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Flood Defence Committees

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the allocation of seats for regional flood defence committees. [217066]

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Mr. Morley: Section 15 of the Environment Act 1995 provides that each English regional flood defence committee (RFDC) shall consist of:

In making her appointments, my right hon. Friend seeks to ensure that the profile of committee members forms a broad coverage of interests from the area including land drainage, planning, social, environmental and coastal issues; and also attempts where possible to achieve a balance on the committee in terms of geographical representation.

Local authority representation is set by statutory instrument and we seek to allocate seats—whole or shared—to the constituent councils based upon council tax data (band D equivalent properties).

Constituent councils are defined in section 15(6) of the Environment Act 1995 as, 'the councils of every county, county borough, metropolitan district, or London borough any part of which is in the area of a regional flood defence committee shall be the constituent councils for the regional flood defence committee for that area'. This therefore means that upper tier and unitary authorities are eligible for the local authority seats but not lower tier authorities such as district councils nor other bodies such as the Government office for the region concerned.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the shared seat for City of York and North Yorkshire on the Yorkshire Regional Flood Defence Committee will be occupied by a representative from (a) City of York and (b) North Yorkshire county council. [217067]

Mr. Morley: Section 16(8) of the Environment Act 1995 provides for the sharing of seats of constituent councils. Seat sharing is commonplace on regional flood defence committees (RFDCs) throughout the country and councils normally decide between themselves how this will be managed, for example operating an annual rota system. If councils are unable to agree, the appointments are made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Non-voting members can attend meetings.

I understand that the allocation of the seat shared between City of York and North Yorkshire on the Yorkshire RFDC has not yet been decided.

Flood Defence Projects

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if she will make a statement on the priority scoring system for flood defence funding; [217064]

(2) what criteria are used to score flood defence projects to determine whether they are eligible for funding; and what criteria must be met for such funding to be received. [217068]

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Mr. Morley: Despite large increases in Government funding—up from £312 million in 1997–98 to £570 million in 2005–06—there is still not enough to fund all worthwhile proposals from the flood and coastal defence operating authorities (the Environment Agency, local authorities and internal drainage boards). Defra therefore operates an objective and published priority scoring system which is intended to direct our finite funds to best effect nationally, to maximise the benefit obtained from the programme as a whole.

The current scoring system was introduced in 2003 after extensive consultation following a pilot introduced in 1997. In summary, proposed projects are scored on three elements—their estimated economic benefits, the number of people they are likely to protect and protection and enhancement of environmental and/or heritage assets. All three are compared to cost so that projects are treated fairly regardless of size. The higher the score, the higher the priority.

In order to be eligible for funding from Defra, projects must achieve Defra's published threshold score for the year in which they start. The threshold scores were last revised in November 2004 to take account of changes in operating authorities' investment plans. Because of an increased demand for grant nationally, the thresholds had to rise and are now 19 for projects to start in 2005–06 or 2006–07 and 15 in 2007 08.

The scoring system has no effect on the overall sum available for grant aid. It does not attempt to allocate funding to projects in an absolute sense but simply to rank proposals in a relative priority order. Defra is then able to allocate its funding to projects in priority order. The actual threshold score which a project must achieve will depend on available funding compared to need nationally. The thresholds are set by analysis of forward plans provided to Defra by operating authorities each year—proposals for funding are compared with available funds and I set the lowest threshold that can be afforded for the following financial year, together with indicative estimates of the likely thresholds for the following two years. The latter are reviewed a year later in the light of updated authorities' plans.

The threshold is the same for all projects and is applied broadly equally to all operating authorities. There can be exceptions such as for the very few projects required to protect environmental sites of international importance under the Habitats Directive but the amount of funding spent on these projects is low.


Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which body is responsible in the event of flooding in a watercourse for which an internal drainage board is responsible (a) before 2006 and (b) after 2006; and if she will make a statement. [216008]

Mr. Morley: All watercourses effectively fall into one of two categories: (a) main rivers which are the responsibility of the Environment Agency and (b) ordinary watercourses which are the responsibility of local authorities or, where they exist, internal drainage boards.
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Recognising that some ordinary watercourses create significant flood risk, in March 2003 the Government announced that all the so called critical" ordinary watercourses (COWs) would become the responsibility of the Environment Agency (EA). This transfer of responsibility is in progress and will be completed by April 2006.

Once a COW has been transferred, it becomes a main river and the EA assumes full responsibility for all associated flood risk management and for dealing with any flooding from it. However, all other ordinary watercourses will remain the responsibility of the local authority or internal drainage board.

While the EA will retain the overall responsibility for the transferred COWs, they may decide to contract back maintenance and other work to the appropriate local authority or IDB where these bodies are willing to take this on and have a good track record.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department has taken to reduce flood risk in Chorley constituency. [216191]

Mr. Morley: Defra has overall policy responsibility for flood and coastal erosion risk in England. We fund most of the Environment Agency (EA)'s flood risk activities and provide grant aid on a project by project basis to the other flood and coastal defence operating authorities (local authorities and internal drainage boards) to support their investment in improvement works. Defra does not build defences, nor direct the authorities on what specific projects to do. The works programme to manage risk is driven by the operating authorities.

I understand from the EA that they have undertaken or are undertaking the following in connection with the reduction of flood risk in Chorley:

Capital Works

Croston Flood Wall—works to improve unstable sections of the existing flood defence walls along the River Yarrow, through the village of Croston, were completed in May 2004 (out-turn cost £680,000).

Revenue Works

Heavy Maintenance—works are programmed in March/April 2005 to replace and improve a critical debris screen at the entrance to a long culverted reach of the River Chor at Water Street, Chorley (estimated cost £30,000).

Routine Maintenance for example: at pumping stations, flood embankment mowing, channel-desilting, screen clearance, channel debris removal and general upkeep of existing flood defences (estimated cost £80,000).

Strategic Studies and Investigations

A strategic study into flood risk management covering the River Douglas catchment area is nearing completion. This takes in the major tributaries of the Rivers Yarrow and Lostock and their Critical Ordinary Watercourse tributaries, which cover part of the Chorley constituency. The strategy study is an important stage in determining flood risk and how to manage it. It also helps the EA to decide on future,
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sustainable flood protection measures. The expected completion date for the study is July 2005 (estimated cost £135,000).

This study has already highlighted that flood risk to Croston Village should be examined further. An investigation is now under way, the outcome of which will be a viability report for a Croston Village Flood Alleviation Scheme. The report should be completed by April 2005. Subject to the findings, a detailed feasibility study will be planned in the EA's medium/long-term programme, and improved flood risk management scheme options for the village will be considered.

Investigations into extending the current Flood Warning service within the Chorley constituency are planned within the next three to five years, subject to detailed feasibility studies.

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