Examination of witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
100. Could I ask, Minister, whether following
the recent occurrences with flooding you have given any further
instructions to the Planning Inspectorate?
(Mr Raynsford) We have not given further advice to
the Planning Inspectorate but, of course, as you will know we
have issued PPG 3 which does specifically, among the many other
issues it covers, refer to taking account of flood risk, and guidance
has been issued to the Planning Inspectorate on the appropriate
implications of PPG 3.
101. Could I ask whether you have also had any
discussions with the water authorities which are obviously based
on river basins where the whole of the river catchment is important?
Do you have discussions with those?
(Mr Raynsford) I have focused primarily on planning
responsibilities but I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has
taken a broad view of the concerns. He has already convened a
meeting of the Central/Local Partnership and is intending to hold
a further meeting specifically bringing together all those bodies
involved to consider the issues in early December. Certainly the
water companies would be among those to be involved in the discussions,
102. Given that the local plans and the structure
plans have been around for a considerable time, do you think there
is an opportunity now with this new focus on flooding that they
should be very closely re-examined and quickly as well?
(Mr Raynsford) Yes, indeed. As you will know, when
we issued PPG 3 we did advise all local authorities to reconsider
their plans, and I think it is a reasonable assumption that when
we come to issuing PPG 25 we will be expecting authorities to
look at their existing plans in the light of the new guidance.
Clearly I cannot anticipate what we do say.
103. Dr Mance, when he was giving evidence earlier
from the Environment Agency, mentioned the on-going emergency
works which still need to be done. Is the Government going to
ensure that that money is available? £12 million was talked
about at one stage, I think.
(Mr Raynsford) This is a slightly difficult one for
me because the majority of that would fall to my colleagues in
MAFF, but I do know from discussions we have had with MAFF that
they are very much apprised of the current needs and are keen
to ensure that work proceeds as fast as possible to provide the
104. It should not always be MAFF, though, should
it? It must be a joint responsibility. Have you no input into
(Mr Raynsford) We do, and we do talk to them, but
they recognise that the planning regulations are specifically
our responsibility, and flood and coastal defence issues are predominantly
105. But we have joined-up government, do we
(Mr Raynsford) We try to.
106. Do you have a joined-up department? A couple
of years ago you made an announcement that there would be a requirement
for new build in something of the order of 3 to 4 million and
that would be mainly in the South East of England. How does that
square with the problem that most of those houses, or a fairly
high proportion of those houses, will have to be built on flood
(Mr Raynsford) If I can correct that, we have actually
abandoned the predict-and-provide approach, which was the approach
of the previous Government, we have adopted a different and more
flexible approach for ensuring housing needs are met, and we have
put a clear emphasis on building on brownfield sites. That was
the issue that I highlighted a moment ago. To give a further illustration,
we know that 36 per cent of the brownfield sites available in
Londonthe area which to date has done the most building
on brownfield land, for obvious reasonsis in the defined
flood plain. In fact if I can ask officials to pass around the
map, you will see it demonstrates the flood plain areas in Central
London, the Thames Gateway and Hull, which I have put in because
clearly it is of immediate concern to my boss, the Deputy Prime
Minister. (Map circulated) That demonstrates the extent
of the flood plain and the extent of brownfield development sites
within those areas. In the case of London, the Thames Gateway
and Hull, there are proper preventive measures in place, and that
is where we have to be careful to ensure that we do not put a
ban on development on such sites because that would work entirely
against our general planning policy to make better use of brownfield
sites and to encourage the urban renaissance.
107. But some of those proposed developments
then will create problems downstream, will they not? The rapidity
of run-off increases the problems further down.
(Mr Raynsford) I accept your point that in certain
cases new development, if there are inappropriate arrangements
for drainage, could have that effect, but I do not think that
would be a problem in London where the existing drainage arrangements
are very carefully planned to cope with these kind of pressures.
108. It is not that I do not want you to think
but I want you to say that there will be assurances that that
will not happen at all and there will be something in circulars
which will enforce that as being a part of the calculation.
(Mr Raynsford) What we are trying to do is to ensure
that development is focused in areas where it will be safe. Therefore
we wish to discourage development in areas where there is a flood
risk and we are saying quite openly that in the functional flood
plains, which are there to absorb surges of water, there should
be no development except in very, very exceptional circumstances.
In other areas where there is the capacity to provide appropriate
protection, that may well on a risk assessment be considered an
appropriate solution. We do say, incidentally, that the developer
should pay for that protection and that is a further additional
rather important point. But to rule out any development in such
areas would be in our view unwise and it would certainly have
a very adverse impact on our wider greenfield/brownfield development
109. You might be encouraged by the fact that
most of your constituency appears to be in the tidal flood plain.
(Mr Raynsford) I am well aware of that, as you may
imagine. We did not produce a map of Crewe
110. It is quite all right. My late mother's
property is in your constituency!
(Mr Raynsford) It is very well protected, I am pleased
111. I asked the Environment Agency this question
and they said they did not have the powers to do anything about
it, or the money. What would be the reason to stop the Environment
Agency, were it to be given resources, when developers are advertising
houses in areas where there is a high risk of flooding, carrying
an advert next door to that saying that there is a potential problem
(Mr Raynsford) I think we would prefer the Environment
Agency to be involved at an earlier stage, to be clearly consulted
before any planning permission is granted and to be expressing
their view clearly as to the appropriateness or otherwise of the
development before the local authority takes the decision. There
are issues where there are existing developments which have taken
place, because I am afraid in the past too many developments did
take place in inappropriate locations, whether that was greenfield
sites generally or in some cases in flood plains, and those are
sites where people have sadly found they have been at risk. Obviously
we want to see the Environment Agency taking appropriate steps
to encourage sensible remedial action, but prevention is always
better than trying to mop up after the disaster.
112. There is a problem that has been identified
where those flooded on this occasion have been told by their insurers
that they will not again be insured. What is the Government going
to do to protect these people?
(Mr Raynsford) That, I have to say, is a matter for
the individuals concerned and the insurance industry. I think
you will appreciate immediately that the Government could not
possibly accept a responsibility of last resort as an insurer
in cases where private insurance companies were not prepared to
113. But these people are in a position where
this is a national disaster situation and where they are not going
to be able to sell on their property.
(Mr Raynsford) I accept that entirely and there are
very serious lessons to be learnt from that, all I am saying is
that the Government could not possibly put itself in the position
of being seen as an insurance agency of last resort taking risks
that private insurers would not be prepared to take. That would
not be a wise or sensible position for any government to adopt.
114. What action are you taking on lessons learnt
from the previous flooding and these? Is there a review taking
place? Are we going to see some report as to the review of lessons
from the previous flooding?
(Mr Raynsford) The floods of April 1998 were the trigger
that led us to believe there was a case for the new PPG 25 which
we issued for consultation in April this year. There was a lot
of work done between April 1998 and April this year in preparation
of that new guidance, and the fact we felt there was a need for
a formal planning policy guidance was a pretty clear indication
that we took this very seriously indeed. So the discussions have
been taking place but, as I said at the outset, because we wanted
to learn all the lessons which are to be learned from the recent
serious floods this autumn, we have allowed the timescale for
the publication of the final version of PPG 25 to slip back a
little to enable us to take account of those lessons and take
on board any conclusions which come from your inquiry.
115. What action do you intend to take against
planning authorities which allow planning approvals in flood plains
before PPG 25 is firmed up? Twelve months it could take, you say.
What is going to happen in the meantime? Are you going to take
action against local authorities?
(Mr Raynsford) I hope I did not say 12 months, I hope
it will be a matter of a very few months but I did indicate early
next year would be the date I would expect to be publishing PPG
25. It is precisely to avoid this risk of local authorities not
having good, up-to-date, firm guidance that we want to accelerate
the process of getting PPG 25 finalised, obviously, while at the
same time taking account of the lessons of the recent floods.
Among the issues we are considering is the question as to whether
or not there might be a directive, similar to the one which applies
in relation to playing fields, in relation to large greenfield
developments which would require local authorities to notify us
in advance of any proposed significant development in an area
where there was a defined risk of flooding. That is one of the
possibilities we are considering. We could not do that in PPG
25, we would have to take powers, issue a direction, to give effect
to that, but that gives an indiction of just how seriously we
do take this issue, and it is one of the options under review.
116. I would like to press you on this, Minister.
We have large developers who have land banks and some of that
land obviously is in the areas where PPG 25 will restrict development,
so there may be a move to bring that planning application forward.
What action are you going to take to ensure that that does not
(Mr Raynsford) The existing draft guidance, which
is out for consultation, is already a material consideration.
Authorities do have to give consideration to it. The Environment
Agency is certainly going to be extremely vigilant in making sure
its views are put to local authorities in such cases, and we would
certainly hope that local authorities, mindful of what has happened
this autumn, would be far, far more careful in dealing with any
applications which pose a potential risk of flooding in the interim
period before the new PPG 25 comes out. If there are individual
cases where real concerns are felt, then, clearly, I would like
to know about them and, in certain circumstances, it might be
appropriate for us to use call-in powers. However, I think the
main contribution we can make is by highlighting the seriousness
of the issue, emphasising that the draft PPG 25 is already a material
consideration and encouraging local authorities to look very closely
indeed at any applications in areas where there might be a serious
risk of flooding.
117. How many representations have you received
from the Environment Agency on matters where they have recommended
to a planning authority that development should not take place
in certain areas and the authority has ignored that and gone ahead
with it? Have you received any representations from the Agency
on those issues?
(Mr Raynsford) We have received the same figures that
your Committee has received.
118. I am talking about pressure from the Department
on planning authorities saying "We do not think this is in
the best interests of the development".
(Mr Raynsford) We have, as I said, received the figures
and our officials are talking to Environment Agency officials
about the implications of those figures because we do need to
differentiate cases where the local authority has wilfully ignored
sound advice from the Environment Agency from other cases where,
for example, on, let us say, a matter of relatively minor importance
the Agency has had to express its views but the local authority,
with its better local knowledge, took a decision which was an
entirely rational and proper decision. Until we have got that
analysis it would be wrong for me to jump to conclusions. Just
to give an illustration: in the event of a development proposing
a sports pavilion on a playing field which is in a flood plain
where there will be no risk to individuals because it will not
be residential, the Environment Agency may well object, but the
local authority may well conclude that this is a perfectly safe
and appropriate development to take place, and for good reasons
accept it. It would be wrong for us to draw general conclusions
about the extent to which the Environment Agency's advice is or
is not being properly taken into account without this detailed
analysis, which is why my officials are talking in detail to the
Environment Agency at the moment.
119. We have had illustrations from the Environment
Agency today where bungalows have been built well below the level
of the flood plain and where blocks of flats are being constructed
where it has already flooded. In those situations, surely, the
people who may be influenced to buy those properties should be
safeguarded. If the Environment Agency is saying "We do not
think this is good planning approval" and refer that to the
Department, what action will the Department take?
(Mr Raynsford) On the basis of what you are saying
there is obviously cause for concern there, and it is very much
our wish that the new PPG 25 when it is issued and when it is
implemented fully will prevent that kind of circumstance. However,
in the meantime, as I was saying, we are trying to get rather
more detailed information than we have at the moment on these
instances. We are discussing this with the Environment Agency
to try and get a feel for the overall picture.