Examination of witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
40. The insurance industry is categorically
(Dr Mance) What we can say is that what we have seen
over the past five or six years is extremes of weather which match
the predictions of global warming quite well.
41. It is not global warming, but it just sounds
like global warming and looks like global warming and reacts like
global warming but you are not sure that it is.
(Dr Mance) The record rainfall in any one place was
in 1911. The weather that we experience within the climate is
very erratic and variable. Saying that in one or two short periods
of time that the system has shifted completely is difficult to
say absolutely. All the signals are that it is. The underlying
temperature profile and so on shows that there is a shift happening,
but how rapidly and how far and how dramatically it will go, is
very difficult to say. That is a very important as to how we design
flood defence systems. We are facing the prospect of designing
for large uncertainties. Given that, our constraints at the moment
are very tight, we have a cost benefit assessment that does not
allow us to deal with uncertainties in a sensible way.
42. Mr Steward said that, like local authorities,
you have to react to planning applications. That is basically
when the matter is finished. Given what you have just said, what
input should be made now and what should the Government do for
structure plans and local plans that have already been approved,
but have not taken into account the change and variation in the
(Mr Chapman) The agency has proposed that we need
to look at the sites that have been proposed through the structure
plans and development plans and re-examine the flood risk to them.
Potentially there is a problem in store.
43. So the Government should say to local authorities,
"Forget whatever structure plans you have put forward in
the past and that have been approved; you ought to start again
(Mr Chapman) No, I am not suggesting that they forget
what is there, but it would be sensible to review what is there,
together with the developer, the planning authority and the agency
and to look at the existing flood risks and allocation so that
they are clear as to what land will come out of the process which
otherwise would inevitably come forward for planning permission
in a few years' time.
44. What part does sustainable drainage play
in these plans? Will you insist, particularly in urban areas,
that there is sustainable drainage?
(Dr Mance) We have been actively encouraging the use
of sustainable drainage systems.
45. Perhaps encouraging developers to do something
is one matter, but making them do it is another.
(Dr Mance) We would like the planning guidance and
building regulations to put a bias clearly in favour of their
general adoption, rather than relying purely on persuasion on
each site by ourselves. We want the system to give very clear
signals in favour of a more sustainable approach.
46. Can you briefly describe what sustainable
(Dr Mance) We have tried to find a better phrase than
"sustainable drainage systems". It is a whole range
of options from very simple flood storage basins that retain floods
for a while and then release the water slowly over a period of
time, through to green areas in towns where the water may go up
and down during a storm and where it can be stored and encouraged
to soak away over a long period of time, rather than releasing
it downstream subsequently, through to pervious car parks and
pavements designed to allow the water through, to retain it and
allow it to soak away gradually over a period of time. Basically,
it is to encourage the water to stay higher in the catchment in
the town for longer in a way that is not damaging.
47. I want to follow up on a couple of things
that Dr Mance has said and one thing that Mr Chapman has said.
Dr Mance, you said fairly early on that one million people could
be at risk if there is not a tough PPG in place. Can you supply
the Committee with a map of exactly where you reckon those people
are? Secondly, you have said that you are luke warm on climate
change, or you do not want to say that it is climate change. Yet
in your own submission you have talked about the need to "`future
proof' development by using future climates as a basis for design
now", which sounds like planning for climate change to me.
You must have done some work on that. Have you made any estimates
on how much needs to be spent on flood defences in terms of investment
over future years to allow for future climate changes? How much
has the Government actually brought forward?
(Dr Mance) Picking up those points in sequence, on
the number of houses identified, we have looked at the pattern
over the past five years, bringing together a number of databases
run by the insurance industry and our own flood risk maps. That
has shown that around 9 or 10 per cent of the planning applications
are in flood risk areas. If you apply that to the prospective
growth of new housinglet us talk of around 4 million propertiesyou
get a figure of just under 400,000 properties. We do not have
a view on where those will be, as they are an extrapolation from
those figures under the present planning guidance. Therefore we
could not give you a map. On climate change, I was trying to convey
that we cannot say with confidence that the extreme events that
we have seen over the past three, four or five years are actually
due to climate change. They are completely consistent with predictions
and we accept that climate change is happening. In the coastal
area we have been making allowances for the last 10 or 15 years
for sea level rise. There are two reasons for that. One is that
geologically there is tilt in the South East as the land bounces
back from the ice age, but more significantly, as warming takes
place the sea expands and that gives rise to an increase in sea
levels. That increase is of the order of 6 to 10 millimetres a
year. That takes us to almost a metre over 100 years in the increase
in sea level. That makes no allowance for the predicted increase
in storminess and, therefore, the severity of wave attack experienced
or the increased height of waves.
Chairman: Before you frighten us totally, do
you have answers to the other two points?
48. How much money has the Government put forward
in terms of investment and what estimate have you made of the
amount of money needed to be invested to cope with the bigger
waves to which you have just referred?
(Dr Mance) We have not yet made an estimate for the
whole country. An assessment for the Thames Estuary alone suggests
that over the next 40 years we shall need to invest £4 billion
to maintain the current defences. That is just for the Thames
Estuary. We have carried out rapid estimates as a result of the
current floodingI say current, because it is still on-going
in South Yorkshire and Sussexand we probably need to spend
of the order of another £200 million to deal with the obvious
problems that we have seen over the past few weeks on top of current
investment. Through the spending review, the Government have made
another £30 million available over the second two years of
the spending review period, and have recently announced an extra
£51 million over the next three years. At the time that the
£51 million was announced we said that it was a welcome first
step. We live in hope of a second step.
49. Mr Chapman, you talked about the need to
re-examine structure plans. I want to push you further on that.
Might there be a need to take retrospective action on existing
development? We have referred to residential property and I want
to talk about industrial property. You may be aware that there
was a fire at Sandhurst industrial park. That was followed by
a severe flood and I understand from talking to Stephen Martin,
an experienced environmentalist, that there is now a cocktail
of 100 tonnes of paint stripper, toluene, pesticide residue, 21
kilograms of cyanide that is now swilling around in the waters
there and no one has been able to go in because of the floods
to find out what is happening. Do you think that there is a need
for greater powers to go back and look at that kind of a site?
(Dr Mance) I am well aware of that site and a number
of others. We believe that through the integrated pollution inspection
control directive that there is scope for us to look at the siting
of some existing installations and the acceptability of their
safety in relation to flood risk. Had the fire at Sandhurst happened
two days later, the fire brigade would not have been able to get
to the site to put it out as it was surrounded by water. It is
fortuitous that it happened before the flood arrived. Clearly,
that causes us concern and we are exploring that with the Health
and Safety Executive among others.
50. You say that the public go into new houses
with their eyes open in relation to flooding. I would say the
exact opposite. When a developer puts in an advert, why do you
not put one alongside warning people that there is a potential
for flooding? What is there to stop you doing that?
(Dr Mance) That is an interesting suggestion. I guess
there is nothing to stop us doing that beyond the issue of having
resources available to do so repeatedly across the country.
51. You could put separate maps in the local
plan showing the estimated extent of different severities of flooding?
(Dr Mance) We hope that the development plans of the
future will include flood risks plans. We have also targeted 800,000
properties in the high risk flooding areas with direct mail shots
to try to raise awareness. We are close to agreement with the
Law Society on the inclusion of flood risk in conveyancing information.
One could ask when does an individual take responsibility for
his or her decisions and require information. At which point is
a regulatory operational body such as ourselves expected to intervene
on their behalf?
52. How many houses are you aware of that now
do not have the potential to be insured because of the flooding
that they have suffered?
(Dr Mance) There has been a significant number of
reports, during the recent events, of people finding that their
insurance will be valid for the present flood, but that they will
find it very difficult to renew that insurance. That is an issue
that we have highlighted to the Government for discussion with
the insurance industry. It is certainly something that the Deputy
Prime Minister has made clear that he is well alive to.
53. I heard you say earlier that some elements
of new developments create a rapidity of run-off. That has a knock-on
effect downstream where there have been developments for years.
What statutory responsibilities do you have in that respect to
stop that development or to bring to everyone's attention the
potential damage that will be created by it?
(Mr Chapman) Obviously, the agency seeks to identify
such issues and brings them into the democratic process of the
town and country planning system.
54. Do you bring such things to the attention
of the poor sods further down the road?
(Dr Mance) You highlight the reason why we are concerned
about the draft PPG. Clearly it is not robustly in favour of more
sustainable drainage systems that prevent those things arising.
We believe that it should be. There is a good practice design
manual available and there is a good practice examples manual
available. Within 10 miles of you somewhere in this country now
there is one operating and it has been there for some time. The
service station on the M40 at Oxford was designed so that the
run-off from the site was no different from when it was a greenfield
site. We do not believe that now there is any excuse for maintaining
the rather tired, traditional approach to drainage design. We
have no powers to insist upon it and that is why we want to see
it in the planning system and in the building regulations.
55. If local plans included areas at risk from
flooding on their proposals maps, would that give a false impression
or would it be a move forward?
(Dr Mance) I think it would be a move forward. Again,
it is a way of drawing attention to everyone that the risk is
there and the plan should adequately address the risk.
56. Who ought to be responsible for preparing
(Dr Mance) In terms of wise use of public resources,
I believe it would be sensible for us to develop, maintain and
improve those maps. I believe that if a developer takes exception
to them and believes that they are wrong, the developer should
be required to pay to prove that they are wrong and show how they
should be improved. At the moment things are the other way around.
We have defended the validity of the maps, rather than having
better information paid for by the developers.
57. On the issue of mapping, on the southern
boundary of my constituency there is a plan to build several thousand
houses on a greenfield site, which everybody who lives there knows
about 30 years ago was under water. It does not appear on your
plans as being part of a flood plain because it does not flood
from rivers, but it floods from storm water that has accumulated
there before it drains away. Your maps do not necessarily accurately
represent the flood risk.
(Dr Mance) If it is a greenfield site, and there are
no properties that currently experience flooding, we will not
necessarily pick that up and show it on the maps.
58. Under Section 105 of the 1991 Act you have
a responsibility to identify flooding from rivers and tidal flood
plains, and not necessarily from water run-off. Is that right?
(Dr Mance) Technically, that is right. In practice
we try to make use of the information that we have accumulated,
and every time there is a flood we accumulate more information
and translate that through to give the most comprehensive picture
that we can. We would never claim that the information that we
currently have is 100 per cent perfect. I doubt it will ever be
so. We deal with the occasional extreme event that causes problems.
Predicting extremes is always difficult and they do not necessarily
happen evenly over the country over a given period of time. That
is why we believe that the policy planning guidance should put
an onus at development plan stage and then on the developers to
assess the flood risk to show whether it is there or not and how
they will take account of it to prove that it is safe to develop
that area. That is why the system ought to go through this sequential
route, with the onus on the developer. At the moment the onus
is on the public sector to pay out of public funds to prove that
it is not possible to develop an area, rather than on the developer
who will make a profit.
59. You are saying that it should be part of
a normal search?
(Dr Mance) Yes, and part of the developer's proposal.