Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Martin Salter MP (FL MP 04)

BACKGROUND

  A clear distinction needs to be made between surface water flooding and the over-topping of rivers and streams. It has been estimated that overloaded Victorian sewers and drains account for around half of preventable floods.

  River flooding is a natural occurrence and there is little that can be done to reduce the amount of water that will find its way down our river valleys. Flood defences can protect some communities but can also increase the risk of flooding further downstream. Relief channels such as the Jubilee River in Berkshire can divert water at times of high flows and protect communities in low lying areas.

  Intensive farming practices have created less capacity to hold back water in the upper reaches of river valleys. The destruction of functional water meadows which retain flood water and release it slowly back into the catchments has been caused by both farming and development. Flash flooding in many rivers is now more commonplace as a result, adding to problems further downstream.

  Land drainage policies for the 60s and 70s have exacerbated the problem by straightening and dredging the smaller upstream tributaries resulting in faster run off. Fortunately, the EA now has a more enlightened policy.

  Building in the flood plain has left 1 1/2 million homes at risk of flooding. The new planning guidance PPS 25 seeks to protect functional floodplain (ie water meadows etc) and yet 20% of applications objected to by the EA still receive approval regardless.

  Currently there are four or five different authorities responsible for the maintenance of drains, ditches, culverts and streams all of which carry surface water run off. These are: Local councils (country and/or district), the Water companies, Riparian owners, and the Environment Agency. The E.A. is only responsible for streams and rivers designated as Critical Ordinary Watercourses (C.O.Ws).

  The July floods of 2007 overwhelmed the existing outdated drainage infrastructure. In many areas it is true to say that no system would have coped with the sheer volumes of water but in others increased capacity would have provided some relief.

SUGGESTIONS

  Should we incentivise farmers to recreate the peat bogs and water meadows that act as natural sponges to hold back floodwater?

  There should be a comprehensive mapping exercise to identify every drain, culvert and watercourse to establish ownership and assess capacity to handle high volumes of water.

  A competent authority must exist to enforce the maintenance and upkeep of these watercourses. Should this be the E.A. or local councils?

  Developers should be required to make financial contributions to the costs of improving drainage. How could this be implemented?

  Should the E.A. have the power to veto significant planning applications which increase flood risk?

  We need substantial investment to increase drainage capacity, create flood relief schemes and improve flood defences where appropriate.

  Should we create more flood relief channels rather than flood defence barriers?

  How effective were the emergency planning arrangements in the flood hit areas?

  Do sandbags make any difference? Are there more effective methods of protecting flood hit properties?

Martin Salter MP

Reading West

August 2007





 
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