Memorandum submitted by the Environment
Agency (FL 121)
The Environment Agency welcomes the opportunity
to respond to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee
inquiry into the recent flooding across England.
The following memorandum summarises the role
of the Environment Agency, our initial views on the key issues
arising from the floods of June and July 2007, and on the significant
policy and leadership challenges we face.
This memorandum will cover:
Inland Strategic Overview Role
Characterisation of Risk (mapping
Development and Flood Risk
Protecting Critical Infrastructure
Rural Flood Risk Management
Our internal review is due to report in December
2007, but we have incorporated our preliminary findings into this
submission. We look forward to the findings of this and other
reviews of the floods this summer. Our initial conclusions include
The weather event that led to the
flooding was unprecedented in many places, with significant amounts
of rain falling in very short periods of time. The flooding occurred
largely because urban and land drainage systems were unable to
cope with the large volumes of water which resulted.
We are still analysing the performance
of our flood defences during the event but early indications are
that with virtually no exceptions, the majority performed to design
standard and did not fail. They were, however, in many places
simply overwhelmed and overtopped by the sheer volume of water.
There were many communities that
were satisfactorily protected by defences, including some for
the first time following recent investments.
The Environment Agency's flood warning
systems performed well with no problems with service provision.
We warned over 45,000 properties at risk; our flood agents took
almost 55,000 calls; we received over 200,000 calls to our recorded
message service and received over 43 million "hits"
from 4 million individuals on our website. All of our systems
stood up to the challenges of increased usage.
Our links with the Met Office and
the data provided by them were crucial in allowing the appropriate
deployment of staff and resources. However, the specificity of
forecasting information is not yet such as to define with sufficient
accuracy where rain will fall so that more local impacts on surface
water and small watercourses can be assessed.
1.1 The severe flooding that affected much
of the country in June and July followed what we now know to be
the wettest May to July period since records began in 1766. The
sheer volume of water overwhelmed many drainage systems and some
defences, and much of the flooding occurred because these systems
could not cope with the sheer quantity of water. However, whilst
little reported, our activities and previous investment to protect
homes and businesses substantially reduced the impacts of this
1.2 Nevertheless, the effects were severe.
Several people lost their lives. 44,600 homes and 7,100 businesses
were flooded. Transport infrastructure was disrupted, and many
properties were without power and water for many days. Recovery
from such an event can take years, as properties are dried out,
cleaned, repaired and redecorated. Rural areas and businesses
too have had to face the impacts of flooding. Many farmers have
suffered significant losses of livestock and crops.
1.3 Every flood provides a learning opportunity
to examine the root causes and identify areas for improvement.
The summer floods brought into sharp relief a number of issues,
many of which we were already tackling. This incident was characterised
by severe surface water flooding and potential problems with reservoirs,
as well as flooding from rivers and other watercourses.
1.4 A particular challenge is urban surface
water drainage. In many places, flooding occurred as a result
of prolonged heavy rainfall, leading to surface water run-off
and drainage systems being overwhelmed. Pressures on drainage
infrastructure had been increased by new development, infill of
previously undeveloped land and increased levels of impermeable
paving. Climate change is likely to make urban surface water
flooding more common as rainfall is predicted to increase by 10-30%
by the 2080s, and intensity could increase by up to 20% (UKCIP,
2. INLAND STRATEGIC
2.1 There is a need for clarification of
responsibilities for inland flooding from whatever source. At
present, no single organisation has the strategic overview role
for all inland flooding issues, including flooding from river
systems and surface water. Whilst local government will be the
key local player for urban surface water flooding, there needs
to be a strategic overview and co-ordinated approach to flooding
from all sources, including rivers, seas and surface water. There
are benefits to be gained from a co-ordinated national approach.
These include, for example, in the methodology and techniques
used for risk characterisation and surface water management; in
aligning the design capacity of surface water systems with those
of river and coastal defences; and in the contributions that whole-catchment
approach to water management offers.
2.2 Defra wrote to key stakeholders in June
2007 to seek views on their approach to the intended Environment
Agency Strategic Overview for Inland Flood Risk Management, and
to ask for feedback on their draft impact assessment for the Integrated
Urban Drainage work. Additionally, the Defra Making Space
for Water initiative has funded 15 pilot studies in urban
areas in England examining different approaches to urban flood
management. These studies will report in 2008 and provide an
evidence-based approach to policy development. The Environment
Agency believes there is an urgent need to establish a strategic
overview role, to provide national leadership, advice and support
to all bodies who have roles to play in the management of flood
risk for the future, including the several bodies locally who
have a key role to play in the management of surface water flood
risk. The issue of the overview of surface water flooding is
also identified in the independent review of the 2007 floods in
Kingston-upon-Hull, commissioned by Hull City Council.
2.3 Working within a strategic framework,
advice, support and tools provided by the Environment Agency,
Local Authorities, as the key local players, would undertake Strategic
Flood Risk Assessments covering all forms of flooding to inform
spatial planning decisions. Where necessary these would trigger
the preparation of a Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP). A
SWMP would take account of flooding from surface water, sewers,
combined sewers and the impact of these sources in combination
with flooding from rivers, the sea, groundwater, canals and reservoirs
to provide a more holistic approach to the problem of urban flooding.
Input on flood risks from rivers, the sea, groundwater, canals
and reservoirs would continue to be provided by the Environment
Agency. At present markedly different design standards are applied
by operating authorities to urban drainage systems. Typically,
return periods of up to 1 in 30 years will be applied but not
universally and not in a co-ordinated approach with others to
appropriately manage urban flood risk. Retro fitting the application
of higher standards and increased risk protection would be prohibitively
expensive but regulation to ensure that all new build and redevelopment
conforms to new standards would bring significant improvements
over time. Surface Water Management Plans would also allow the
identification of priorities for the remediation of surface water
flooding "hot spots" in current systems.
2.4 The forthcoming Planning Reform Bill
could introduce a duty for all utilities, regulators and agencies
to work with local authorities to produce a Strategic Flood Risk
Assessment (SFRA), where Environment Agency Catchment Flood Management
Plans identify a significant risk of urban flooding.
2.5 A methodology for developing these plans
is critical. The Environment Agency could develop a methodology
that would be applied nationally by Local Authorities. A SWMP
would provide input to the Local Development Framework for the
2.6 We believe that the Environment Agency
could perform an effective strategic overview role for all types
of inland flooding. However, the role needs careful specification
and the balance of responsibilities between the Environment Agency,
Local Authorities and other organisations will need to be clearly
3.1 We already have a well-established way
of characterising and mapping the risk of flooding from rivers
and the sea. The Environment Agency is not, currently, responsible
for floods from surface water. Were we to be given the overview
role outlined above, it would still be far more difficult to characterise
and warn against the risk from other sources of flooding. Water
moves in complex ways through the changing landscape in a dynamic
urban environment, and is extremely challenging to map. Planning
decisions, urban design and changes in sewerage provision all
conspire to make it difficult to accurately predict flooding.
Little work has been done on mapping areas at risk from urban
surface water flooding. There is no nationally consistent approach.
There needs to be developed a workable, risk-based methodology
for characterising urban flood risk. This will be an important
part of implementing the European Floods Directive, and critical
for the Environment Agency in taking a meaningful strategic overview
for all forms of flooding, as proposed by Defra.
4.1 The new planning policy guidance on
development and flood risk (England: PPS 25) published in December
2006 introduces a strengthened presumption against developing
in areas of flood risk. At the same time the Government introduced
new powers for the Environment Agency to challenge planning authorities
that overrule our advice based on the basis of riverine or coastal
flooding and flood risk from surface water drainage. It remains
difficult to identify urban areas at high risk from surface water
flooding in a consistent way and therefore the full potential
of PPS25 is not being realised.
4.2 In 2005-06, we objected to more than
4,000 planning applications in England because of concerns about
flood risk (High Level Target 5Development and Flood Risk,
2006). In the end, only 10 major developments went ahead against
our advice in 2005-06, but that is 10 too many. Our report on
building in the floodplain for 2006-07 will be completed in November.
4.3 Increased storminess and the possibility
of flooding occurring more widely outside the floodplain due to
surface water issues, means that the resistance and resilience
of buildings to floods needs to be increased, to reduce the damage
when such floods occur. The feasibility should be examined of
introducing flood resistance (preventing water entering buildings)
and resilience (reducing the impact of water which has entered
buildings) requirements into the Building Regulations as part
of measures to adapt to climate change.
5.1 Sustainable drainage systems (SUDS)
slow the movement of surface water through the built environment
to emulate natural processes. These include allowing water to
soak into the ground and providing absorbent surfaces, buffering
or storage. In doing so, they reduce the impact of rainfall on
the drainage system. However such systems do require long term
maintenance and, at present, there is no legal clarity as to whose
responsibility this is or who will fund it.
5.2 Local Authorities should take the lead
on providing SUDS. In the forthcoming Planning Bill, a presumption
in favour of SUDS should be introduced to add weight to existing
policy in PPS 25. Local Authorities should apply a presumption
in favour of SUDS in planning applications for new developments
by applying conditions. So-called General Binding Rules could
be introduced, requiring parking areas or other surfaces to be
made permeable, as envisaged in the Defra non-agricultural diffuse
5.3 Section 106 of the Water Industry Act
1991 (right of connection to a public sewer) should be amended
to encourage the use of SUDS. Currently this section gives property
owners a right to connect to a public sewer without having to
consider alternatives or demonstrate that SUDS are not feasible.
5.4 Greater transparency in charging for
surface water drainage could reward organisations that place a
smaller load on the surface water drainage system. This would
encourage more permeable surfaces, reducing surface water runoff.
5.5 PPS 25 requires that drainage issues
be appropriately considered as part of the flood risk assessment.
Where flood risk from drainage has not been adequately considered
in this way the Environment Agency will object.
6. Emergency Planning
6.1 The multi-agency approach to emergency
planning is sound. The Environment Agency, Police, local government,
Fire and Rescue Service and others jointly develop strategies
for responding to flood emergencies and these worked during the
floods. The fora and collaborative mechanisms set up under the
Civil Contingencies Act stood in good stead during the flood emergency,
so these need further development to focus on particular flood
6.2 The Environment Agency played a full
role in supporting the Government at a national level through
attending meetings of the Civil Contingencies Committee (known
as COBRA meetings) and in providing briefings for Ministers and
members of Parliament.
7.1 The experiences at Walham electricity
sub station operated by National Grid and the Mythe Water Treatment
Works operated by Severn Trent Water have brought into sharp relief
the necessity for protecting our critical infrastructure. The
Receptors Vulnerable to Flooding project (Environment Agency and
JBA, 2007) found that significant numbers of public and private
sector critical infrastructure facilities were at risk from flooding.
These included 15% of major energy installations, 14% of emergency
response installations (fire, ambulance and police stations),
9% of hospitals and health centres and surgeries, and 57% of water
and sewerage treatment works, as well as railway stations and
lines, roads, telephone exchanges and schools.
7.2 The Civil Contingencies Act requires
business continuity plans to be prepared by category 1 and 2 responders.
However, this does not extend to a specific duty to protect critical
assets from flooding. Our experience of the recent floods suggests
that some utility companies may not have appropriate business
continuity plans in place to address all the potential impacts
of major flooding. We encourage utility companies to review their
business continuity plans in light of the most up-to-date information
that we have available. Our reviews from previous floods have
identified this as an issue. To ensure that adequate progress
is made, the Environment Agency would want to see proposals to
include a specific requirement in the Climate Change Bill for
utilities and all critical infrastructure and service providers
to take account of climate change adaptation needs.
8. RURAL FLOOD
8.1 Considerable rural land flooded during
the summer floods. The Environment Agency works with landowners
and Internal drainage Boards to help manage rural flood risk where
possible. The Agency prioritises the provision of defences and
the maintenance of watercourses on a risk basis. In the case
of maintenance of watercourses, including dredging, the Environment
Agency provides maintenance and dredges where that will help reduce
flood risk. There are a number of ways in which land owners and
managers can help reduce flood risk. Two current research projects
under Defra's Making Space for Water initiative are helping
to provide the scientific evidence to show land owners and managers
what role they can play in reducing floods from their land. In
addition, the use of farmland adjacent to rivers to store floodwater
and re-create natural floodplains, perhaps subject to payment,
can help manage flood risk.
9.1 During the floods problems were identified
at a number of reservoirs including the well-publicised Ulley
Reservoir near Rotherham. The Environment Agency became the enforcement
authority for reservoirs across England and Wales in October 2004.
Our experiences over the past three years and from the floods
lead us to conclude that a review of the legislation would be
timely. The combination of the impacts of climate change and an
ageing reservoir stock mean that risks from dam failure are likely
to increase and having a modern risk-based legislative framework
in place is in our view a pre-requisite to managing those risks.
10.1 There is strong justification for increased
investment in flood risk management to cope with the existing
backlog of floodplain development, growing development pressures,
additional duties and obligations placed upon us by our changing
role and developing legislation, and to take account of the impacts
of climate change. The economic benefits are clearfor
every £1 spent on protecting homes and businesses and building
in resistance and resilience, the cost of clean-up and repairs
following a flood can be reduced by up to £6 (Defra Zero-based
review of flood risk management, 2006 unpublished). The investments
we make are therefore paying for themselves many times over.
The pressures on the flood risk management budget remain and
the cost of bringing urban drainage systems up to standard and
improving standards will also be considerable.
10.2 The continued investment and provision
of flood defences for properties in areas at high risk of flooding
is a fundamental part of Government's agreement with the insurance
industry. The "Statement of Principles" agreed with
the ABI states that insurance for flood risk will continue to
be offered by the industry as long as Government investment in
flood risk reduction measures continues. The ABI has called for
flood risk management budgets to be increased at 10% per year
(A future for the floodplains, ABI, 2006), and the Environment
Agency believes it is prudent to increase the budget this steadily
so that capacity can increase in line with a real increase in
10.3 The Government announced in July its
intended expansion of overall funding in flood risk management
from £600 million per year to £800 million per year
by 2010-11, although it is not yet clear how much the Environment
Agency will receive, or when. The National Audit Office identified
the need for an additional £150 million to be spent on bringing
our existing assets into "good" standard. The ABI's
view is that this commitment should be made over and above the
increase to £800 million annually already announced, and
they have identified a case for an additional £8 billion
to be spent over 25 years on east coast defences alone. The Government's
Foresight report also advised that an increase in spending
of £30 million per annum in real terms would be necessary
to contend with the best current predictions of the effects of
10.4 So, we warmly welcome the extra funding
announced by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs. We believe it should increase steadily in 2008-09
and 2009-10, and in accordance with the ABI's proposals after
2011. Increases should continue through the next spending review,
towards reaching over £1 billion annually.
11.1 Some commentators are already suggesting
disaggregation of flood risk management to more local control.
The Government consulted on governance and funding after the
extensive floods in autumn 2000 and concluded that a national
approach was needed to enable effective focus on priorities and
more efficient use of resources and skills. Government has just
agreed that the Environment Agency will take on the responsibility
for strategic overview on the coast and is consulting on giving
the Environment Agency a similar role inland.
11.2 Other commentators have suggested that
management of flood events point to the need for a single flood
agency which would handle all aspects of flood emergency management
from forecasting and warning through to event management, community
support and post-flood recovery. The management of flood events
requires collaboration of a wide range of organisations. For
example, the skills of both the Environment Agency and the Met
Office are needed for flood forecasting. Emergency management
needs close collaboration between Local Authorities, the emergency
services, utility companies, Internal Drainage Boards, voluntary
organisations and others. The important factor is clarity of
responsibilities and excellence of co-ordination, not the creation
of a single organisation, which would cut across the ongoing "peacetime"
responsibilities of other organisations.
11.3 A fundamental principle behind the
creation of the Environment Agency was the need for the integrated
management of rivers, including pollution control, water resources,
the land / water interface and biodiversity as well as flooding.
This is even more valid now. The Water Framework Directive requires
such an approach and this will soon be universal across Europe.
11.4 A response to the flood event that
focuses on organisational restructuring rather than action on
the issues risks losing output for up to two years while restructuring
takes place and reductions in productivity for some three years
after as the new arrangements bed down. Many of the issues identified
as arising in the summer floods were highlighted in reports from
previous flood events. It is vital that the real issues are tackled,
rather than resorting to restructuring as a substitute for real
focus and action.
12.1 In reaching conclusions and making
recommendations, we must bear in mind that the full picture of
the events in June and July, and the full impacts of the flooding
have yet to be clearly understood. The internal "lessons
identified" review that we are undertaking, together with
reports from other studies, will add flesh to the bare bones of
information that have so far been available, and help us direct
our future thinking, policies and activities. Our interim views,
based on what we know so far, are as follows:
Recommendation 1We believe
that there needs to be an effective strategic overview role for
all types of inland flooding. The role needs careful specification
and the balance of responsibilities between the Environment Agency
and other organisations will need to be clearly articulated.
The Environment Agency could provide leadership, advice, expertise
and national support. Local Authorities would need to take a
lead role in the local management of surface water flooding.
These roles would need to be supported by appropriate powers and
resources, and by Surface Water Management Plans that would set
out a package of responses to risks that were identified in a
consistent way (Section 2.0).
Recommendation 2We need to
develop a workable, nationally consistent toolkit for characterising
urban flood risk and prioritising responses (Section 3.0).
Recommendation 3PPS 25 gives
the Environment Agency the greater involvement in planning decisions
we called for. However, to be effective it must be rigorously
applied and supported by Local Authorities (Section 4.0).
and resilience requirements should be included in the Building
Regulations for new development in areas that could flood, from
whatever source (Section 4.0).
Recommendation 5In the forthcoming
Planning Bill, a presumption in favour of SUDS should be introduced
to add weight to existing policy in PPS25. Local authorities should
apply a presumption in favour of SUDS in planning applications
for new developments by applying conditions and clear arrangements
need to be put in place for ongoing maintenance (Section 5.0).
Recommendation 6Section 106
of the Water Industry Act 1991 (right of connection to a public
sewer) should be amended to encourage the use of SUDS, and charging
regimes should reward organisations that place a smaller load
on the surface water drainage system (Section 5.0).
Recommendation 7Local Authorities
together with Local Resilience Forums should be given greater
accountability for ensuring emergency plans are adequate in relations
to the level of flood risk (Section 6.0).
Recommendation 8Measures that
promote investment in resilience and prevention of flooding of
critical infrastructure need reviewing. There should be a specific
climate change adaptation role for utilities and service providers
in the Climate Change Bill (Section 7.0).
Recommendation 9Land owners
and managers should be encouraged to consider the many ways in
which their activities can help reduce flooding, for example by
careful soil management or creating washlands and water storage
areas (Section 8.0).
safety legislation should be reassessed to learn the lessons of
the recent events (Section 9.0).
in flood risk management is promised to increase but longer-term
commitment to such funding needs to be given by Government in
the face of climate change impacts (Section 10).
changes to governance of flood risk would be counterproductive.
Defra should take forward its intention to give the Environment
Agency an overview role of all inland flooding (Section 11).