Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report

7  Protecting critical infrastructure from flooding

92. Thousands of people lost their water, gas or electricity supplies during the June and July events after hundreds of utility assets were flooded. 350,000 people across the Gloucestershire area lost mains water—some for up to 17 days—following the flooding of the Mythe water treatment works at Tewkesbury. 40,000 customers in the region also lost their electricity supply for up to 24 hours after the Castle Meads station was flooded.[169] Without the aid of 250 military personnel, the Walham sub-station in Tewkesbury would have flooded, resulting in the loss of power to 500,000 people.[170] In Yorkshire, four major electrical sub-station and 55 secondary sub-stations were flooded, affecting the supply to 130,000 people.[171]

Duties of utilities

93. The summer's events have lead to a serious reassessment about how adequately the country's critical infrastructure is protected from extreme events. Utilities are already under a series of statutory obligations to cope with such emergencies. Water companies are required under the Security and Emergency Measures Direction 1998 to make and revise plans to ensure the provision of essential water supplies or sewerage services at all times.[172] Electricity generators, distributors and meter operators are required under the Electricity, Safety and Continuity Regulations 2002 to construct, use and protect their equipment to prevent interruption of supply so far as reasonably practicable. Gas companies are under similar obligations under the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996. All these operators also have obligations under the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) 2004, as Category 2 responders; however, these are generally minimal compared to Category 1 responders, who are required to assess risk, maintain business continuity plans and advise the public.[173]

94. Several witnesses, including a number of local authorities, criticised the performance of critical infrastructure operators during the floods. Sheffield City Council told us that the summer floods identified "significant issues" in relation to the engagement of Category 2 electricity and gas utilities in planned exercises—it said that, to date, the utilities had "not been round the table" and were not even "entirely equipped to be round the table".[174] Hull City Council expressed doubt whether there was the same level of business continuity planning by utilities or even the "same attitude towards the protection of those assets".[175] The Hull Independent Review, commissioned by the Council, had concluded that Yorkshire Water did not have a plan for the failure of the Bransholme pumping station, which plays a key role in draining Hull.[176] Gloucestershire County Council said it had been unaware until the summer floods that there was only one source of water supply and electricity supply in the area".[177] All the utilities who gave evidence said they were now taking measures in light of the summer floods, and learning lessons.[178]

Our views

95. The Government should re-examine the current statutory duties on utilities in relation to emergency planning. A specific duty should be placed on utilities to ensure their critical assets are protected from the effects of flooding and that they have adequate business continuity plans in the event of a flood. This should include ensuring supply system resilience so that the failure of a key asset can be substituted by other means with a minimum interruption of service. The Agency should advise on plausible scenarios, taking into account climate change impacts. We agree with the Pitt Review that the best way to set additional duties may be through amending the Civil Contingencies Act, rather than fresh legislation.[179]

96. We strongly believe that it is a basic responsibility of water companies, and other utilities, to ensure their critical infrastructure assets are flood-resilient. It could be argued that companies have actually profited in the past by not undertaking work to ensure this happened. It is not fair, therefore, that the customer now bear most of the cost for improving infrastructure resilience, through increased bills. We believe a proper sharing of financial responsibility is necessary between utilities' shareholders and customers in improving the resilience of utilities' infrastructure. Ofwat must ensure that the 2009 price review takes full account of the need for water companies to improve the resilience of critical assets, and of the costs this implies. But in doing so, it should also resist attempts by water companies to raise water bills, in order to pay to bring the infrastructure to the level of resilience it should have had in the first place. Consumers should not pay for companies' past inadequacies. We welcome Ofwat's announcement that it will develop guidance during 2008 to aid companies in developing a consistent and coherent framework for assessing flood risk, identifying cost beneficial measures to improve resilience of critical assets, and setting out a timetable for action.[180]

Protection of reservoirs and dams

97. During the June flooding, there was a serious emergency situation when the Ulley Reservoir near Sheffield was almost breached. The M1 was closed and about 1,000 people in local villages were evacuated as a precaution. Emergency services were able to avoid a catastrophe by pumping millions of litres from the reservoir.[181] Had the dam breached, the impact would have been much wider than the flooding itself and would have inundated other critical infrastructure such as water, sewerage and communications.[182]

98. There are over 2,000 reservoirs in England and Wales, mostly owned by the private sector. The average age of reservoirs is 110 years. Since October 2004, the Agency has been the enforcement authority for the safety of reservoirs in England and Wales.[183] It still largely operates under legislation from 1930, updated by the 1975 Reservoirs Act, which states that reservoirs should be regulated on basis of size. The Agency told us it wanted the legislation to be reviewed to "move it to a modern-risk based approach", particularly in light of climate change impacts.[184] We were also told that Defra and the Agency were developing proposals to require undertakers to prepare on-site emergency plans in the event of a reservoir or dam breach.[185]

99. We agree with the Agency that reservoir and dam safety management should shift from being based on size to a risk-based approach. We endorse the Government's plans to introduce a requirement for emergency plans for reservoir and dams. We recommend an immediate review of the existing legislation in this area.

Protection of the railway network

100. Railway networks were also affected by the summer floods. Although railway lines are often built away from immediate flood risk, most lines have culverts and sometimes open water that passes under them. Several lines and stations around the country were closed for between two and seven days during the summer, with some out of action for longer where significant work was needed.[186] An estimated 500 people were left stranded at Gloucester Railway Station after the rail network failed.[187]

101. We recommend that Network Rail work with the Environment Agency, local authorities and others to design solutions that will minimise flood risk to themselves and other land owners close by.

169   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 152. Back

170   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 96. Back

171   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 18. Back

172   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 98; Ofwat [Ev 144]. Back

173   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, pp 97-98. Back

174   Qq 181, 231 Back

175   Q 232 Back

176   Independent Review Body, The June 2007 floods in Hull, November 2007, p 7. Back

177   Q 342 Back

178   For example, Qq 399, 403-405[Severn Trent Water], 249, 277 [Yorkshire Water], 880 [Central Networks].  Back

179   Q 750 Back

180   Ofwat, Water and sewerage services during the summer 2007 floods, December 2007, p 19. Back

181   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 106. Back

182   Ev 63 [Sheffield City Council] Back

183   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 107. Back

184   Q 36 Back

185   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 108. Back

186   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 94. Back

187   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 17. Back

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