Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 10 OCTOBER 2007
Q20 Lynne Jones:
Thursday morning at ten o'clock.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: At
that point we agreed jointly with them that we would issue public
information about a severe weather warning and its location and
that we would contact our partnerslocal authorities and
othersabout the fact that there was a severe weather warning
on the way. As soon as a severe warning goes out the public begin
to get information through the media. Our regions issued press
releases and generally speaking we were able to up the tempo of
the fact that there was a severe weather event on the way. The
process of moving from that to actually being able to say in detail
how these surface water systems would react is not currently part
of our remit, nor are we able to do it with current technology.
The process of that then resulting in river levels going up and
us being able to activate our flood warnings in the way in which
our modelling systems trigger particular flood warnings at particular
times was very much the back end of the process because most of
the early flooding was in fact from the surface water impact.
I think that that continues to highlight the issue of the fact
that we have not at the moment got a co-ordinated process for
dealing with flooding from all sources but that is a fact and
we cannot deny that.
Q21 Lynne Jones:
The flood warnings that went out, were they going out throughout
the day? How did they work?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think you have to differentiate between a warning that there may
be flooding to the public as a whole.
Q22 Lynne Jones:
The 45,000 Floodline warnings, when did they go out?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: They
would be going out throughout the event depending on where the
particular flood was likely to happen.
Q23 Lynne Jones:
When did they start going out?
Mr Rooke: For the River Avon we
issued our first warning on the 20th at 15.13.
Q24 Lynne Jones:
But you had had warnings on the 19th early on that there was going
to be these excessive rainfalls.
Mr Rooke: Yes, and we fed that
information into our models. We were talking to what we call professional
partnersthe local authorities, the police, et ceteraon
the Thursday. I was talking to the Met Office on the Thursday
and we got the warnings out before the properties flooded in good
time on the River Severn and the River Avon.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think we have to make this distinction between the warnings that
we give jointly with the Met Office that there is going to be
severe weather and the individual warnings which go to the public
at large and to our professional partners. The individual warnings
that we give to members of the public through their mobile phone
or through their pager or through their landline or whichever
way they choose to have it, they are about what is going to happen
in their particular flood area and we have a commitment to give
them that warning two hours before they flood. So we give the
general warning to the public in a particular area that we think
there is going to be very heavy weather that could result in flooding
and then as the rivers respond we can give individual and particular
flood warnings to people based on our modelling of how the rivers
Q25 Lynne Jones:
You should have had plenty of time to get those warnings out to
give people the two hours since you had had this warning from
the Met Office on Thursday, and yet people are telling us that
they were not getting these warnings in time.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Only
where they were able to be warned about flooding from rivers because
we do not have a responsibility to warn from surface water flooding.
Nobody at the moment has a system in place to warn about surface
water flooding other than in a very general way to say that there
is going to be a lot of water and we could find some surface water
Q26 Lynne Jones:
People might say that it is difficult to distinguish between the
two because if there is heavy surface water that affects the rivers
and then we get river flooding, so I am not quite sure of the
distinction. People will say, "We signed up to these floodlines;
we thought we would get advanced information rather more advanced
than what is being given out generally".
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think what you are saying very much reinforces the fact that we
now have to get a proper co-ordinated approach and proper co-ordinated
role and clarity about who is actually responsible for co-ordinating.
Let me just take Hull as an example. 95 per cent of the flooding
in Hull was from surface water flooding rather than from river
flooding and it is actually quite possible to determine which
was which because the amount of river flooding in Hull was comparatively
small and quite localised compared with the vast majority of flooding
which was from surface water drainage.
Q27 Lynne Jones:
What needs to be done to improve public information and what role
should the Environment Agency play? Do you expect to have responsibility
for issuing flood warnings about surface water flooding?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think that is one of the things that needs to be clarified if
we are given a role in having an overview of flooding from all
sources in urban areas. The fine grain of what happens in terms
of drainage systems is very much a local issue. You can understand
that when you are looking at flooding from rivers you are looking
at the whole river system because it is one system. If you are
looking at flooding within the urban area you are looking at the
rivers but you are also looking at some very, very complicated
and fine grain drainage and surface water systems and sewerage
systems as well. This is very heavily influenced by the development
process and also by things like roads and what water companies
do. We believe we should have a national overview which would
put in place advice, guidance, tools and techniques for being
able to do the risk assessment and the mapping but that there
needs to be a key role for local authorities in individual localities
because they are the folks with the levers in their hands. They
have the planning levers that can impact on drainage systems and
surface water systems and the whole process of getting permeable
and sustainable drainage systems, not building too much impermeable
concrete, making sure that urban settlements are planned in ways
that allows drainage to be sustainable.
Q28 Lynne Jones:
You mentioned earlier that there had been one area where you had
had more successful co-ordination. I forget where it was but what
was the impetus? Who took the lead in developing that sort of
Baroness Young of Old Scone: The
example I used was Carlisle, following the two sets of Carlisle
floods which were quite complicated combinations of river and
surface water flooding. David Rooke may want to comment on the
whole issue of surface water drainage, including the whole issue
of sustainable drainage systems. Working with Defra at the moment
we have 15 pilot projects looking at how this issue of surface
water drainage systems and floods from surface water can be dealt
with. They are trying out a number of different techniques and
also different ways of collaborating and having governance of
that to see what works. Our anticipation is that once Defra have
completed those pilots there will be some models there that emerge
that look as if they are successful and can be applied across
the country as a whole. Just going back to the issue of predictions
of flooding and what we would like to see, if we do get this overview
role we will want to look at what mapping and modelling of surface
water drainage looks like and whether a warning system is possible.
However, to be frank, at the moment we think that technically
it will be extremely difficult and financially incredibly expensive
and so it may not be the best way of dealing with surface water
drainage issues. The best way of dealing with surface water drainage
issues may be to start rapidly getting surface water plans in
place for those areas that we know are prone to surface water
drainage issues and resolving some of the hot spots, making sure
that new development takes account of these issues and actually
has got better flood proofing in its water drainage systems.
Q29 Mr Drew:
If we could now move on to the actual emergency itself, as someone
who had a fairly interesting role through it, there is just one
thing that I suppose surprised all of us. When the Mythe water
treatment centre went down (and obviously the Environment Agency
were key to Gold Command in Gloucestershire) what was the response
of the Agency when Gold Command turned to Severn Trent and said
"You have lost your treatment centre; what is Plan B to get
drinking water to thousands of people?" and the answer was,
"We do not really know". Has the Environment Agency
played through in some of your roles what happens when you lose
key establishments like a water treatment centre or an electricity
sub-station? To what extent are you now re-thinking the whole
way in which you would work in an emergency and prior to an emergency?
Dr King: In terms of the critical
infrastructure and utilities it is very much the responsibility
of the operator of that facility to have a business continuity
plan in place. Severn Trent Water in that case have responsibility
under the Civil Contingencies Act and indeed I think under the
Water Services Act to ensure that they have emergency plans to
put in place. The Agency does not actually have a role in that
at all, but there is legislation that covers it.
Q30 Mr Drew:
What level of discussion did you have with water companies and
electricity companies prior to this season of floods and have
you had a lot more chatter since then on what should be done to
protect some of these key establishments?
Dr King: Clearly one of the lessons
coming out of the floods is the vulnerability of the critical
infrastructure and it is certainly unacceptable. The operators
of those installations do have to flood proof the installations.
There is a role undoubtedly for government in putting a duty on
them to do so. We can certainly help in characterising the risk
but at the end of the day it is the operator that will have to
make the flood risk assessment of that particular installation
and prioritise where they want to put the investment in.
Q31 Mr Drew:
What happens if they will not? What happens if you have a clear
case where a particular important facility that you know is in
the wrong location because you know how risky that particular
location is, you have done all your measurements, and they do
not come to you, do you have any powers at all to go to them and
say, "You have to get hold of this because if it did go down
you will have major problems"?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Can
I just pick this one up because I think there is a real issue
for the Committee here. We have done the work to map the flood
risk to a whole set of public services and critical infrastructurenot
just water but telephones, roads, railways, healthcare facilities,
power distribution, energy installations of all sortsand
our role is to provide information to these installations and
the people who run them about their degree of flood risk through
our flood mapping process. That is our role. The Civil Contingencies
Act lays upon them a requirement to be contingent and we take
part in local contingency fora where all the players get together
to try to establish what the biggest risks locally are. On occasions
flood risks have been pretty low down the pecking order. Many
of the civil contingency fora have been very, very obsessed with
the threat of terrorism and other issues like that and I think
that it would be good if flood risk comes up the agenda now.
Have you actually discussed the recommendation in paragraph 7.2
of your evidence that an amendment to the Civil Contingencies
Act to address this deficit should be included in the Climate
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
have done a number of things. One is that either through the Civil
Contingencies Bill or through the Climate Change Bill to get a
duty laid on what would be category one responders and category
two responders under the Civil Contingencies Act to have a duty
to take account of adaptation in their plans.
Have you specifically discussed this with Defra?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
have indeed, yes.
What have they said?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think we are not clear about their response yet; you need to ask
them. The other thing I think the Committee should note again
the mixed responsibility here. I was asking who should now write
to all of these services that we have identified as being in the
floodplain and at high risk and say to them, "If you have
not already got your act together, you need to start thinking
about it sharpish". That is a moot point. Is it Defra with
their role in flood risk management? Is it the Cabinet Office
with their role in civil contingencies? Is it BERR with their
role as the industry sponsor? To be frank, I think it is probably
all of them so again I think we need a clarification on who is
actually going to drive through getting our infrastructure resilient
for the future. It is not just about people being alert to the
issue; there will be investment issues for these businesses.
Who is responsible for these creaking reservoirs you have mentioned
in paragraph 9.1 of your evidence?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Creaking
reservoirs are even more complicated. I am beginning to get depressed
about this evidence. If you were reading it cold you would be
thinking "Who are these people? They are supposed to be responsible
for floods and every time you ask them a question they are very
simply telling you it is not their job." However, that is
the reality. It is a hugely diverse set of responsibilities at
the moment. If you want to hear the story about reservoirs David
is a world expert.
You have 30 seconds to enlighten us on reservoirs without repetition
Mr Rooke: We took over the enforcement
authority for reservoirs across England and Wales in October 2004
so we have some three years' experience. Ulley Reservoir which
was on virtually every television screen across the country in
June highlighted some of the issues. We do think that as a result
of our experience of being the regulator and what happened at
Ulley and elsewherethere were a number of other reservoirs
which were adversely impactedthat it is timely for a review
of the legislation. The legislation goes back to 1930 and it is
still basically in force today. It has been updated through the
1975 Act and some amendments since then, but primarily it is back
to the 1930 Act which came out of a number of reservoir failures
that led to the deaths of quite a large number of people. We want
to move it into a modern risk based approach. We have ageing reservoir
stock and the average age of reservoirs in this country is 110
years. With climate change we need a modern risk based regulatory
approach in place before those risks start to increase.
Q37 Mr Drew:
Presumably you were happy with the way in whichI can only
talk my own experience in Gloucestershirethe Gold Command
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Broadly
speaking we feel that the Gold and Silver command structure is
the right structure.
Q38 Mr Drew:
There were some issues about how Gold related to Silver.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Yes
and one or two issues also for us about just how we get the right
sort of input into this, but generally speaking I think the model
is a good one.
Q39 Mr Drew:
I think everyone would agree from all the evidence we have received
and from all the personal experience that Gold and Silver command
worked very well. However, a lot depends on people being able
to deliver once decisions have been taken and in one respect there
is a very good story that there was a lot of helpful intervention
by British Waterways (which is quite close to our heart) but if
there had not been the ability to pump water through the Gloucester
to Sharpness Canal the potential flooding in and around Gloucester
and Tewskesbury would have been even worse. On what basis were
those decisions taken? They were certainly taken and I am interested
in that which is a good news story but also what is not such a
good news story where there were water courses where flooding
could have been prevented if other private individuals or private
organisations had also been acting in the same way because so
much depends on people opening the sluices, people making sure
that they maintain under riparian ownership their responsibility.
Can you take me through what I see on the one hand a good news
story but what potentially is not very helpful where you may not
have the ability let alone the capability to be able to instruct
people to do some of the things you need them to do?
Mr Rooke: I support what Barbara
said in terms of the Gold and Silver which worked extremely well.
The Gold takes the strategic decisions and the Silver takes the
tactical decisions. There is also a Bronze level as well which
is actually on the site; people on the site can take local decisions.
That command structure is well tested; it is used for all emergencies,
not just flooding. All the players generally know each other and
come together and they exercise when there are no real events
as well. The exercising is an important part of being a member
of Gold or Silver. When you attend Gold or Silver you bring with
you your organisation's resources and put them at the disposal
of the Gold or Silver or Bronze commander and that enables resources
to be prioritised. It enables additional resources to be brought
in from outside if necessary and certainly during the flooding
the military played a key role in coming into Gold and Silver
to help and that was very valuable indeed. Trying to get that
replicated at a very local level with private individuals is maybe
something that needs to be looked at. Often parish councils could
play a role in this. We do have flood wardens who we use to issue
flood warnings. There may be a role for flood wardens to co-ordinate
very local specific activity but it is at street level, it is
at farm level, it is certainly not at county level or beyond that
at regional level.
3 Ev 4 Back
Ev 4 Back