cannot
comply, and we are also in consultation with the NFU and we will
be seeking variations from various rules in relation to schemes
such as planting dates, for example, which we may have to do if
farmers cannot get on their land until the spring, which is a
possibility given how water-logged the land is. So we are doing
that now. The NFU has submitted a dossier of damage to my Rt Hon
friend, Nick Brown, and he has given some thought to that, but
in all honesty we do not have a financial facility within the
Department for giving major compensation for flood damage of this
kind, we just do not have those income streams. What we can do,
where we have discretion, is to use that as quickly and swiftly
as we can to try and help out.
112. One suggestion given by the NFU, potentially
quite viable in flood plains, would be to use their land as set-aside
for water, actually store water and then release it more gradually.
Is that something in principle you would be willing to consider?
(Mr Morley) Yes, in principle, I would be more than
willing to consider that. It may well be the case that in relation
to our agri-environment budget, which is also a considerable rise
in spend, it might be possible to look at ways of getting environmental
gain and also using agricultural land as winter flood storage
areas and water management areas. It is one of the advantages
of having a whole catchment study because a whole catchment study
of course will identify that kind of approach. As a very rough
rule of thumb, where land is subject to regular flooding as part
of the natural consequences of the area, there is not financial
support available because that is the position which has been
long-established, but where land could be taken for flooding or
water management, then there is a case for some form of compensation
or some form of management agreement. So we are very willing to
consider that in relation to water management.
113. Would your Department then be willing to
consider more detailed proposals and strategies which the NFU
might put together about how they see that working and giving
(Mr Morley) Yes, we would, and indeed it is not just
the NFU who are interested, but also the wildlife trusts and the
RSPB. We are very willing to look at submissions to us. As you
will appreciate, we have to apply similar criteria of technical
evaluation, cost benefit analysis and environmental impact to
see whether such schemes would have an effect. It was brought
home to me when I was going around flood hit areas in this recent
situation when I was in Leeds City Centre, which came very close
to flooding, and I was told that the effect of the washlands outside
the City and up river actually lowered the water level by a metre
and a half. That was the effect of the washlands. So you can have
quite an effect by using washlands in relation to both water management
and also flood defence. I certainly would be more than happy to
consider that kind of approach.
114. That is a great idea for the future by
the sound of it. Moving on, the National Appraisal of Assets at
Risk from Flooding and Coastal Erosion, probably the worst
(Mr Morley) Not a snappy title.
115. Not yet, no, but I am sure they are working
on it. The statistic is snappy because they reckon that 61 per
cent of England's Grade 1 agricultural land is located in areas
at risk of flooding or coastal erosion. Is there a case for extra
protection and would the Government be willing to formulate a
strategy if it feels that land needs particular attention?
(Mr Morley) We have not at the moment got a particular
strategy for Grade 1 agricultural land. You are right to say that
a lot of it is in flood risk areas because a lot of Grade 1 land
is on peat bogs and it has been reclaimed land. It is very productive
land although it has problems with soil erosion, such as the Cambridgeshire
Fens where there are particular problems with it in relation to
the pressure on the soils. We are approaching that with such things
as our soil codes in relation to protecting the quality of soil.
At the moment the priority has to be lives and property and national
infrastructure and while agriculture is certainly a criterion,
it is a lower criterion than those others.
116. I have got three last questions. One is,
what research have MAFF done to see if there is a connection between
intensive farming practice and flooding, for example, perhaps
the removal of peat tufts from hills and that kind of thing?
(Mr Morley) We have a number of R&D projects in
relation to the effect of such things as intensive grazing on
soils and run-off. We also have a number of research projects
in relation to soil management, the impact of a switch to autumn
cereals, for example, which we have both funded in the past and
are currently funding at the present time.
117. Any practical lessons that you are planning
to put into practice?
(Mr Morley) Where you can see some of the biggest
impact is where some grassed downland has been ploughed up and
turned into cereals. You can get quite a lot of run-off, not just
run-off, Chairman, you can get mud slides in certain circumstances
in relation to that. That is an issue of a cropping regime and
a management regime. One of the changes that I think will help
this is that we are bringing forward quite a long delayed Environmental
Impact Assessment which will be applied to natural and semi-natural
grassland. Before this will be ploughed up in future it will have
to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment and such issues
as water run-off and the effect of ploughing up grassland and
slopes will obviously be part of that EIA. That is one way of
tackling that, although I do accept it is something that should
have been brought forward some years ago.
118. Two very brief questions. One is would
you be willing to consider a strategy whereby if local farmers,
or groups of farmers, can think of specific projects which could
help alleviate ploughing problems, there could be a mechanism
into the Department, perhaps in partnership with the Environment
Agency, to evaluate those? In other words, to encourage those
who really know the local areas to come forward with useful propositions.
(Mr Morley) We very much value local knowledge and
local views. Yes, indeed, if there is a consortium of local landowners
who would want to join forces with the Environment Agency to bring
forward a scheme, we would be only too pleased to consider that.
It would, of course, have to go through exactly the same evaluation
as any other scheme, which is the technical, environmental and
cost benefit, but subject to the normal evaluation we would be
only too happy to consider that approach.
119. Finally, a question you may not be able
to answer. What assumptions are you making for sea level rise
in the plans that you were discussing before? Do you happen to
know how much you are planning for the sea level rise?
(Mr Morley) I have not got the exact figures to hand
but I can let you have those. Basically there are two figures
on the East Coast in particular. The figures have just suddenly
come to me. It is between four to six millimetres a year, that
is the assumption that is being built into flood defences. On
the East Coast we also have to build in an assumption of the fact
that the country is sinking. It is sinking in the East and rising
in the West.