Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report

5  Development on the flood plain

63. Building on the floodplain is an issue that often receives public attention, particularly at a local level, and via the media. This is perhaps unsurprising given that flood risk areas cover 10 per cent of land and population in England.[122] On average, 13,000 new homes per annum have been built in flood risk areas in the last nine years. The vast majority of these are deemed to be adequately protected, often by flood defences, and are not objected to by the Agency.[123] New development can also often increase the pressure on existing public sewerage systems. We have previously discussed our support of the abolition of the right to connect new surface water drains and sewers to the public sewerage system (paragraphs 50-51), and greater use of sustainable drainage systems for new properties (paragraphs 39-43).

64. Many witnesses to our inquiry—including insurers—stressed the need for strong development control to prevent the building of homes in those areas of highest flood risk.[124] The Government has recently introduced strengthened planning guidance, in the form of Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25), to achieve this aim. A number of witnesses directly involved with the planning system said that, given time, PPS25 should be sufficient to prevent inappropriate development.[125] The Agency described PPS25 as a "big step forward", a "significant tightening and improvement of the legislation", and said it had improved things in a number of ways. First, the Agency was now a statutory consultee for development proposals in flood risk areas. Second, the Agency had powers to "call in" the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government if a local authority ignored its advice. Third, PPS25 was a "lot clearer and tighter" than its predecessors in steering development away from high risk areas.[126] Some witnesses questioned whether local authorities had the resources or expertise to implement PPS25 properly, although the Government has since announced that it will publish a "Practice Guide Companion" to PPS25 to aid planning authorities with implementation.[127]

65. Most witnesses did not support an outright ban on development in the flood plain.[128] Hull City Council told us that 95 per cent of Hull was in a high flood risk area, and an "overcautious" approach would result in no more development in the city.[129] Similarly, Sheffield City Council also said such an approach would "risk undermining the development and economic growth of the city".[130] Both councils were instead placing emphasis on ensuring new development was properly flood-resilient.[131] Similar views were expressed by Professor Penning-Rowsell of the Flood Hazard Research Centre, who believed the focus should be on adequately protecting properties.[132] Most of Sir Michael Pitt's seven interim conclusions in this area also focussed on ensuring new properties in flood risk areas—and existing flooded properties—were properly flood-resilient and resistant, partly through changes in the Building Regulations.[133]

Our views

66. We support the Pitt Review's interim conclusions related to development in the flood plain, to ensure new buildings in the flood plain are properly flood resilient and resistant. It is still early days for PPS25, and those organisations who use the planning policy say it is working. PPS25 must be given time. The success of PPS25 in the long-term, however, will depend on whether local authorities have the necessary skills base to implement it properly. As a first step, we welcome the Government's announcement to provide a Practice Guide Companion to ensure local authorities properly implement PPS25, particularly in respect of the impact of development on those downstream. We recommend that Government departments, working with the Local Government Association, carry out a survey to establish the present ability of local authorities to implement PPS25 and, should a skills deficit be identified, put forward policies to address this issue.

122   HC Deb, 8 October 2007, col 40W Back

123   HC Deb, 1 February 2008, cols 689-690W Back

124   For example, Chaceley Parish Council [Ev 402], Stroud District Green Party [Ev 419], Royal & Sun Alliance [Ev 129].  Back

125   For example, the Royal Town Planning Institute [Q 638]. Back

126   Qq 73-74 Back

127   For example, the Greater London Authority [Q 637]. Defra, Future Water, Cm 7319, February 2008, p 65. Back

128   For example, Margaret Bishop [Ev 409], the Institution of Civil Engineers [Ev 499]. Back

129   Q 217 Back

130   Q 217 Back

131   Qq 203-204 Back

132   Q 123 Back

133   Interim conclusion 11, for example, states: "No new building should be allowed in a flood risk area that is not flood-resilient, and the Government should work with organisations such as the Royal Institute of British Architects and the building industry to encourage flood-resilient building and development design". Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, pp 133-134. Back

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