Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
MORLEY, MP AND
1. Gentlemen, welcome. For the record, we have
Mr Elliot Morley who is the Minister for Flood Management, one
of his many titles, I think, and Sir John Harman who is the Chairman
of the Environment Agency. This is an update on where we are on
flood defence. Everybody is aware of the fairly catastrophic winter
we had and the real crisis we had in the management of floods.
Everybody is obviously very apprehensive that we might have another
dose this year. The Committee has reported in some detail on this
and we have had a series of updates. This is a further update
just to demonstrate our continuing interest and to be able both
to air the concerns and to highlight what actions may or may not
have been taken. The papers have recently had some fairly apocalyptic
stuff about houses being unprotected, insurance being withdrawn
and large parts of the United Kingdom at risk in terms of financially,
or flooding or both. The issues which arise are obviously ones
of money, then there is one of insurance, there is one of planning
and there is one of the actual management of who does what, which,
as far as I am concerned, is still lost in byzantine complexity
which I do not understand. Therefore I find it almost entirely
impossible to explain to my constituents when they say, "Who
should be doing this?" My answer is, "I'll try and find
out," but I usually fail. So in the course of this session,
if we could at some stage have the absolute idiot's guide to who
is responsible for what, when, where and how soon, that would
be extraordinarily helpful to everybody in practical terms. Can
I start, Sir John, with you and ask you first of all, have you
got as much money as you need? What do you think you will need?
Could you say a little bit about the time lags between the identification
of a problem and your being able to do something about it in terms
of environmental assessments, that sort of thing? There is obviously
an expectation amongst people that there is a problem and that
it can be sorted immediately, but we all know that occasionallyor
more than occasionallyit may take a little longer than
that. Therefore, perhaps you could start and tell us if you have
(Sir John Harman) Thank you, Chairman, and good morning
everybody. The Agency is obviously going to sayand I think
this is not something that the Minister would disagree withthat
there needs to be more investment in flood defence. It is a very
good question, though, as to how much additional money is required.
Rather than take a sort of stab at it or just take what the Agency
feels, I would refer the Committee to the research that the Agency
and DEFRA have commissioned and which reported last year. This
research makes some assumptions which I will return to so you
are clear in what context the figures are being offered. It identified
a need for an additional £120 million of capital expenditure
for flood defences and £20 million for maintenance. It also
identified, because it did not factor in any assumptions about
the costs of adapting the standards of flood defence to assumptions
about climate change, that there might be a further £30 million
to £60 million arising from that. I would offer that research
as probably the most informative and independent view to the Committee.
The research was asked to evaluate what would be required to maintain
broadly the present policies on flood defence; if Government or
Parliament decided that there had to be a change in policy, for
instance on standards, then you would have to do a recalculation,
but to maintain the present policy, which is the standards we
have, extended to all the places where they might apply, and then
maintained. That is the answer.
2. I am sorry, I have not quite understood what
the answer is. Tell us and remind us what the answer is.
(Sir John Harman) £120 million for capitalthe
research provided these figures£20 million for maintenance,
£30 million to £60 million to accommodate the effects
of climate change.
3. That is an annual amount, I take it?
(Sir John Harman) That is an annual amount, yes. The
ICE said something in their reportI think they may have
said more than they printedabout the need for a substantial
additional investment, but my understanding of their position
is that it is not very far from the same figures. That gives me
confidence that that is probably correct.
4. The earlier announcement was an increase
from £76 million to £114 million a year by 2003-04.
Am I right in thinking that earlier in the year the Government
announced that MAFF funding to support capital flood and coastal
defence works would increase from £76 million in 2001-01
to £114 million in 2003-04?
(Mr Morley) That is correct.
(Sir John Harman) Yes, that is correct. Of course,
that is the DEFRA grant-in-aid contribution to a much larger sum
which is expenditure on flood defence capital.
5. Yes, when we get into the institutional arrangements
we will then need to get into those additional amounts of money.
In fact we might as well do that now. How much is government money,
DEFRA money, and how much is coming from the local authorities?
What are the relationships between local authority funding and
the ability of that to trigger government funding?
(Mr Morley) It is absolutely crucial, Chairman, because
of course we set grant ceilings of expenditure which is a maximum
grant aid for regional flood defence committees. Regional flood
defence committees then have to raise the levy in order to access
the full amount of money. Generally speaking, the vast majority
of them do that. We have made a significant increase available
in the next financial year, partly funded by the additional £51
million that we announced which is spread over the next three
years. So that there have been significant extra capital resources
made available to the regional flood defence committees, but of
course they do have their ongoing expenses as well which come
from the levy, the Environment Agency budget, and there are also
the internal drainage boards as well, local authorities, coastal
defence operating authorities, all of whom are grant-aided in
various ways. That brings about a total spend in the next year
of round about £400 million a year.
6. When Sir John mentioned that that money was
for a certain level of standards, was that a one in 100 standard
we are now talking about, because you referred to moving to a
one in 100 standard, did you not?
(Mr Morley) Yes, that is right. I would like to see
one in 100 as a norm. That was a recommendation by the recent
Institution of Civil Engineers report that we commissioned as
a department. I certainly think that that is the kind of norm
we should be in.
7. But is the money Sir John mentioned a moment
ago money which is relevant to a one in 100 standard?
(Mr Morley) I think it is a bit more complicated than
that, Chairman. Generally speaking, I think that would give you
an average standard of round about that, because of course some
of these defences will provide protection at a one in 200 or even
one in 300 standard, and there are still a lot of existing defences
around the country with a minimum standard of perhaps, say, one
in 20. So a one in 100, I think, as an average norm, is something
we should be aiming for.
8. When you gave your press conference about
six weeks ago now on conclusions of flooding, you talked about
the variations in the performance between regional flood defence
committees, did you not?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
9. You said that those would have to be addressed.
Can you tell us what is happening on that front?
(Mr Morley) Yes. Following on from the last appearance
before the Select Committee, we introduced a range of high-level
targets. The high-level targets are a way of standardising performance
across the country by setting those targets, in consultation with
the Agency, for the regional flood defence committees in terms
of what they have to meet, the kind of supervisory role that they
have to have, the kind of analysis that needs to be taken. Those
targets related to the Agency, local authorities and regional
flood defence committees, so that has been done in terms of trying
to have a more uniform standard of approach. We also, Chairman,
have the funding review which we also commissioned. Again following
on from the Select Committee, you did raise this issue of the
complications relating to the structures and institutional arrangements.
That report is complete. I very much regret, Chairman, that it
was not published before this hearing, as it would have been helpful
to the Committee, but unfortunately, as you will be aware, it
has to go to the devolved administrations and various departments,
and there has been a rather longer delay than I would have liked.
That report will come out very shortly and will address some of
these issues as well. It is for consultation. It is not prescriptive,
it is a consultation report, but it covers many of the points
that you raised in the last report.
10. My final question in this initial batch
is that I think I am right in saying that about 40 per cent of
the flooding occurs because the drains are too small, is that
right, and the water backs up into the sewers?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
11. When you were talking about the standard
at which you were seeking to apply the flood defence mechanisms,
could I ask where drains fit into that?
(Mr Morley) This is urban drains sewage, you mean,
(Mr Morley) The sewage and water companies clearly
have responsibilities on that. There are concerns that because
of the design of many urban sewage systems there has been backing
up and of course sewage pollution in many floods. Again that was
identified in the ICE report. That is clearly something that will
need to be addressed in terms of the standards that urban drains
and sewage systems are built to and whether or not, in actual
fact, they are adequate in relation to modern requirements and
the kind of changing patterns of weather which we have been seeing.
They will be addressed as part of the overall approach.
13. There was a report yesterday which accused
Ofwat of having been so preoccupied with reaching European standards
for cleanliness that actually it had taken its eye off the ball
of dealing with physical problems like drains being too small.
Do you think that is a justified criticism?
(Mr Morley) I did see that report. I really could
not comment on whether it is justified or not. I suspect it is
rather a simplistic presentation, in that there are European Directives,
there are legal standards that the sewage companies have to meet,
and therefore there is a priority on that. There is this issue
of whether or not drains are currently up to the kind of standard
we want to see. There are of course new standards relating to
drains as well. The Urban Waste Water Directive for example, also
has implications in raising standards. So I think that the sewage
companies do have those responsibilities, and I am not altogether
sure that they have been distracted in the way that was suggested
in that report.
14. Could I ask you about urban problems and
sewage problems? One of the issues in the Institution's report
is the issue of sustainable urban drainage systems, is it not?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
15. In a built-up environment there is clearly
going to be more water. One of the ways of tackling it is this
relatively new approach. You mentioned water undertakers and sewage
undertakers. I understand that they are not at all keen to go
down this road, is that right?
(Mr Morley) I guess they will not be very keen, because
there are very considerable cost implications to them, which they
will be well aware of. It comes back to the point that a very
high proportion of flooding does vary according to areas and events
we have had, but a very high proportion has come from drains being
completely overwhelmed, drains backing up, highway runoff and
urban runoff; it is not just fluvial river systems that are accountable
for the kinds of floods that we have seen, although obviously
they are accountable for the majority. So there are financial
implications to the operating authorities in these new Directives,
but they are ones that they are going to have to face up to.
16. We have a new technology, a new approach
that, on the face of it, appears to be more sustainable and, on
the face of it, is going to be more costly?
(Mr Morley) Yes.
17. The water companies are saying "No"
at the moment. What can we do about it?
(Mr Morley) I do not think they are actually saying
"No". They are certainly expressing concerns about the
implications to them, which is not surprising in that respect.
Given the kind of problems that we are well aware ofas
constituency MPs I am sure we are all well aware of problems in
our own constituencies, I certainly am in my own constituencythat
whenever we have a heavy downpour, the way the sewers are designed
they flow straight into the drains, and it is causing problems
now, I really think we have to address these. Actually it is a
bit of a wider issue than simply flood management, but there is
this link and it does have to be addressed.
18. I think it would be helpful, bearing in
mind that earlier conversation about precisely how much money
had been asked for and precisely how much had been given, if we
had a comparative table which set those two things together by
comparison, so if we refer back to the originalI think
it was the MAFF report on funding from last yearwe can
set that against the actual expenditure. I say that because I
think we are all a little bit confused as to precisely which figures
we are comparing against which. There is a comparison with what
the Environment Agency has asked for and what they are getting.
There is a comparison with the total global sum for flood defences,
which includes money that goes to local authorities and other
agencies and so forth. Can we see a table which actually presents
the picture, as assessed, of what is needed as against what has
been given, on a comparative basis, rather than seeking to confuse
uswhich I am sure is not the intentby picking different
figures from different elements?
(Mr Morley) I can certainly arrange that for you,
Chairman, so that the Committee can see that. What I can arrange
for you is to see the current spending programme which DEFRA has,
which of course is committed up to 2003. We are just preparing
our bid for spending review 2002 which will take us through the
next three-year period. In that period, of course, we are guided
by some of the independent research that Sir John has been talking
about. We can also give youit is the Halcrow reportwhat
the Halcrow report are saying in relation to their assessments.
19. Could we have a set of lines which say,
"This is what the assessment is that we actually need. This
is the actual money that's been spent" and how it is broken
down? That would be helpful.
(Mr Morley) I am sure we can do that. I know what
you want. I am sure we can put something together on those lines
and also give some indication of where other funding revenue comes
from from various sources. If I can make another comment on this
last point, what John was also saying is that there are these
assessments of what money is required for flood defence in the
Agency. You need a programme that can absorb the funds in a stepped
programme. Even if we made huge sums available this year, they
could not be spent, so there has to be a stepped programme which
we agree ourselves.