Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by West Sussex County Council (FP 05)



  1.  The County Council welcomes the opportunity to submit its comments to the Select Committee on this issue. It submitted evidence to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee on Flood and Coastal Defence in 1998 and forwarded comments to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on the draft of PPG 25.

  2.  Extensive areas of low lying land, and a subsiding land mass make West Sussex particularly prone to flooding. Recent tornadoes, together with coastal and river flooding may be indicative of the fact that the predicted detrimental impacts of climate change are already becoming manifest. The County Council is most concerned and has been at the forefront of efforts locally to publicise and to understand and adapt to the impacts of climate change. It is increasingly looking for mitigating measures and for advice on learning to live with a changed climate.

  3.  The current Structure Plan (approved in 1998, but not adopted) has strong land use policies to prevent development that would cause or increase danger from flooding or erosion. For example, policy G12 states that: "in areas at particular risk, or potential risk, from natural causes, including flooding, erosion or storm, new development or the significant intensification of development will be resisted. Permission will also be refused for development which would increase the risk of flooding or erosion elsewhere, or development which could take place only with the enhancement of sea or flood defences".

  4.  Local planning authorities in dealing with applications for planning permission have regard to the views of the Environment Agency, current DETR guidance and the relative importance of the issue in the context of other policy considerations.

  5.  It must be recognised, however, that changes in that part of the built development pattern that is controllable through the planning process form only a relatively small part of the several processes that might influence the incidence of flooding. As well as climate change and isostatic sea level adjustments, important factors include agricultural and forestry practices, road construction and improvement, road maintenance, water-course straightening and channelling, the provision of drains, sewers and culverts, and the inspection and clearance regimes for all water courses and drainage channels.

  6.  Currently, the Environment Agency allows some development in flood risk areas if suitable protection or mitigation measures are carried out or the particular use proposed has a relatively low risk associated with it. This is reflected in the wording of the current draft PPG on coastal and flood defences. Such measures, if they can guarantee the safety of the occupants, may be acceptable, but the County Council is aware that flood defence engineers state that no defence is perfect and is inclined to the view that most development in flood risk areas should be prevented.

  7.  The County Council is currently reviewing its Structure Plan, including those policies related to flood defence and coastal erosion. Using the evidence available, it is trying to take account of the likely impact of climate change.

  8.  It has studied the draft PPG 25 and believes that it lacks the necessary clarity to enable the Environment Agency and local planning authorities to take a firm line in preventing new development in areas at risk. The alternative approaches suggested, particularly in the appendices, lead to ambiguity and uncertainty. Terms such as "flood plain", "the life of the property", "flood risk", "climate change" and "development appropriate to the risk" must be clearly defined.

  9.  At the moment, where evidence is given at public enquiries it risks being discounted by the Inspector unless its authority can be clearly established. DETR must give definitive advice to the Environment Agency and local planning authorities on the scenarios for climate change which should be considered, and ensure Planning Inspectors are fully aware of the importance of this advice.

  10.  Lives are at stake and the public has indicated that it does not expect local planning authorities to allow development which is subject to periodic flooding. DETR guidance and support for the Environment Agency and local planning authorities must be sufficiently strong to ensure that when permission is refused on the grounds of flood risk the decision will be supported on appeal, provided that it was based on sound evidence. In times of uncertainty on issues like climate change, the precautionary principle (when used to justify refusal of planning permission) should be supported.

  11.  More development in flood risk areas or in flood plains in the short, medium or long term will result in a high cost on the private and public purse. It will also mean that a larger number of people will be at risk of suffering from anxiety, property loss or damage and possible injury or risk to life. Flood defence engineers argue that no defence can guarantee complete immunity from flooding. Climate change predictions suggest that extreme events will become more frequent and possibly more intense. This means that people in such locations are likely to suffer more, and the cost of business recovery will be high. The cost to the public purse of warning systems, emergency services, and compensation and recovery packages will increase.

  12.  There may be a case for a power of last resort to be given to the Environment Agency so that it can prevent development where there is likely to be considerable danger to life (or property). Such a change in the law would require the introduction of suitable appeal procedures for both the developer and the local planning authority.

  13.  In determining whether or not there is a risk of flooding on a particular site, the developer and the Environment Agency must take account of:

    1.  The contours, slope and general location of the site.

    2.  The standard of existing and potential future defences.

    3.  Intervening obstructions to flow.

    4.  The degree of investment likely in necessary defences.

    5.  The impact of climate change.

    6.  The degree of risk to occupants and visitors during the whole life of the property.


  14.  The Environment Agency's maps of flood risk areas are currently inadequate for making decisions on local plan allocations and individual development proposals. New maps should be produced that reflect the criteria set out above.

  15.  More extensive research should be undertaken to identify the cumulative effects of development on flood risk to ensure that this is fully taken into account in the Environment Agency's advice to local planning authorities on the future scale and location of development and advice on individual development proposals.

  16.  More effort should be devoted to analysing and coping with the dual effect of flood risk from the sea and from river catchments in the vicinity of estuaries and tidal rivers, given climate change predictions. Further research is required on the potential for intermittent (and perhaps unrecognised) springs and rivers to flood areas of saturated land.

  17.  The impact of development (or other land use changes, and of agricultural activity) outside flood risk areas on land inside areas at risk from flooding should also be assessed. Anything which increases the rate of run-off or which speeds the flow of rainwater towards a flood risk area should be examined carefully, modified if possible, and taken into account.

  18.  There should be careful monitoring of development permitted in coastal and fluvial flood plains. The Environment Agency must be given adequate resources to fulfil its functions and ensure that it deals with flood defence as a priority.


  19.  Potential developers, purchasers, occupiers and local planning authorities should be given clear advice (a "flood risk assessment") by the Environment Agency on the degree of flood risk on the site being considered for development and on any property built on the site, in terms of the likelihood, intensity, extent, speed and depth of a flood (in "normal" and "extreme" conditions now and in say 20, 40 and 80 years time) and on the standard/quality and effectiveness of any defences existing or proposed, taking full account of the predicted climate change impacts during the expected life of the property. The developer should be required to contribute to the cost of undertaking such an assessment.

  20.  Flood risk information (ie the "flood risk assessment") should be part of the local property search procedures—the LPA and EA should be consistent in their advice, ie the local authority should provide potential purchasers with a copy of the EA's "flood risk assessment". Future purchasers/occupiers would have a right to see the assessment.


  21.  Developers should not be given the opportunity to obtain planning permission merely by constructing defences based on their own standards; although in certain instances they ought probably to be required to contribute to compensatory defences, and/or the erection and maintenance of new "community defences" by way of a commuted sum related to the life of the property (ie both flood defences and/or coast protection structures).

  22.  To give developers the right to build where they provide resources to defend their property could result in new development outside the main "community defences". This could result in long term maintenance liability/responsibility problems for the Environment Agency or the coastal protection authorities and might set up potential conflicts with shoreline management plans and new flood defence programmes, particularly if the site is required for future defences or is the subject of a managed retreat strategy. If privately constructed defences prove inadequate, the moral, if not legal, obligations to repair and strengthen them would probably at present fall on the public authorities.


  23.  Irrespective of arguments about the control of future development in flood risk areas, the County Council is firmly of the opinion that adequate resources should be spent on defending all existing settlements in areas at risk from flooding and helping them to adjust to the rigours and challenges of climate change.

  24.  In particular the County Council would wish to ensure that adequate resources are provided by Central Government for the improvement and future maintenance of flood defence and coastal protection schemes. Residents of coastal and riverside towns and villages, many with a rich heritage and vibrant community with a strong attachment to their local area, are entitled to expect the public authorities to find ways to protect them where practicable, from the elements.


  25.  The County Council believes that a review of methods of financing flood and coastal defences and property insurance in flood risk areas should be undertaken to determine how future needs can be met from the public and private purse. The review should also encompass compensation arrangements for those land and property owners directly effected by decisions in shoreline management plans and coastal defence strategies to abandon or realign coastlines or create new defences.

  26.  It would expect the cost—benefit methodology used to determine the level of support from MAFF for coastal and flood defences to fully reflect the social and wider economic benefits of the schemes (eg in terms of public and business confidence).


  27.  The County Council would expect PPG 25 to include clear guidance on:

    (a)  how the Environment Agency, coastal protection engineers and the local planning authorities ensure that developers contribute appropriately to the cost of maintaining/strengthening defences (during the life of the property)—clear formulae must be devised;

    (b)  the scope for undeveloped or previously used land within and adjacent to urban areas to be used as a drainage, flood control, wildlife habitat, pollution control, amenity, recreational and/or potential food growing resource and not simply being an opportunity for further development;

    (c )  mitigation measures to manage/alter the land use pattern/drainage arrangements within or adjoining settlements to reduce existing and future flood risk and, in particular, to protect land within urban areas from development if they are required for drainage or flood control purposes;

    (d)  how to plan for the extension of flood defences or, where essential, managed realignment solutions, including the reservation of land and, in extreme circumstances the relocation of land uses (including compensation arrangements);

    (e)  clarification of the legal responsibilities for allowing and building new development in flood risk areas ie the various responsibilities of landowners, developers, purchasers, central government, the Environment Agency and the local planning authority;

    (f)  the relationship of coastal flood defence to coastal protection and coastal erosion, in terms of land use planning, and in particular the need to consult coastal protection engineers;

    (g)  the relationship between land use planning and building control in minimising flood risk or coastal erosion;

    (h)  how it can be made clear exactly what the basis for and significance is of any lines on proposals maps in development plans indicating "flood risk" areas.


  28.  The County Council believes that there must be a much closer link in central government between flood defence/coastal protection and land use planning/economic development. That may best be achieved by giving the DETR wider areas of responsibility. There also needs to be a much better link between shoreline management plans, coastal defence strategies, Local Environment Agency plans, water level management plans and land use development plans to ensure not only that, when possible, their timetables coincide and the public are fully involved in the whole consultation process, but also that they are properly co-ordinated.

  29.  The County Council has strong views about the way coastal protection and flood defence issues are handled and especially the number of organisations that are involved in the process. In particular it believes that strategic planning authorities should have a central co-ordinating role, in partnership with the Environment Agency and other local authorities. It would be pleased to elaborate on this issue.

  30.  A much more strategic and holistic approach should be adopted to the issues and the fragmented nature of the flood and coastal defence arrangements reviewed. Strategic authorities, given appropriate resources and powers, are best placed to bring greater coherence and direction to this vital area.

  31.  West Sussex County Council hopes that this evidence and all the detailed points raised in its previous submission on PPG 25 will be taken into account in PPG 25.

John Kilford
County Planning Officer

16 November 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 March 2001