Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Minister for Housing and Planning, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister



  1.  The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) works across government to ensure that Departments collectively deliver thriving, inclusive, sustainable communities, achieving better quality of life for all.

  2.  This memorandum outlines Government planning policies and ongoing actions relevant to this inquiry, including research, which aim to assist the work in creating sustainable communities to take full account of the likely implications of climate change. The potential impact of climate change on flood risks and the availability of water supply for development are addressed through strategic spatial planning at the national and regional scale and through local authority development plans and decisions on individual planning applications.


  3.  The Government's planning policies take account of climate change and aim to ensure that those involved in regional and local planning do so also. Planning policy guidance notes (PPGs) clearly establish climate change as a material planning consideration in the preparation of regional strategies and development plans.

  4.  PPG 11 Regional planning, published in October 2000, advises that Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) "should consider their regions' vulnerability to climate change using the most recent climate change scenarios available from the draft UK climate impacts programme." In particular, spatial strategies "should take account of the need to avoid new development in areas that increase vulnerability and consider possible adaptation options for vulnerable areas."

  5.  The consultation draft of the new Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 11 Regional spatial strategies, issued in October 2003, advises that regional spatial strategies "should also inform and take account of other strategies and programmes that have a bearing on land-use activities . . . [including] strategies to adapt to the effects of climate change."

  6.  PPG 12 Development plans, published in December 1999, also advises that development plans should take environmental considerations, including global climate change, comprehensively and consistently into account.

  7.  The consultation draft of the new PPS 1 Creating sustainable communities, issued in March 2004, includes among the specific objectives for sustainable development and sustainable communities "the need to address, on the basis of sound science, the causes and impacts of climate change".


  8.  In 2000, the then Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) commissioned research to examine the extent to which climate change was being taken into account in both national and local land-use planning. The results are to be published shortly in the form of good practice guidance—The planning response to climate change: advice on better practice. This will provide planning professionals with an overview of current thinking and the state of knowledge on the planning response to climate change. It recognises that both the science of climate change and planning practice in response to it are still developing but reflects the real urgency to put in place regional and local planning policies on adaptation to climate change and to strengthen policies that will mitigate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  9.  The advice will set out a range of topics, including flooding, coasts and water resources, that planning authorities and developers will need to take into consideration in the light of developing understanding of the impacts of climate change. For each topic, it will identify national policy and good practice with examples of the consideration needed by regional planning bodies and local authorities in regional spatial strategies and development plans. It will also include a climate-sensitive development check-list that could be incorporated into supplementary planning guidance or into wider sustainable development check-lists developed and used by development control officers.

  10.  In addition, ODPM has co-operated widely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) on research with particular relevance to planning. A recent example is the ongoing joint UKCIP/EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) project on "Adaptation strategies for climate change within the urban environment".


  11.  Government policy on planning in relation to flood management in England is contained in PPG 25 Development and flood risk, published in July 2001. This takes full account of climate change in its advocacy of a precautionary risk-based approach to planning decisions that recognises the large uncertainties in the prediction of flood-risk and the assessment of the impacts of climate change. The risk-based approach gives priority to development in lower-risk areas but recognises that the extent of existing development in more vulnerable areas will necessitate some continuing development in those high-risk areas that are already developed. Not to do so would effectively blight a significant proportion of existing development. PPG 25 recommends a minimum standard of defence for new housing that takes account of climate change for the lifetime of the development.

  12.  Advice on climate change in PPG 25 is based on the results of Defra evaluation of the UKCIP scenarios 1998 and their potential impact on flood risk. However, it recognises the gaps in our understanding of how the changing climate will affect the areas currently at risk of flooding. While climate change will increase the risk, there is a lack of quantified and robust information to be more specific. For that reason, the Government is committed to review PPG 25 "three years after publication in the light of further evidence then available on climate change and emerging experience of its implementation and effectiveness." This review will start later this year and will take into account the latest climate change scenarios UKCIP 2002 as well as the extensive longer-term study by the Office of Science and Technology Foresight Flood and coastal defence project, which is to be published on 22 April.

  13.  PPG 25 already recognises the increased impact likely to arise from intra-urban flooding (ie flooding due to heavy rainstorms overwhelming local drainage systems rather than to overflowing rivers or overtopping of coastal defences). This is a feature that is highlighted in the Foresight study. One means of mitigating those impacts is the use of appropriately designed sustainable drainage systems (SUDS). PPG 25 strongly supports their use.

  14.  Part H (Drainage and waste disposal) of the Building Regulations 2001 were amended, with effect from 1 April 2002, to introduce a hierarchy of surface drainage options for new development that gives priority to infiltration and other more sustainable systems. New guidance to Part H recommends that anti-flood devices are fitted to buildings that have basements or are in areas where it is known that sewers back up when heavily loaded. Part H also recommends that rainwater drainage to structures that have complex roof layouts or buildings that house vulnerable users should be designed using specific rainfall intensity data rather than using traditional rules of thumb. This should limit damage to buildings caused by overflowing internal gutters.

  15.  In addition, ODPM has been working further on SUDS with Defra, the Environment Agency, Water UK, the Local Government Association and others in the National SUDS Working Group. This aims to develop and publish in the summer an interim Code of Practice on SUDS to encourage the implementation of SUDS in new and existing developments through the provision of basic guidance to make the adoption and allocation of maintenance for SUDS more straightforward.

  16.  ODPM continues to be involved with research by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) and HR Wallingford Ltd on different aspects of SUDS relevant to their consideration in the planning system, including an examination of the potential conflicts between SUDS and high-density development and how these might be resolved.

  17.  ODPM has continued to support relevant research on flooding that could have planning implications. For example, in 2002, interim guidance on flood-resistant construction techniques that could be applied to residential and small commercial buildings was published (Living with floods). ODPM, Defra and the Environment Agency have worked together to improve the quality and accessibility of information on the flood-resistance and repair of buildings after flooding. It has now been determined that resistance to flooding is within the scope of the Building Regulations. In order to develop standards and guidance research projects on flood resistance and flood resilience are being evaluated.

  18.  Part C of the Building Regulations deals with Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture. A revised Approved Document and amendment Regulations will be published very soon. Flood resistance is specifically addressed by improved guidance on enhanced sub-soil drainage, floors in contact with very permeable strata and provision for the inspection of floor voids that may be inundated. The moisture referred to in Part C is mainly weather related. The guidance to Part C has been expanded to include maps showing shrinkable clays, provision for thermal movement in walls, better weather resistance of window openings and the information to improve designers and installers awareness of the relationship between wall construction, weather exposure and type of cavity insulation. Used together this information should improve the weather resistance of buildings as the effects of climate change start to impact.

  19.  ODPM continues to co-operate with Defra and the Environment Agency on its joint research programme on flood and coastal management and is also involved in the EPSRC research consortium on flood risk management. For example, later in 2004, CIRIA will be publishing guidance on the levels of flood risk assessment appropriate to different stages in the development process in its proposed document—Development and flood risk: guidance for the construction industry. This work has been part-funded by ODPM since it will assist greatly in the implementation of PPG 25 and its recommendation that those proposing development should carry out appropriate flood-risk assessments.

  20.  ODPM is match-funding a number of international projects under the EU Interreg programmes, including work on flood-risk management and spatial planning in East Anglia, the Humber Estuary, the Thames Estuary and the Espace project. The latter (European spatial planning: adapting to climate events) aims to develop an integrated spatial planning mechanism that will deliver economic, social and environmental development that is sustainable in terms of climate change. Led by Hampshire County Council, partners include South-east England authorities and regional organisations, the Environment Agency and equivalent organisations in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.


  21.  The availability of water resources for development is clearly established as a material planning consideration. PPG 23, published in 1994, indicates that the supply of water can be a material consideration in planning applications and appeals and should be taken into account in drawing up development plans.

  22.  PPGs 11 and 12 and their draft successors issued as consultation documents in autumn 2003 emphasise the need for the availability of water resources to be taken into account in drawing up regional strategies and development plans. The ease and cost of supply and the availability of water resources and sewerage infrastructure may be a factor in determining the location of development within regions and at local planning authority level. Early consultation with water companies and the Environment Agency is strongly recommended as an aid to the achievement of sustainable development.

  23.  ODPM has been involved in CIRIA research on sustainable water management in the planning of new development. This is likely to be published later in 2004. In addition, the Sustainable Buildings Task Force, jointly sponsored by ODPM, Defra and the Department of Trade and Industry, is examining the potential for increasing water efficiency in new development.


  24.  The Sustainable Communities plan, published in 2003, has been driven by the need to meet the demand for housing and employment in the growth areas of the south-east and to revitalise communities in the north and midlands. While the risk of flooding and the potential impact of climate change on it will need equally to be considered in the areas of low demand in the north and midlands, these factors, together with the availability of water resources are key elements in planning for the growth areas in the south-east. These are generally in locations where water resources are already under stress and they also include significant areas that are currently at risk of flooding and where that risk is expected to increase as a result of climate change. Appropriate responses are therefore required if the physical sustainability of the growth areas is to be secured.


  25.  As the most advanced in its planning, as well as the largest of the growth areas, Thames Gateway serves as a useful model for the consideration of climate change and water security that the development process requires. This model will be taken forward in the consideration of the other growth areas as their planning and development proceed.

  26.  The Government has committed support to enable the development of at least 120,000 homes with associated infrastructure, employment opportunities and community facilities by 2016. The Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership have identified 14 zones of change, which are located largely on previously developed land within or immediately adjacent to existing urban areas.

  27.  A large proportion of the new development is to be constructed in areas that are identified by the Environment Agency as at risk of flooding (though most of these are currently defended to a very high standard). ODPM has worked with the Environment Agency, which sits on the Thames Gateway Strategic Partnership's Environment Sub-Group and is closely involved with the Thames Estuary 2100 project. This Defra-funded project aims to develop over the next five years a flood management strategy for the Thames Estuary which will take account of climate change expected over the next 100 years. This project feeds into the Interreg IIIB Creative flood management project partly supported by ODPM match-funding. The Agency have advised ODPM and the delivery vehicles on flood risks within the Gateway, on the potential requirements for future development to minimise those risks and on the requirements for flood-risk assessment relevant to the different stages of the planning process.

  28.  Thames Gateway is also an area of limited local water resources. The opportunities to develop new water supplies that would have sustainable environmental impacts are few and even the best of these could be contentious. ODPM has therefore consulted the Environment Agency and the water industry on the potential problems, including the implications of climate change.

  29.  The use of sustainable drainage systems as part of the water management train will assist in improving the efficiency of water use as part of this strategy. In particular, the potential for harvesting rainwater and the operation of SUDS in conjunction with the Gateway's Green space strategy will assist in achieving sustainable water management.


  30.  Government policies on planning and sustainable communities already take account of climate change and its impact on the security of water supplies and flood management. While we have not yet found all the answers, a considerable amount of research and associated activity has been completed or is in progress. The Government is encouraging close co-operation with all the relevant stakeholders, to enable the implications of climate change on sustainable water management to be addressed.

The Rt Hon Keith Hill MP

Minister for Housing and Planning,

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

April 2004

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