Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 10 OCTOBER 2007
Q80 Mr Cox: As
my colleague says, it is not just concreting over gardens, it
is of course building in gardens which is happening on a massive
scale now. That is what I meant, in fact, where in my own patch
we are seeing a lot of small developments going ahead often in
green spaces within urban areasmarket towns, coastal towns
and so onwithout interaction or involvement of the Environment
Agency but which manifestly cumulatively are going to have an
effect on the ability of the land to soak up the water and could
cause a real problem. What are we to do about that unseen and
hidden problem? You are dealing, I know, with several thousand
a year and are objecting to them (4000 I think in 2005/06) but
of course that is a fraction of the applications that are going
forward to use up green spaces and gardens and other pieces of
land inside urban areas. Cumulatively this is going to become
a massive problem; in my own patch it is a serious problem. What
can we do about that? PPS25 is not really dealing with that, is
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think this is one of the areas where the whole question of risk
assessment in the urban setting is going to be crucial. David
may want to talk about the hierarchy of plans and strategies that
we envisage under a system that would mean that eventually carrying
out the flood risk assessment for a local authority for its own
areas would mean that they could pinpoint where some of these
issues were actually creating flood risk and then develop the
strategies to include that within their flood risk assessment
and where there were flood risks there should be a requirement
on developers to undertake the risk assessments and submit those
with their planning applications.
Q81 Mr Cox: You
agree with me that the building on gardens which we are seeing
on an increasing scale is a potential problem. You are nodding;
is that right, Baroness Young?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
think there are number of problems associated with it. One is
that if it is in a flood plain and it is diminishing the amount
of flood storage, that is an issue. The second is that if it is
increasing the amount of concrete and therefore the run-off issues.
There are a number of things we would be concerned about. David
may want to say more about the way in which we would plan for
that in the future.
Dr King: I think there are a number
of things that could be done. We would like to see the mandating
of sustainable urban drainage in new development and also there
is currently a right to connect to a public sewer and we think
that again should be modified and that sustainable urban drainage
should be considered part of that, so there are things that you
can strengthen and encourage in planning law. PPS25 does indicate
that SUDS should be considered but that needs to be strengthened.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Could
I just comment briefly on other things to do with development?
We would be particularly keen to see a change to the building
regulations to improve the flood resilience of properties and
also to encourage the insurers to reinstate properties post-floods
to a level of resilience rather than the level that they were
before the flood occurred.
Q82 Mr Cox: Can
you provide some examples of the kinds of resistance and resilience
requirements you would like to see in the building regulations?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: The
sorts of things that we would be envisaging are water resistant
plaster, solid floorings rather than sprung flooring, electricity
supply being brought in at a higher level rather than at ground
floor level and also simply appliable gadgets to block airbricks
and block doors and entry points. The estimate is that the average
cost to a property after flooding is about £26,000 and that
could be brought down to single figures with the right sorts of
resilience measures providing the flood is not so huge that you
are up to the top of the first floor which is clearly a different
kettle of fish. Where the ingress of water would be comparatively
low these simple resilience techniques could make a huge difference
to the bill being faced by householders and indeed by the insurance
industry in the country as a whole.
Q83 Mr Cox: How
would you enact them?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Building
Q84 Mr Cox: Applicable
to high risk areas? Applicable to all new buildings? How would
you do it?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: To
be frank I think these days with the surface water drainage issue
and the flash flood issue, it may well be that we simply have
to recognise that you can flood on top of a hill these days which
is not the traditional approach we have had which is very much
to focus on the floodplains. I do think there are issues of simple,
more resilience that we could look at that might be cost effective
generally. Certainly some of the more heroic stuff would only
be appropriate in areas of high risk. Personally I would like
to see the kitchen manufacturers making a non-exploding kitchen.
At the moment most of the kitchens that are made from chipboard
if you add water they simply turn into grey goo quite quickly.
We have had an indication now of the way in which money will flow
to the flood defence budget up to 2010 in the form of a parliamentary
answer but the Association of British Insurers (ABI) came out
today indicating that their £1 billion figure is something
which they think ought to be here now rather than later. It was
a position they adopted in 2004 when this Committee did the Foresight
Report. Can I ask you to respond to some evidence which came
to the Committee from the Norwich Union, part of the ABI, who
said the following: "At present Defra's budget for flood
management is not accompanied by any clear rationale to justify
allocation of flood defence resources in one area as opposed to
another. The UK's flood defence budget must be spent appropriately
and directly related to flood risk posed. A clear assessment of
flood defence is a key element in underwriting flood risk for
So place versus place, no rationale. In the same evidence they
go on to be critical of your points system in determining where
investment is made and they cite the following: "Under the
terms of the points system that currently exists some communities
such as Upton-upon-Severn and Lewes which are regularly flooded
do not have flood defences in place and it is unlikely they will
receive them in the future."
That is a direct challenge to the fact that your points system
does not deliver the flood defences when the insurance industry
thinks they ought to be and in terms of giving comfort for them
to maintain their cover clearly they are looking for burden sharing
between government and the industry in terms of investment. Norwich
Union do not think much of the current investment criteria. Can
you comment on how you think this money that you now know is going
to come and the phasing of it is going to be spent, and how the
way you will decide that money's use stacks up against the industry's
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I
am rather mystified at the Norwich Union criticism because we
do have a system for allocating funding that takes account of
risk and increasingly prioritises our maintenance towards high
and medium risk systems and provides a nationally consistent process
for deciding which new flood defences and improved flood defences
should go ahead. They may take issue with the points system but
it is the fairest way we have at the moment. We are looking at
the moment to see whether we can develop a revised prioritisation
process building on the experience we have had with the points
system. However, the points system does not just take how often
people flood. Let me take the one I know best which is Pickering.
Pickering floods regularly but we are unable to put together a
flood risk management scheme that provides the right return on
investment that would give it sufficient priority to go ahead.
The new funding will help with that in that some of the schemes
that previously were too low priority on the points system will
now be able to go ahead because we have additional funding. Gradually,
with that increased level of funding, we ought to be able to catch
up with some of those communities where a flood risk management
system is viable but is not at the moment able to get a sufficiently
high priority. I am rather bemused by the Norwich Union's approach
to that. Certainly there are two things underway that will also
help. Our catchment flood risk management plans are a catchment
based approach to look at what the risk and priorities ought to
be within each catchment and we are working on a long term investment
strategy looking forward 20 years over what needs to happen both
by way of maintenance of the existing assets and creation of new
assets to look at what the scale of that should be and therefore
how we can anticipate over a longer timescale how much we are
going to be able to get done with the level of investment that
we currently have or a future level of investment.
You said at the beginning of your evidence that we should be moving
faster in a number of areas in responding to flooding. Does that
mean that whilst you welcome the money it is still going too slowly?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
welcome the money and we will put in place measures to take rational
risk based decisions about spending it. If we had more we could
probably do more. If we had a million tomorrow we would have some
difficulty because it does take some months or even in the case
of some complicated schemes several years to put them together,
to consult on them and to get planning permission. However, I
do believe there needs to be an uplift for the future.
I did a little calculation. I applied a 2.5 per cent inflation
rate to the current £600 million budget and by the time I
got to 2010 the actual net extra that this money worked out was
£115 million above what you need to inflation proof current
spending proposals. It does not sound like a lot of money to me.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: In
fact the 2.5 per cent inflation rate is probably inadequate because
construction costs are going up much more dramatically.
So the actual net extra by the time we get to 2010 is actually
quite small really.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Yes,
but that has been offset by the fact that as we get bigger programmes
and as we get better at the risk based approach and at the work
we do with our contractor partners, we are able to get better
efficiency from the money we have so we are improving our efficiency
by about £15 million annually on the current budget so some
of that inflation is offset by our improved efficiency.
Q89 Dan Rogerson:
I am trying to get to grips with the size of the task that is
there. Obviously as you said there are schemes which would be
nice to do if you had the resources to do it, but in terms of
those that are there and ready to go subject to funding what would
be the total cost in today's prices of those sorts of schemes,
not those that hypothetically we might do but those which are
drawn up and ready to go?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
try not to do that because we know from bitter experience if we
put a scheme in place and consult on it widely and have it ready
to go and then the money is not available, (a) the scheme ages
quite rapidly, and (b) it raises expectations within local communities
which are then dashed and it is very hard for them. What we are
trying to do now is in fact to anticipate over a longer period
what we believe the basic funding will be so that we can get moving
on schemes that we know will go ahead and then use any additional
funding to accelerate that pace, but we do not want to have a
huge backlog of schemes stacked up ready to go because it is really
hard on people to say that we know we can do this for you but
we are not going to be able to do it and we do not know when we
are going to be able to do it. We want to have those schemes in
place so that we can say to people that we have this scheme, we
know we can do it for you and we will do it in 2012 or 2009 or
Q90 Dan Rogerson:
In my constituency there was a scheme that was in that particular
bracket, it was do-able but because of the points system other
schemes were higher up the priority order. There must be a point
at which a scheme moves from being a "Yes, we could to something
in this area" to "Yes, we could do something, we know
what it is and this is how much it would cost". You have
to feed it into your points system and go through that process
so you may not be consulting on it publicly but there must be
a batch of schemes that are at the moment beyond funding. I would
like to get a picture of how big that is.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
did a piece of work to look at how long with the level of funding
we were anticipating it would take us to work through the schemes
that we have got to a point where we know we can do them but I
cannot remember what the timescale was but it was comparatively
short. We have not backed up a huge backlog to the point where
they are all ready to go and buildable. Something like four years
Q91 Dan Rogerson:
You said that the existing schemes by and large worked quite well.
Of that money, extra money being made available, how much of that
would need to go to deal with those schemes where they did not
quite work as they should have done?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Sorry,
I do not quite understand the question.
Q92 Dan Rogerson:
Where schemes have failed in some ways or not failed but you have
looked at the extremity of the event and because of climate change
you think those defences might need to be re-visited, how much
of that budget would need to go to make those schemes future-proof
rather than looking at new schemes?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: That
is where our long term investment strategy is going to be really
important. What we are looking at there is what is going to happen
in the next 20 years, including the impact of climate change and
including what we need to do by way of maintenance and improvement
of schemes. Also we have been modelling what would happen in terms
of investment if the decision was made as a nation that we wanted
to go to a higher or lower standard of protection. However, we
are long way from having completed that work.
Q93 Lynne Jones:
Does your points system, which is driven by economic impact, favour
affluent areas as suggested by the Institute of Civil Engineers?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
do not think it does. It has social and environmental points in
it as well as economic, but the economic ones tend to be quite
strong. One of the things we are doing as a result of the work
we are doing on looking at alternative ways of prioritising is
to see whether in fact there needs to be an adjustment of the
relationship between the environmental, the social and the economic.
Q94 Lynne Jones:
So there could be something in it then?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: It
favours property but it also has social issues attached to it.
One of the things we are very anxious about is not to penalise
people at high risk of flood for whom it is more devastating than
if you are rich. If you are rich and you lose stuff and you are
insured you buy some more, you get the insurance company in. If
you are poor like we saw in Hull and places like that and you
have no insurance and you lose everything, it is devastating.
Q95 Mr Drew:
Going back to critical infrastructure, in your evidence to us
you identified that 57 per cent of water and sewage and treatment
works are in flood risk areas. I was not totally clear earlier
whether you would be asking for additional powers or indeed you
would take on more duties to really say that somebody has to do
something about this. I know David King did say, "Look, sorry,
that is up to the individual companies and so on" but after
what we have learned from Gloucestershire or what is likely to
come out in the report, somebody has to do much more in this area.
A final area really is, if you were asked to take it on what would
you want as your bottom line in terms of the support and the authority
to be able to deal with this?
Dr King: There is a way forward
and there is the opportunity with the draft Climate Change Bill
and what we would advocate is that there should be a duty on those
operators to consider adaptation.
Q96 Mr Drew:
Do you not want a power yourself?
Dr King: No.
Q97 Mr Drew:
Dr King: At the end of the day
it will be the operators of those critical infrastructures that
will have to undertake the work.
Q98 Mr Drew:
That is very risky. We were talking about evacuating 550,000 from
the county of Gloucestershire, that is pretty high-risk, tightrope
walking work that somebody has to evaluate. Surely there must
be a power that you would welcome to insist on some of these important
infrastructure places being properly maintained and protected.
Dr King: The Agency would have
a role in terms of provision of advice including mapping and risk
characterisation. If you put a duty on an operator, make regulations,
you can define standards and then there is a clear responsibility
on that operator to put in defences to whatever standard is decided
is acceptable. We can advise but it is very much the operator
of the infrastructure's responsibility to provide flood protection.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: We
do also recognise that flood risk is a contingency that the Civil
Contingencies Act is aimed at helping co-ordinate much as any
other civil contingency. If we were going to cut across that for
flood risk then fine, but I think we would need to make sure that
we are not in a position where umpteen different people are involved.
At the moment the mechanism that government has chosen is to give
people a responsibility for collaborating with local contingency
fora and I believe that is the best way forward for flood risk
as well as for other risks that communities are facing. We could
be given a role with some installations to check their plans,
but again it would require considerable resource.
Q99 David Taylor:
When you say in your evidence that some of these strategic control
centres and some of the regional fire control centres were said
to be in floodplains and were at risk of flooding, what level
did you set that risk at? Are you talking about one in a thousand,
one in a hundred years or what?
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Many
of the figures we have been quoting are one in 75 years. We categorise
by one in 75, one in 100 and one in 200.
Q100 David Taylor:
So when you said "at risk of flooding" you mean a greater
risk of flooding than one in 75 years.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
It has been a long but useful session and you have given us a
very good start to our inquiry. Can I thank you again for your
written contribution and for your offer to provide further technical
briefing to the Committee should it be necessary as we proceed
with our inquiry. I think it is an offer that certainly some of
us will want to take up. Thank you very much indeed for coming.
7 Ev 125, para 15 Back
Ev 126, para 19 Back