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

Memorandum by English Nature (FP 06)



  1.  In the light of increased storminess and rainfall events, English Nature believes that a long-term strategic approach to flood-defence planning is now needed, and that there are distinct benefits from working with nature wherever possible.

  2.  English Nature, therefore, recommends:

  2.1  the adoption of catchment-level flood management strategies and flood defence planning;

  2.2  greater use of washland areas and land-use changes in order to reduce flood risks;

  2.3  consideration for the development of an incentive scheme for landowners and land managers to facilitate flood relief measures.

  3.  Such an approach will help to reduce flood risk to vulnerable human settlements, be cost effective, protect valuable wildlife habitats and contribute to habitat-creation targets in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

  4.  The recent flooding of Lewes in West Sussex illustrates the need and opportunities for such approaches. Flooding of the town resulted from river water meeting a tidal surge in a constrained channel. Opportunities for creation of washland exist above the town on agricultural land and below the town on Lewes Brooks SSSI, which requires higher water levels. The SSSI could be used for freshwater storage. There is also the opportunity to create saltmarsh, through set back of flood banks in the estuary. These options should be considered as part of a strategic approach to flood management in the Ouse catchment.


  5.  English Nature made a detailed response to the DETR consultation on PPG 25 on Development and Flood Risk in June 2000. The key messages in our response, which we would reiterate, are:

    —  a higher profile should be given to the risks and uncertainties associated with climate change;

    —  there should be a presumption against (rather than in favour of) new development in high flood-risk areas;

    —  developer-funded defences do not provide a solution to permitting development in flood-risk areas;

    —  guidance is needed on how the planning system can help tackle the historic legacy of development in high-risk locations through use of "adaptive measures".

  6.  In the current situation, we would add two further points for consideration:

    —  that the Environment Agency could be given additional powers to request the "call-in" of planning applications, where the planning authority is minded to grant consent for inappropriate development in flood risk areas.

    —  that planning authorities should be involved in—and party to—catchment-level flood defence strategies.


  7.  In urban areas, developments can be designed with porous materials which allow more of the rainfall to percolate into the ground. Combined with sustainable urban drainage systems, this should help to alleviate flash run-off problems.

  8.  In rural areas, targeted restriction of under drainage and arable cultivation in sensitive areas could help to relieve run-off problems. More rainfall could be retained in the upper-catchment gathering grounds in order to moderate peak river-flows. Ways of improving water retention include restoration of canalised streams, re-creation of meadows, pasture and wet woodland—all of which would benefit biodiversity.


  9.  A more natural functioning of flood plains is a key element of a strategic catchment approach. This will involve creating new areas of "washland" into which river flows can be diverted. An example is the Nene Washes, which helped to protect Peterborough from the worst of the Easter 1998 floods, and where 1,310 hectares of farmland have been designated as a European Special Protection Area for birds.

  10.  English Nature is undertaking research into appropriate incentives that could be offered to farmers and landowners for providing areas of washland. If some of the flood risk can be reduced by creation of washlands, it should lessen the need for extra urban defences, which are very costly to construct and maintain.

17 November 2000

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