Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Second Report


(a)Following the 1998 floods and considerable effort by the Environment Agency, local planning authorities have taken steps to reduce the number of planning permissions for development on the flood plain. Nevertheless, there are powerful continuing pressures both for development which is on the flood plain and which affects it. There is accordingly a need for clear guidance in respect of development and flood risk (paragraph 10).
(b)We welcome the Minister's statement to the Committee that he plans to issue a stronger PPG. The draft PPG should be significantly strengthened. The Minister should at the very least introduce all the proposals he is currently considering, and in a number of areas should go further (paragraph 15).
(c)We welcome the proposed introduction of the sequential approach as a progression from the precautionary approach. We also strongly support the Minister's proposal that building on the functional flood plain should be avoided. The final PPG 25 should indicate clearly the thresholds which will determine the choice of one or another planning response. These should include the following:
-  No facilities for emergency services should be permitted in the flood plain of even the most extreme (1000 year) flood.
-  Only very exceptional development should be allowed in the functional flood plain.
-  The Government should investigate whether the functional flood plain should be defined as the one hundred year flood or the two hundred year flood, which is used in coastal regions and which might be more appropriate in view of climate change (paragraph 20).
(d)We are concerned that proposals contained in the draft PPG 25 could largely preclude development on brownfield sites in urban areas in the flood plain. There should be a clearer allowance in urban areas protected by flood defences for locally agreed solutions which take into account the alternative locations for development, the degree of risk of flooding, the scope for design solutions to mitigate risk, and other local considerations (paragraph 23).
(e)Flood proof construction techniques should be encouraged for use in developments in urban areas at risk of flooding. Advice should be issued by the Government for use by planning authorities when placing conditions on planning permissions and should be incorporated into the Building Regulations. This should be done within six months. Such advice should include how more sustainable construction techniques can be fitted into existing properties (paragraph 24).
(f)Regional Planning Guidance should include an explanation of how its proposals will adapt to flood risk. It should emphasise that planning should be based on the catchment area and indicate how the allocation of development land, especially for housing, have taken this issue into account (paragraph 25).
(g)When reviewing their Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans, planning authorities should:
  • remove land allocated for development which is now found to be out of line with the proposed sequential approach for allocating fresh land, taking into account any advice from the Environment Agency; and

  • include flood risk as an issue in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of their plans (paragraph 27).
(h)It is most important that the Environment Agency play a leading part in all stages of the planning process. It should devote adequate resources to pressing its case before Regional Planning Guidance and Structure Plan Panels, at Local Plan and Unitary Development Plan Inquiries, and in response to consultations on planning applications (paragraph 28).
(i)The Minister told us that he was considering issuing a Direction which would require local authorities to notify him in advance of any proposed significant development in an area where there was a defined risk of flooding. We agree that the Minister should issue such a Direction.
The Direction should apply to developments:
-  which the authority proposes to approve; and
-  to which the Environment Agency objects on flood risk grounds; and
-  which are within the functional flood plain of the 200 year river flood (paragraph 29).
(j)The Environment Agency's section 105 maps should be incorporated into Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans on a scale of 1:25,000 (or more detailed) where the accuracy (and thus reliability) of the maps is known and can be properly explained. Without this condition, maps might falsely give impressions either of security from flooding or liability to flooding. Maps should state the level of risk which they identify, and should indicate the amount of protection from flooding in the flood plain (if any) which has been provided in the area. These maps should include known areas of flood hazard which lie outside the flood plain. If any areas have been known to have flooded in the last 100 years that information should be available and the causes of the flooding marked if practicable (paragraph 31).
(k)We recommend that land in the flood plain on which water will be deliberately stored in time of flood (washlands) should be identified on the ground, engineered as necessary, and identified in Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans (paragraph 32).
(l)We agree with the Environment Agency that "PPG 25 should promote the use, adoption and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems". Legislation regarding responsibilities for drainage from development sites (i.e. planning control, Building Regulations and land drainage) should be overhauled to enable the construction of, and maintenance arrangements for, sustainable drainage systems to be required when new development takes place. Sustainable Drainage Systems should become the norm as soon as possible everywhere (paragraph 36).
(m)To effectively implement PPG 25 several organisations, including the Government's regional offices and local authorities, will need more staff with the right skills and more money. It is therefore unrealistic to expect PPG 25 to be cost free as it claims (paragraph 37).
(n)Information about flood risk should become a standard part of local authority searches. This should state whether the property in question is or is not marked on the section 105 map, and carry a standard disclaimer that this information is not a wholly reliable measure of the likelihood of flooding, and is reliant on the best information available at the time. The explanatory information accompanying the map should be reproduced in full (paragraph 39).
(o)Permitted development rights should be reviewed and should not be available without the installation of sustainable drainage systems where they would have consequences for flooding. The PPG should encourage local planning authorities to withdraw permitted development rights as a condition of any development on the flood plain where exercising such rights could affect flood-risk (paragraph 41).
(p)We are very concerned about the consequences of building new roads on the functional flood plain (paragraph 42).
(q)It is salutary to consider that a contributory cause of the recent floods may have been the determination of MAFF over many years not to implement the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. This is a grave condemnation of this Ministry. We welcome the statement by the Minister for Agriculture and the Countryside that these regulations will now be issued. This must be done as a matter of urgency (paragraph 44).
(r)We recommend that cross-compliance measures be introduced to ensure that, where appropriate, rain water is retained on the farm. In addition the system of subsidies to farmers should be re-directed from production to encourage farming practices which retain water on the flood plain and slow down runoff from the uplands (paragraph 45).
(s)The matter this report addresses is important and likely to become more important. Climate change threatens to make flooding a more common occurrence. Before the middle of this century the Thames barrier will no longer be able to sustain its present standard of protection. The costs of providing flood protection will be substantial and will continue to rise. The changes we have advocated to the planning system and to agriculture must be made as a matter of urgency. A final version of the PPG should be issued with dispatch (paragraph 47).

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