EIGHTH SPECIAL REPORT
The Agriculture Committee has agreed to the following
The Committee has received the following memorandum
from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, constituting
the Government's Reply to the Third Report from the Committee
of the 2000-01 Session, Flood and Coastal Defence: Follow Up,
made to the House on 24 January 2001.
* * * * *
1. The Government welcomes this Report which follows
up the Select Committee's Report of August 1998 and picks up issues
arising from the widespread flooding in late 2000. The Committee
concludes that lessons have been learned and steps taken to remedy
shortcomings since the Committee's earlier Report. The Government
notes and welcomes in particular the Committee's acknowledgement
of the setting of targets for flood and coastal defence and the
release of additional funds through the 2000 Spending Review and
afterwards. The Committee nevertheless calls on Government to
reconsider the response to the 1998 report in a number of areas
to which it considers insufficient attention has been paid, and
to address new issues including:
· The institutional and funding arrangements
· Development in the flood plain
· The adequacy of funding for flood and coastal
· Means for ensuring delivery of the longterm
· Accountability and leadership at local level
2. The Committee has also raised one or two other
issues which, whilst not specifically seeking a Government response,
do nevertheless give the Government an opportunity to comment.
Paragraph 3 (Recommendation)
3. Nevertheless we reiterate our belief that there
is a need for far more fundamental institutional reform.
Paragraph 4 (Recommendation)
4. We welcome this [funding] review but are concerned
at the prolonged timescale, especially as it provides an excuse
to delay response to all questions on funding or other arrangements
whilst the review continues.
5. The institutional framework which governs decisionmaking
responsibilities is inextricably linked to the current arrangements
for funding flood and coastal defence work and reflects the relative
responsibilities of the Environment Agency and local authorities
in this area. The Funding Review which is due to report in September
2001 may make recommendations with institutional implications.
The September deadline was set to allow a proper examination of
the options, consideration of the ramifications of any changes
and the selection of recommendations. The Financial, Management
and Policy Review of the Environment Agency may also make recommendations
about how the current funding and institutional arrangements impact
on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Environment Agency.
6. Once the respective Review recommendations have
been received they will be considered along with comments made
by the Committee to inform a Government consideration of whether
institutional arrangements remain fit for purpose.
7. The Government notes the Committee's welcome for
the Funding Review and its concerns that the review prevents responses
in the interim to questions on funding or other arrangements.
The Government agrees that there are undoubtedly some questions
to which it is inappropriate to respond substantively until the
outcome of the review is known. However, the Government does not
accept the suggestion that responses are deferred unreasonably.
MAFF and the Environment Agency have collaborated successfully
in introducing measures to streamline scheme processing and are
continuing to do so during the review with a view to utilising
the additional funding provided in the 2000 Spending Review and
in last autumn's package to accelerate river flood defence works.
Paragraph 5 (Recommendation)
8. We add our support to the ETRA Committee recommendation
that only very exceptional development should be allowed in the
functional flood plain. The Government should consider whether
the Environment Agency should have the power to refer planning
applications on which it has reasonable concerns regarding flooding
to the Minister.
9. The Government is pleased to report that a further
draft of Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 25 Development
and flood risk was published for fasttrack consultation
on 6 February 2001. This draft substantially takes on board the
recommendations of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
Select Committee Report on Development on, or affecting, the
flood plain, as was explained in the Government Response to
that report published on 28 February 2001.
10. The draft includes a clear statement that building
in functional flood plains, where excess water flows or is held
at times of flood, should be wholly exceptional and limited to
essential infrastructure that has to be there. The Government
will publish the final PPG, having taken account of consultation
responses, as soon as practicable since it regards this as a matter
11. In addition, the Government has indicated that
it is considering the possibility of a Flooding Direction to require
development proposals to be referred to the Secretary of State
where the local planning authority is minded to grant permission
but where the Environment Agency sustains its objections to the
planning application on grounds of flood risk. The Environment
Agency already has the power, in common with any other person
or organisation, to make representations requesting that an application
be called in for decision by the Secretary of State.
Paragraph 6 (Comment)
12. We look forward to reading this ['lessons
learned'] report and any subsequent Government proposals "to
improve the responses and improve the structures we have in place
to protect people from floods".
13. The Government is pleased to confirm that the
Environment Agency's "Lessons Learned" report was published
on 20 March. The key finding highlighted in the Report was that
the Agency, and those responsible for the emergency response,
performed well. Of particular note was the delivery in most, if
not all, areas of a seamless and integrated service of flood forecasting,
warning and response, which Elliot Morley called for after the
Easter 1998 floods; the new flood warning codes introduced by
the Environment Agency worked well. As noted in the memorandum
of 17 November 2000 submitted to the Committee by MAFF, improvements
have been made to the flood warning system and a flood warning
improvement strategy has been agreed under which in excess of
£100 million will be invested in flood warning improvements
over a 10 year period.
14. It was also notable from the "Lessons Learned"
Report that in a number of localities the emergency response arrangements
benefited from exercises conducted in the summer of 2000 between
the Environment Agency, local authorities and the emergency services.
15. As well as highlighting successful aspects of
the handling of the autumn 2000 floods, the "Lessons Learned"
Report drew attention to areas where there was room for improvement.
These include further enhancements to the flood warning arrangements
and addressing the confusion in the minds of the public about
whom they should turn to for advice in the event of local flooding
and the range of problems it can cause.
16. In addition, the legislation providing for, and
funding of, local emergency planning is being reviewed by the
Home Office following last December's Central Local Partnership
(CLP) meeting at Leeds Castle, with a view to ensuring that responses
to all emergencies, including flooding, are rapid and effective.
The Government will ensure that the Home Office draw on the findings
and conclusions in the "Lessons Learned" Report in carrying
out their review. Emerging findings should be available to the
CLP for their meeting in July with the full report available in
Paragraph 7 (Recommendation)
17. On the face of it, the £51 million announced,
though welcome, is insufficient. The Government should reassess
this provision urgently.
18. Aggregate annual investment in flood and coastal
defence is currently of the order of ú400 million in England.
Nevertheless, MAFF funding to support capital works is set to
increase by 50% from £76 million in 2000/01 to £114
million in 200304. In addition, some £268 million is
provided to support local authorities' expenditure on flood and
coastal defence through the revenue support grant arrangements.
This profile reflects a realistic view of what operating authorities
can achieve in building up the programme. MAFF research indicates
that additional funding may be in the nation's economic interest
but the actual level of funding required is unclear at present;
further research is underway to identify the longterm investment
needs, taking account of climate change and future technical options
for flood defence.
Paragraph 8 (Recommendation)
19. We believe that the Government should explore
ways of taking account of these additional costs in the year in
which they occur.
20. Following the exceptional floods in autumn 2000
the Government assembled a £11.6 million package (£6.6
million new money) to meet most of the Agency's costs in responding
to last year's flooding and in undertaking emergency repairs.
We have also made special arrangements to fund IDBs' emergency
costs. Local authority emergency costs are claimable under the
21. The Government will explore options for improving
the funding mechanisms through the Funding Review. DETR are also
proposing to publish a Local Government Finance White Paper later
in the year which will investigate the scope for reform.
Paragraph 9 (Comment)
22. The Government responded to the situation
by relaxing rules on CAP schemes, including extending application
dates and showing flexibility on setaside regulations. Mr
Morley also expressed his willingness to consider other measures
such as "using agricultural land as winter flood storage
areas and water management areas". We welcome the Government's
willingness to exercise national discretion to help farmers in
this dire situation.
23. The Government is grateful for the Committee's
support for the action taken in order to relax scheme conditions
which cannot reasonably be met because of the weather conditions
and to allow as much flexibility as possible for farmers, particularly
in respect of operations on setaside land in the period
after 15 January.
24. Following the autumn 2000 floods the Government
has initiated catchment area studies. It is expected that these
will lead to preparation of Catchment Flood Management Plans.
Guidance is under preparation and is currently the topic of consultation
by the Environment Agency. Pilot studies are about to be initiated
in five catchments. The aim is to provide the vehicle for an holistic
view of flood risk management in each catchment. This might include
land use management to reduce runoff or provide for the
storage of floodwater. Catchment Flood Management Plans will provide
the information on which those individuals and authorities responsible
for such decisions can be encouraged to act in a coordinated
Paragraph 10 (Comment)
25. We are pleased to note that Mr Morley has
promised that a draft proposal "will come out in the near
future" on assessments in relation to ploughing up natural
and seminatural grassland.
26. As announced in the Rural White Paper, published
on 28 November 2000, the Government will consult on proposals
to implement the uncultivated land provisions of the Environmental
Impact Assessment Directive.
Paragraph 11 (Comment)
27. Even at the very top there is an awkward division
of responsibilities between MAFF and DETR and no obvious "Mr
(or Ms) Flood", a designated person ultimately responsible
for flood and coastal defence.
28. As far as the suggestion of a "Mr (or Ms)
Flood" is concerned, responsibility for flood and coastal
defence policy in England rests fully with MAFF. This was endorsed
by the Committee's 1998 Report. Within MAFF, the Parliamentary
Secretary Elliot Morley has undertaken the role of "floods
supremo". In this role the Prime Minister specifically asked
him to chair an interdepartmental Task Force to oversee
and coordinate action in a "joined up Government"
approach in response to the flooding. However, by its nature,
flood defence policy management interacts inevitably with numerous
policy areas; it would not be realistic to aspire to responsibilities
resting within a single department, or within a department to
a single line of command. Instead, the objective is effective
"joined up" operation to achieve an effective and coherent
system within and between departments.
Paragraph 11 (Recommendation)
29. The ongoing review of funding gives the Government
an opportunity to develop a clear, longterm strategy and
the means for ensuring its delivery. We believe that the Government
must take this opportunity and recommend that it do so.
30. The Government retains its current policy aim
to reduce the risks to people and the developed and natural environment
from flooding and coastal erosion. In order to advance the national
strategy for delivering this aim, MAFF introduced a series of
high level targets, following consultation with relevant organisations,
to facilitate a more certain and integrated delivery of national
policies and objectives for flood and coastal defence with effect
from 1 April 2000. These targets, which are kept under review,
apply primarily to all operating authorities. Some targets apply
to local authorities in their capacity as local planning authorities
and also as bodies responsible for emergency planning; and there
are also targets applicable to English Nature.
Paragraph 12 (Recommendation)
31. It is clear that accountability and leadership
at local level is required and that either greater powers are
required by the Environment Agency or stronger direction from
32. The Government shares the Committee's concerns
that a number of local authorities are, for the reasons given
in the Environment Agency's supplementary memorandum of 4 January
2001, unwilling or unable to inspect defences and critical watercourses
and report on their condition to the Environment Agency; some
of these local authorities have responsibility for lengths of
critical watercourses. In most of these cases the LAs are willing
to assist but a reported lack of resources or expertise prevents
them from doing so. Such inspections are a key feature of the
Government's high level targets for flood and coastal defence
operating authorities and were agreed with the Local Government
Association. The Environment Agency, which has a general flood
defence supervisory duty, is continuing to explore with these
local authorities as to how inspections might be carried out,
as well as assessing the significance of the watercourses in the
33. The Government would expect the Policy Statements
required by the High Level Target by April this year to provide
a clear indication of existing assets affecting or alleviating
flood risk and the individual local authority's approach to managing
the flood risk. On the basis of this information it will be possible
to decide on the need for remedial action, and its form.
Paragraph 13 (Comment)
34. It is vital that both major capital works
and actions taken by individual householders are based on the
best possible science, rather than panic measures; and it may
be that more funding or research effort needs to be invested in
this area. All these issues should be addressed as part of a longterm
approach to a sustainable policy on flood defence.
35. The Government agrees with Committee's assertion
that actions should be based on the best possible science and
not panic measures. The UK is a world leader in climate change
science and the DETR's two main programmes of work are the Climate
Prediction Programme at the Hadley Centre, part of the Met Office,
and the UK Climate Impacts Programme, coordinated by the
Environmental Change Institute of the University of Oxford. DETR
has policy responsibility for climate change issues and works
closely with the Hadley Centre and the UKCIP team. MAFF and the
Environment Agency coordinate their research programmes
with DETR to help ensure that the impacts of climate change are
fully considered in all aspects of flooding related decisions.
36. Despite the valuable work that is already underway,
the Government recognises that there is a need to continue to
improve our ability to predict how climate change will affect
severe weather events and to assess climate impacts over future
decades. More accurate information will help public and private
bodies as well as individuals to make improved decisions about
flood defence risks and investments. For this reason Government
has pledged further funds to enhance and speed research on climate
prediction and impacts assessment.
37. In addition, the production and general availability
of the flood risk maps being updated by the Environment Agency
will be of value to developers, businesses and the public in general
in promoting awareness of areas at risk thereby giving them the
incentive to take advance defensive measures where possible, be
fully prepared in the event of flooding and know who to turn to
for assistance after flooding. The inclusion of flood risk information
in the proposed "seller's pack" for sales of residential
property is also being considered. This would help raise awareness
among home buyers and sellers.
38. With regard to the longterm strategy for
flood risk management, the preparation of Catchment Flood Management
Plans (more details given in the Government's response to paragraph
9) should provide for an holistic view of flood risk management
in each catchment so this embraces all other possible approaches
with a longterm framework.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food