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

Memorandum by East Sussex County Council (FP 18)



  This paper is based upon the response of East Sussex County Council to the consultation draft of Planning Policy Guidance Note 25: Development and Flood Risk. In East Sussex, serious flooding has been experienced as the result of the recent severe weather. Flooding of residential and business properties was widely reported, particularly that in Lewes town on the River Ouse, at Uckfield on the River Uck, (a tributary of the Ouse), and at Robertsbridge on a tributary of and close to the River Rother. However, the flooding also severely affected much wider areas, with damaging effects on agriculture, rural properties, businesses and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. In the light of this, some points in the paper have been expanded upon or changed in emphasis.

  The comments derive particularly from the perspective of the County Council in its role as Planning Authority responsible for strategic land use planning (the Structure Plan) and ensuring conformity of District-wide local plans with the adopted Structure Plan.


  The County Council welcomes and supports the publication of the draft PPG 25 and the principles upon which it is based. The guidance provides greater clarity as to the role, duties and powers of all those in the development process, and in this context can be seen as an improvement upon advice found in circular 30/92. As indicated at paragraph 8 of the consultation draft, planning authorities in the South East are under pressure to accommodate an increasing number of dwellings and associated development and infrastructure. In practice a policy of risk avoidance may not always be achievable and in this respect the publication of guidance is seen as being timely.

  Specifically, comments were requested by DETR on the following topics:

    —  is the guidance sufficiently clear and practical on what is and what is not appropriate development in flood risk areas?

    —  the use of the risk based approach; and

    —  should three yearly reviews of guidance take place to account for the improvements in the climate change knowledge base?

  Also included are comments of a more general nature. These can be summarised as being:

    —  qualified support for the continued role of the Environment Agency as an advisory body in the planning process;

    —  a request for clarification on the suggestion that the long term change of land uses may be appropriate in some instances;

    —  further guidance is sought on the mechanisms by which a structure planning authority can establish the strategic approach to flood risk and surface water drainage.


Material Considerations

  It is noted that the draft guidance does not place a ban on development in flood risk areas but emphasises a policy of avoidance where possible and management of risk elsewhere. Advice from the Environment Agency is seen as the primary source of information in determining flood risk at a local level and in determining the appropriate weight in development control decisions. Although it is understood that draft guidance should contain a degree of flexibility to allow for local conditions, concern is expressed that insufficient advice is provided in the event of national or regional policy competing with flood risk issues. Paragraph 37 implies that the government's policy on urban regeneration and the use of previously developed land may need to be tempered by the constraints set by flood risk. It should be made clear that flood risk issues are to be placed on an equal footing with other national and regional policy objectives.

  Despite these concerns the draft guidance is supported for not imposing a blanket ban on development in flood risk areas. A restrictive approach would have an adverse effect on the long term economic and social well being of towns located in flood plains. However, attention needs to be focussed on managing risk in these areas. The hazard of an increased incidence and severity of flood events cannot be removed, but adapting to these changing circumstances may be achieved by managing vulnerability or exposure to the risk. Using the example of historic town centres, a reduction in the exposure to risk (eg enhanced flood defences) may appear to be an obvious approach, but considerations such as townscape quality, environmental amenity and possible constraints on successfully mitigating impacts elsewhere in the catchment may limit this option. The management of vulnerability is touched upon in the draft guidance under paragraph 29 (long-term changes in land use) and Appendix F (risk based approach to development and flood risk) but the Government's thinking on this subject needs to be made explicit. Is it appropriate to plan for the long term change in the composition of land uses in these centres? If so, what other mechanisms, beyond the planning process, are necessary to implement such an approach?

The Development Control Process

  Past experience has demonstrated that the weight attached to flood risk advice in development control decisions in the UK has varied considerably. The concerns of the National Rivers Authority and its successor the Environment Agency may have, in some instances, not been given sufficient prominence leading to poorly planned developments either at risk of flooding or giving rise to flood risk elsewhere in the catchment. However, recent experience in East Sussex indicates that the flooding has been principally of properties built before planning controls were in place or permitted in earlier decades when flood risk advice was not such a prominent feature of the planning regime. Conversely, in some instances the Environment Agency has been unable or unwilling to defend its advice to Local Planning Authorities at appeal.

  Although the democratically accountable plan led system is maintained, it is evident that the current arrangements can lead to anomalous decisions. The debate surrounding this issue has been polarised with proposals either enabling the Environment Agency to veto development proposals or maintaining the status quo. Both are unacceptable and a compromise needs to be struck which, to a greater extent, maintains the integrity of the plan led system whilst lending sufficient weight to the advice of the Environment Agency. One possible method would be the ability of the Environment Agency to notify the Secretary of State for the Environment of applications that cause particular concern. This would operate in a similar manner as the procedure available to Sport England in protecting playing fields, giving the Secretary of State an opportunity to call in an application if necessary. Such an approach does have its problems, not least potential conflicts with the requirements of the Human Rights Act, but clearly the present system is flawed and requires obligations being placed upon both planning authorities and the Environment Agency.

The Intensification of Residential Development behind existing Defences (Coastal and Tidal)

  The issue is noted at paragraphs 31 and 47 that defences do not offer absolute protection and when overtopped or breached the consequences can be more devastating than if the defence had not been there in the first place. It is questioned whether it is good practice to continue to allow the intensification of development[6] behind existing coastal defences when the process of climate change is increasing the risk of extreme events occurring within shorter return periods.

  Although guidance indicates that there are design solutions that may reduce the impact on individuals, it should be acknowledged that a significant threat can also be the difficulty encountered by emergency services reaching flood victims following inundation.

The Cumulative Impact on Catchment Drainage (paragraphs 8 and 28)

  The principle of applying a strategic approach to flood risk management and surface water drainage is to be supported. Amongst other benefits, it is seen as an opportunity to provide guidance to local planning authorities on the cumulative impact of individual development proposals within catchments. Although guidance provides a list of the possible issues to be considered in developing a strategic approach, scant regard is paid to how this is to be achieved. Would this form part of the function of the Regional Flood Defence Committees? If so, how compatible would this be with the inclusive approach advocated in paragraphs 20 and 26?

  Scottish guidance in the form of NPPG 7 (Planning and Flooding) recommends local authorities establish Flood Appraisal Groups to inform the planning process. These groups have the benefit of being informal and advisory thus allowing greater inclusion or integration than current arrangements south of the border permit. Guidance on this and other possible vehicles would be welcomed.


  The proposal to review guidance in light of improvements in our understanding of the implications of climate change is supported in principle. However, would any of this work be pre-empted by the commitment to provide planning authorities with a best practice guide on climate change adaptation (proposed in the Climate Change Draft UK Programme)?


  The proposal to employ a more sophisticated technique in analysing and quantifying risk is supported.


  It is noted that the general thrust of the draft guidance is broadly consistent with the recommendations made by ERM's report on Potential Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change commissioned by UKCIP.

  Guidance should address the issue of permitted development rights exercised in flood risk areas and the use of Article 4 directions.

The Consideration of other Plans and Programmes (paragraphs 20 and 26 Annex C)

  The proposal that planning decisions and policies should take greater account of non statutory plans and the long term objectives of communities and other agencies is supported in principle. However, further guidance is requested on how this can be achieved (see above comments).

The Promotion of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (paragraphs 37 and 38 Annex E)

  The promotion of SUDS through local planning policy (within supplementary planning guidance, development briefs and local plans) is supported.

Bob Wilkins
Director of Transport and Environment

6 December 2000

6   The erection of new dwellings and the adaptation of existing structures ie domestic extensions or sub-divisions of dwellings. Back

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