Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  It is right that the Environment Agency continue to devote the majority of its resources into river and coastal flood risk management, and the building and maintaining of river and coastal flood defences. However, management of surface water flood risk can not remain in its current unclear and chaotic state. A key first step for Government must be to determine organisational responsibility for surface water flooding. We reject the idea of a dedicated Flood Agency. (Paragraph 26)

2.  We agree that the Agency is the best-placed organisation to take a strategic role at the national level in relation to surface water (and other inland) flooding. (Paragraph 27)

3.  The Agency's overview role needs careful specification. The Government must not add further responsibilities and functions to the Agency at a rate greater than it can absorb through recruitment, training and other preparatory measures. Increased responsibilities must be adequately funded. The Government must also not place unrealistic expectations on the Agency in relation to the modelling and mapping of surface water flood risk, as this will raise public expectations unrealistically. (Paragraph 28)

4.  In determining an overview role, the future relationship between the Agency and local authorities must be carefully articulated and defined in order to produce lines of accountability. This relationship is key to the future management of surface water flood risk. We believe the main purpose of the Agency's overview role should be to provide guidance and advice to local authorities on managing surface water flood risk, to provide quality-assurance of local authorities' plans to manage surface water flood risk, and to ensure consistency in practice between local authorities. (Paragraph 29)

5.  The model for Surface Water Management Plans (SWMP) currently advocated by Government lacks clarity about how co-ordination will be achieved between organisations responsible for surface water drainage in a particular area. In particular, the model does not explain how organisations can be persuaded to fulfil their responsibilities under such plans. In its response to our Report, the Government should set out clearly how the benefits of co-operation will be turned into action. It should also explain how it intends the enhanced SWMPs to fit alongside the existing system of Catchment Flood Management Plans and River Basin Management Plans. (Paragraph 31)

6.  Local authorities should have a statutory duty for surface water drainage. It should be the duty of a local authority to ensure its area is, and continues to be, effectively drained of precipitation to an agreed national standard of service. (Paragraph 32)

7.  Where the local wastewater utility and/or Internal Drainage Board has ownership of, or responsibility for, parts of the drainage system, local authorities should have the power to sub-contract part of their responsibility for ensuring effective drainage to those organisations, and to require their co-operation in managing surface water drainage on an area basis. (Paragraph 33)

8.  The Government should accept the Pitt Review's interim conclusion that local authorities be required to compile a register of all the main flood risk management and drainage assets (overland and underground), including an assessment of their condition and details of the responsible owners. The register should also determine physically where one organisation's responsibility ends and another one's begins. It should be available to the public as a web-based resource. Local authorities could also provide information to members of the public through a one-stop shop telephone number. Local authorities should receive co-operation from other organisations in compiling this register. Upper-tier local authorities should take the lead and, where they exist and where they wish to, parish and town councils should be involved. (Paragraph 34)

9.  Following its consultation, the Government must provide a clear steer about which local authority, in two-tier authorities, should take the lead in co-ordinating the management of surface water flooding and drainage at the local level. (Paragraph 35)

10.  We recommend that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Environment Agency develop, and publish, a strategy to address the national shortage in flood risk engineers. If the national shortage in this profession is not addressed, much of the Pitt Review may be impossible to implement. (Paragraph 37)

11.  We believe local authorities should be responsible for the ultimate ownership and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems (SUDs), as happens elsewhere in Europe. The Government needs to resolve ownership and maintenance issues as a matter of urgency to enable the current house-building and eco-towns programmes to incorporate maximum use of SUDs. (Paragraph 42)

12.  A presumption in favour of SUDs should be included in the Planning Bill, to add weight to Planning Policy Statement 25 (PPS25). (Paragraph 43)

13.  We welcome the Government's decision to consider, as part of its Water Strategy, changing surface water charging to reflect the "polluter pays" principle. Ofwat should insist that water and wastewater companies state the proportions of customers' bills that are made up of foul water drainage, surface water drainage and highways drainage. Property owners who have, or retro-fit, SUDs should receive a rebate on the surface water component of their water company bill. (Paragraph 47)

14.  We welcome the Government's Water Strategy policies to change householders' rights to allow them to pave over their front garden, without planning permission, only if the surface is porous and to review the automatic right to connect surface water drains and sewers to the public sewerage systems. We recommend that any new discharge of surface water by drain or sewer to a watercourse should require the consent of the Environment Agency. (Paragraph 51)

15.  Ministers have repeatedly used the £800 million allocation in 2010-11 in an attempt to convey the impression that this large amount of money will enable Government, and others, to respond effectively to the challenges posed by the summer's floods. When broken down, however, the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 (CSR07) settlement is far less impressive, and looks inadequate to cope with both the traditional and new risks the country faces. In light of the upcoming final Pitt report, and the resources that both local authorities and the Agency will inevitably require to address surface water flood risk, we recommend that the Government reappraise the adequacy of its CSR 07 settlement to combat all types of flood risk. (Paragraph 57)

16.  Sir Michael Pitt should publish the full costs of his final recommendations as soon as possible. The Department should make clear in its response how it intends to fund the Pitt Review if the cost of its final recommendations exceeds £34.5 million. It should also say what options it is exploring as to how local authorities will be funded to carry out their responsibilities as a result of the Pitt Review. (Paragraph 58)

17.  We welcome the Government and the Agency's work to develop a long-term investment strategy for flood risk management. This strategy should provide some answers about the level of flood risk protection that the public should expect, the research and organisation involved (particularly for surface water flooding), the number of flood prevention and alleviation schemes required nationally, and how much this would cost. The strategy should also take account of the effect of climate change on the frequency and intensity of rainfall and storm surges. The strategy should be subject to a public consultation process, and published. (Paragraph 62)

18.  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.. 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. (Paragraph 66)

19.  The Department and the Agency should explore the possibility of ring-fencing a minimum proportion of the Agency's capital expenditure over a three-year CSR period for new capital schemes in rural areas. (Paragraph 71)

20.  We recommend that the Government consider the possibility of ring-fencing Grant-in-aid directly to Regional Flood Defence Committees. (Paragraph 72)

21.   The Agency should develop a clear strategy for expenditure on new capital works versus maintenance of existing systems. It should ensure that any proposed new scheme should have an estimated maintenance schedule in the same way that it is accompanied by a construction bill of quantities. The Agency should also ensure its maintenance budget for the CSR 07 period includes the additional maintenance work necessary on the new capital schemes it will build during the period. (Paragraph 75)

22.  Given the enormous level of interest, we believe it is appropriate that local people have to be involved, and consulted, in the formulation of decisions about watercourse and river maintenance. The Agency, and local authorities, must open up dialogue with members of the public, through appropriate local fora, to ensure that they are part of this process. (Paragraph 80)

23.  Once decisions have been made, the Agency should make clear, via its website or other means, the maintenance programme for all its watercourses—even if this, in some cases, is minimal—including the risk assessment which the Agency has made in deciding its approach to maintenance of a particular watercourse. The future schedule of maintenance should be announced whenever possible. (Paragraph 81)

24.  The Government should ask the Environment Agency and Natural England to agree on how to resolve any conflict between effective drainage for flood defence purposes and the preservation of watercourses as important wildlife habitats, and publish the results. (Paragraph 82)

25.  The Government should re-examine the money available for the maintenance of watercourses and produce a clear analysis, by the end of 2008, of the balance between maintenance and capital spend, bearing in mind the National Audit Office's conclusions, the scepticism of the public that not enough maintenance is being done, and the views of the Environment Agency. (Paragraph 83)

26.  Either the existing system of riparian duties needs to be made to work more effectively or it needs to be replaced. The Government should explore the practicality, costs and benefits of pursuing both courses of action. Work should begin as soon as possible to examine whether riparian ownership is fit for purpose. (Paragraph 86)

27.  We previously endorsed the Pitt Review's interim conclusion that local authorities be required to compile a register of all the main flood risk management and drainage assets, including details of the responsible owners. This register should include the owners of all watercourses, and be publicly available. (Paragraph 87)

28.  Defra should work with its partners and bodies to decide, by the end of 2008, how natural process flood risk schemes with multiple benefits can be best funded and developed. We strongly support the creative use of the Single Farm Payment to reward land owners if their land is used for the purpose of natural flooding to protect people and buildings elsewhere. (Paragraph 90)

29.  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. (Paragraph 95)

30.  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. (Paragraph 96)

31.  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. (Paragraph 99)

32.  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. (Paragraph 101)

33.  Local authorities and other relevant local organisations need to rehearse emergency response exercises on a more regular basis. This would help to improve preparedness and also ensure people in various organisations know each other. The scale of the rehearsed emergency events should take account of the extreme weather events predicted as a result of climate change. The Government and the Environment Agency should be centrally involved in the formulation of such exercises to ensure that they are demanding enough. (Paragraph 104)

34.  The Government must ensure that the voluntary sector is included as part of civil contingency planning to maximise the effective use of the sector. (Paragraph 105)

35.  Emergency response in two-tier local authorities can add complications to an already difficult situation. We support the Pitt Review's interim conclusion that "upper-tier" local authorities should be the lead organisation in relation to multi-agency planning for severe weather emergencies at the local level, and for triggering multi-agency arrangements in response to severe weather warnings. (Paragraph 107)

36.  The Government should revise upwards both the planning contingency whereby the water industry is required to prepare for 200,000 people without water for 7 days, and the minimum per capita amount of water to be provided in an emergency. It should then ensure that water companies are able to demonstrate that they have the ability to meet these minimum standards, through the provision of sufficient materials such as bowsers and/or bottled water. (Paragraph 111)

37.  The Environment Agency should undertake to provide copies of its three flood guides to local authorities, to be circulated for free to those houses in areas of highest risk. (Paragraph 113)

38.  The Government should include an assessment of flood risk within the information to be included in Home Information Packs. The Environment Agency's guides should also be included in the packs for those properties deemed at risk. (Paragraph 114)

39.  There should ideally be an opt-out for receiving flood warnings from the Environment Agency in areas of high risk, rather than the current opt-in system. The Agency should publish, by the end of 2008, any results from its pilot scheme to register automatically eligible households and premises for flood warnings unless they opt out. It should also set out any concerns that have arisen from the pilot. (Paragraph 115)

40.  We understand that insurance companies will want to produce their own detailed flood risk maps for commercial reasons. The current situation, however, is a recipe for conflict. The Government should set out its policy on how it intends to resolve this potential confusion. We recognise the production of flood maps is a dynamic process and is dependent on the best data available, but it is in everyone's interest to have the best available validated map. The Environment Agency should take the lead in pulling partners together to achieve this. The Agency should set up a standing committee that annually reviews all the available data on flood mapping, so insurance companies and the Met Office can share experience, and this committee should publish an annual report about the dynamics of the process. (Paragraph 117)

41.  Following the publication of the Pitt Review's final report, the Department must publish a costed and prioritised action plan to set out the timetable for implementing Sir Michael Pitt's findings. We recommend that the Government request that Sir Michael Pitt be given a role within the Environment Agency to ensure the implementation of his findings. (Paragraph 121)

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 7 May 2008