Examination of Witness (Questions 120
TUESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2000
120. Which of course means that we will be able
to get more hill livestock compensatory allowance on the West
side and that is good news.
(Mr Morley) Yes. I think you will be pushed in Cheshire,
it is not going to tilt that much.
Chairman: Montgomeryshire will be here for a
121. Minister, the RSPB made recommendations
about the development of a floodplain. Can you tell us what MAFF's
position is on that? Would you be prepared to give an unequivocal
recommendation which says no more house building or development
on the floodplain?
(Mr Morley) I do not think, in all honesty, that there
is a case for an unequivocal argument to say that in no circumstances
will there be any kind of building within a floodplain. I actually
do not think that is necessary. MAFF have been involved in consultation
with DETR in relation to the new Policy Planning Guidance 25 which
is being reviewed in the light of these recent floods and also
in the light of my hon. friend, Nick Raynsford, the Planning Minister,
who has been before the Environment Select Committee.
122. Does the technical advice that you have
received indicate to you that extra development in floodplains
to date has had a detrimental effect on flooding?
(Mr Morley) There is no argument that there have been
some very bad planning decisions made over the last 20/30 years,
there is no two ways about that. Houses have been built in very
vulnerable places, little attention has been given to run-off
or effects on water flows. I think that is absolutely true. I
think the approach in the future will be that in some instances
planning will have to be refused on flood plains; in some instances.
In other instances, you can have development within existing structure
plans which will not have an effect, and in other instances, if
you are going to have development there will have to be flood
mitigation measures. In those circumstances I think it will be
the developers who have to pay for that.
123. We have had an announcement in the last
few days about your Government's intention to make house buying
easier, the development of the so-called "Seller's Pack",
lots of information to help would-be purchasers. Do you think
one of the pieces of information they ought to have in this Seller's
Pack in general terms available to house buyers is some indication
about flood risk? Do you think the obligation for that should
be on the Government, the insurance companies or some other group?
The Committee discussed this in their report and you rejected
the proposal but we have moved on a bit since then.
(Mr Morley) We have moved on a bit since then. The
Buyer's Pack is currently a pilot scheme and there would be have
to be legislation brought forward if it was going to be applied
nationally. It is designed at the moment to speed up the sale
process. They are primarily legal documents in the Buyer's Pack
but there is no reason in principle why you could not take that
124. To use your words, to take it further,
do you envisage making recommendations, whether it be to insurance
companies, house builders, or any other body, about imparting
information to potential house purchasers about flood risk? We
heard earlier, for example, that the Environment Agency at the
end of this week are going to have on their website their map
showing risk. Do you think, for example, a householder automatically
ought to have a copy of that presented to them by somebody?
(Mr Morley) I think how far you take that is open
to debate. If you are asking me personally, I know the Environment
Agency are discussing this issue with the Law Society in relation
to how you can develop this pack further and, as part of that,
whether there should be environmental issues within the pack and
what they should be. It is clearly obvious it would be logical
that one of the environmental issues within the Buyer's Pack should
be flood risk.
125. As you rightly counsel us, the pack is
but a trial
(Mr Morley) It is.
126.and the generality of house sales
will take place whether or not a pack becomes reality. What recommendation
is MAFF going to give, either to the Department of the Environment
or to other agencies, about the question of availability of information
(Mr Morley) It is not really one for MAFF in relation
to house sales because, of course, it is more of a planning issue
which is not one for us. I would certainly want to see the information
on flood risk mapping as widely available as possible, which is
why we were very keen to see the Agency put it on the internet,
we were very keen to see the Agency provide the CD-disk to every
local authority in the country, which they have done, and of course
it was one of the targets which we set in relation to flood risk
mapping from MAFF to the Environment Agency. I think there is
a debate on how far you take that and I think it is going to be
part of the consultation which will take place on such things
as the Buyer's Pack. There is a risk of blight, of course, in
relation to this. The counter-argument is that people need to
know. The other concern is that once you have a flood risk map,
although it is helpful and useful in itself, what we do not want
to do is to think that people who are just over that line on the
flood risk map are therefore guaranteed never in any circumstances
to be at risk from flooding. That is the other danger of being
too prescriptive, too definitive, in relation to saying whether
a house is at flood risk or not. I think the important thing is
to make sure that the information is available, that people are
aware of it, that people can access it, and also people understand
that you cannot draw too definitive a conclusion from it apart
from, if you are in the flood risk area then of course you are
at risk. But it does not mean that if you are on the edge, you
are not. This is where you get into difficulties about how tightly
you draw these things.
127. We discussed earlier in our evidence discussions
which the Environment Agency and the ABI had, and we talked about
the question of the uninsurability of some properties. In the
context of those who make their living on the land, they are in
many cases more vulnerable. You have just been talking about land
being used as a water storage area, what discussions have you
had with the insurance industry about ensuring they can continue
to give cover, for example, in the context of farmhouses, farm
buildings, farm machinery, for those people who are in potentially
high risk areas, a risk which could be enhanced by virtue of them
saying, "Okay, my land is suitable to act like a flood reservoir",
indicating they are in a risk area but increasing their own personal
(Mr Morley) We have had general discussions with the
insurance companies but what you are referring to is a very specialist
subject. The discussions we have had are on general propertiespeople's
private homes and people's businesses. What I take it you are
talking about is if we went a step further in relation to developing
some land as flood storage or washlands. In those circumstances
in many cases the actual farm buildings where land is washland
have been deliberately built above the high water mark because
people knew, going back in some cases centuries, the patterns
of water in those areas and they tend to be raised. In other circumstances
if, speaking hypothetically, you wanted to introduce a scheme
which would involve flooding land periodically, perhaps not necessarily
every year but at peaks of flooding in the winter, if some properties
were at risk as part of the scheme you may have to defend those
properties and that could be done.
128. I asked the Environment Agency when they
gave evidence whether they would welcome a similar right of direction
to a local authority to reject a planning application that the
Highways Agency have for developments where they believe these
conflict with road safety or matters of that kind. Would you support
such a step?
(Mr Morley) My understanding is that the Environment
Agency's advice will be given greater emphasis in the new policy
guidelines which will be coming forward now in January, so they
are going to have an enhanced role.
129. That may be so. We have certainly seen,
as you have said yourself, some extremely poor decisions by local
authorities which can continue to be perverse in spite of the
apparent advice given to them. Is that something where we just
say, in the English way, "They make those judgments, that
(Mr Morley) It does come down in some ways to how
far you have power of direction and central control and how far
you have an element of local democracy and local autonomy. All
local authorities have professional planners and all professional
planners know the kind of guidelines they should be working within.
They are going to get clearer guidelines in relation to flood
plain development under PPG 25 and that also includes the role
of the Environment Agency in terms of their recommendations. Just
bear in mind, even at the present time, as I understand it, 90
per cent of planning applications which are objected to or commented
on by the Environment Agency are either rejected or adapted as
a result of those comments.
130. Further to that, would you then accept
something more modest which would be that there should be a standard
condition on applications in this sort of category which would
oblige them to produce proposals which would be acceptable to
the Environment Agency and if they did not then that application
would not proceed?
(Mr Morley) You are talking about areas of responsibility
which are outside my own remit really in these but if you want
me to venture a personal opinion, which is always dangerous in
this game, Chairman, I was very interested in some of the discussions
we held in the Cabinet Sub-Committee which has been set up by
the Prime Minister in relation to dealing with the aftermath of
the floods and making sure that people get the help and support
that they need and they are not forgotten about, even when the
floods are no longer in the national interest. I understand that
there is a Scottish system whereby insurance companies are consulted
by developers and, indeed, they need to know whether the insurers
will actually provide insurance in relation to the development
before it goes ahead. That is a very interesting idea and I only
put that out as a thought. That is something which could be considered.
131. That might deal with the idea of someone
putting a housing estate where it is going to be flooded, but
it would not deal with the possible consequences of that development
on other areas around it.
(Mr Morley) In terms of run-off you mean?
132. Yes. In my area I have seen cases where
a housing estate has remained dry in the last few weeks, however
other people have suffered as a consequence.
(Mr Morley) Yes. It can sometimes be quite difficult
to measure the effect of one development on another, although
I do not doubt that it can have that effect. That, again, is a
job for the Environment Agency in terms of the advice that they
will give the planning authorities, and the planning authorities
do have a responsibility to take it into account.
133. Thank you very much indeed, Minister, we
will see you again, I have no doubt, on whatever subject. We will
no doubt want to come back and see how things are panning out
when you have had your review and begun to see a little bit of
dry land, as it were.
(Mr Morley) That is right. I will, of course, be only
too happy that when we have the evaluation from the Agency to
make sure that your Committee has a copy that you can consider
Chairman: Thank you.