Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2007
The Environment Agency seem to have gone out of their way to say,
"Urban is not us".
Professor Penning-Rowsell: Well,
it is not.
No, and that is why I am saying that you are now immediately loading
the responsibility for this flood risk assessment in an urban
environment under the Environment Agency whilst they are busy
saying, "Urban ain't us"?
Professor Penning-Rowsell: It
is not that, but you could change that if you wanted to. "You",
collectively, could change that if you wanted to. If you wanted
to say through Parliament that the Environment Agency was responsible
for sewer-related flooding, no doubt it would be quite difficult
in drafting terms to say what is a sewer and what is a river bed,
that it is a different matter. You could do that, but currently
it is not the Environment Agency's responsibility to worry about
urban flooding generated by inadequate sewerage.
Q142 Mr Williams:
The Government will be spending round about £600 million
on flood risk management or flood prevention this year. In the
Foresight Report in 2004 the figure recommended was about one
billion pounds, and that was a figure that was repeated in a report
that this Committee produced about a year or so ago. The Government
is now saying it is going to increase its expenditure to about
£800 million. Perhaps you could tell us where this one billion
figure came from and how it was calculated? How was it derived?
Professor Penning-Rowsell: Well,
it was not calculated in any very sophisticated way, because the
Foresight Report did not look in that level of detail at exactly
what the level of spend might be in any catchment in any one year.
The Foresight Report said that it looks to be that there is a
growing problem in this country, driven by climate change, which
is having some effect, and societal change, which is having a
big effect, and it modelled what flood damage might be in 2080
and said, "My goodness, we have got a problem here."
Under any scenario, even the most benign scenario, flood damage
was due to rise twofold and under some scenarios it was due to
rise 20-fold, and if you compound that up over an 80-year period,
you will find it comes to some large sums. A relatively small
amount of investigation was done to say: what might be the level
of expenditure which we could anticipate that would hold the line
on that rather benign scenario of perhaps doubling flood damage
over that period of 80 years, and it came up with something in
the order of £975,000, and we thought that was far too precise,
so let us call it a billion. The Foresight Report was done at
that scale of analysis. It was not up to the Foresight Report
to say: is it 975 or is it 980? It was not that kind of exercise.
So it came up with that figure, which actually matched their analysis
of what the flood damage potential on an annual basis was now,
and it said, if we are a suffering that kind of flood damage now
we probably ought to spend the equivalent sort of sum mitigating
that damage in the future.
Q143 Mr Williams:
The Association of British Insurers has said that the Government
has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation and they
have plucked out the billion pound figure as well. Are their calculations
based on anything more than just wishing to get as much flood
protection as possible in order to protect their industry, or
have they got some other calculation up their sleeve?
Professor Penning-Rowsell: I doubt
Professor Wheater: I think there
is an issue of what is an acceptable level of risk and that the
situation across the UK is quite patchy, so for example Carlisle
was flooded, as you know, with £450 million worth of damage
and a couple of deaths. Part of that city was protected just to
a one-in-20 level and part to a one-in-70. In fact it was a one-in-150
event that they were hit with. It seems to me that there are areas
where the level of protection is probably not one that most people
would be happy with. We are moving into an increasingly risk-averse
society and even if you have a one-in-100 level of protection
that means that within a lifetime there is a 50/50 chance that
you are going to have that, so there is a rather difficult, ultimately
political, question as to what is acceptable in terms of the risk
Professor Penning-Rowsell: One
point I would like to make is if you look at the project investment
appraisal process that the Agency and Defra operate, you will
find that the average benefit to cost ratio for flood and coastal
erosion management projects is something like six to one, so you
spend £1 and get £6 back. This is very, very high internationally;
in fact it is astronomically high in relation to the kind of investment
that the World Bank would be interested in, but it is high even
in this country and therefore, if you like, that supports the
case of the Environment Agency in saying there is a queue of projects
that cannot be done because of funding shortages, and it is demonstrated
by this very high level of benefits to costs. I am working on
projects where the benefit to cost ratio is five to one and we
cannot get it through the process because the Defra score, which
is designed to match the funds available to the projects coming
forward, simply is working at an even higher level.
Q144 Mr Williams:
The calculation to get to £1 billion, or whatever, does that
take into consideration just the traditional river and coastal
flood protection or does it take into account the type of urban
flooding that we have seen?
Professor Penning-Rowsell: No
it does not. That is just the Agency which is to do with rivers
Q145 Mr Williams:
And if we were investing at that level, would there come a time
when the level of investment could decline because we would have
achieved what was thought to be a suitable risk?
Professor Wheater: I do not think
I can give a very informed answer to that because I am not really
sufficiently on top of the costs, but clearly we do expect flood
risk to increase with climate change and we do need to be aware
that to provide the current level of protection in future climate
is going to cost money just to stand still in terms of risk.
Q146 Mr Williams:
So the schemes that you are doing would give a return of £5
to £1 invested. If we were getting towards the £1 billion,
would many more of those schemes achieve the Defra requirements?
Professor Penning-Rowsell: Yes,
Q147 Lynne Jones:
Could I ask Professor Wheater if you could explain the research
base into flood risk management and how it is funded?
Professor Wheater: Well, I guess
there are three main areas of funding and two that are particularly
important, so first of all MAFF and now Defra in conjunction with
the Environment Agency have a research and development programme
in the area of flood and coastal defence and that, I think we
worked out, has a budget of the order of £2.5 million, which
might sound a lot but compared to the annual spend is fairly pitiful
Lynne Jones: Is it pitiful compared
with the annual spend or pitiful compared to the job it needs
to do, because they are different things?
Professor Wheater: It is certainly
pitiful in comparison with the annual spend, and I think there
could be a lot of benefit from an increase in resources in that
area. There are notable successes from that programme. The UK
is fairly unique in having a national, integrated technical base
of tools for flood design, and that was funded through MAFF and
then more recently through Defra. There is a recognition that
we need to change the kind of modelling tools that we work with
to handle climate change, and this programme has been funding
research which has delivered products that can contribute to that.
That programme has been re-organised over the last three or four
years, mainly following a review that Edmund carried out. It has
become more thematic, it has become more inclusive, and in some
areas it has, I think, done a very good job in looking strategically
at what the research needs are and trying to map out the task,
but it tends to shy away from the kind of fundamental research
base that is needed, and so for that we turn to the research councils,
and I guess particularly the Natural Environment Research Council,
although Engineering and Physical Sciences has also been very
active and over the years they have funded research in this area.
Most recently there has been a really interesting development
because actually the two sides have got together and there is
an integrated programme which is led by one of the research councilsEPSRCbut
co-funded by the Environment Agency and Defra and the Scottish
Executive and Northern Ireland Rivers and UK Water Industry Research,
and that is aiming to address some strategic issues and trying
to satisfy all its masters by having some short-term benefits
that the Environment Agency and Defra can latch on to, and of
course the longer term benefits of improved techniques looking
out to five or ten years hence.
Q149 Lynne Jones:
What about European funding?
Professor Wheater: The third strand
is European funding and there are some substantial European projects.
I am not personally involved in those. European funding, in my
experience, is somewhat idiosyncratic. You can have a very good
proposal and not win funding and you can have a rather poor proposal
and win funding. It requires a lot of investment of effort in
Q150 Lynne Jones:
Would you care to suggest why that might be? Is that because of
doling out the shares to the different Member States or just pure
poor appraisal of budgets?
Professor Wheater: A bit of both
Q151 Lynne Jones:
Okay and you referred to
Professor Wheater: Just to follow
that up there are some substantial resources available within
the EU for flood research and UK organisations are active in that
Q152 Lynne Jones:
Tapping into it?
Professor Wheater: And the research
is linked, but in fact the programme that is put together through
the EPSRC was originally funded for £5.6 million and we expect
that there will be a £7 million extension, and that is quite
a large funding in comparison with the European Union resource.
Q153 Lynne Jones:
I get the impression that you are not concerned then about the
integration of the programme? You referred to this new integration
under the EPSRC, so you are not worried about any overlap or omissions?
You think that that is now sorted?
Professor Wheater: I think that
having an integrated programme with a consortium of funders is
a very important step and it is relatively unusual within the
UK research funding arena. That does not mean to say that there
is not a lot of work to do and that all the work that needs to
be done is being done to the level that one would like, because
there are a lot of tasks and money has to be distributed.
Q154 Lynne Jones:
And yet earlier I think you said that we were disbanding centres
Professor Penning-Rowsell: That
was Environment Agency centres, the national centres.
Professor Wheater: The Environment
Agency at one point set up particular areas of expertise and then
it changed its organisational structure. That is a separate point.
Q155 Lynne Jones:
I am a bit confused as to whether we have now got a satisfactory
structure or not.
Professor Wheater: Within the
research community of universities and research institutions,
both within the research council arena and outside, I think there
is very good integration at a national level. There are a lot
of joint programmes and increasingly there is a community of expertise
being developed within that and a framework of collaboration.
For example, I am running work at the moment looking at agriculture
and flooding in Wales in terms of run-off but within this framework
we have people who are interested in sediments, so we now talk
to them and understand their issues, and in fact are working together
on models that actually reproduce the flow of water and the associated
issues of sediment transport. The programme has also very much
recognised the importance of social science, so again in the work
that we do with farmers we use input from the social scientists
to help us communicate, learn from the farmers what they know,
and also what they need in terms of additional support, and Edmund
has been working very much in that area with his colleagues in
the rural and also the urban environment. Thus disciplines are
being brought together for the first time within this programme
and having a substantial programme does encourage people to work
Q156 Lynne Jones:
And so is the problem then about conversion of the research findings
into practicegoing back to this business about disbanding
of centres of expertise?
Professor Wheater: I did once
sit on an Environment Agency R&D committee that looked at
a long list of projects that they had funded and tried to work
out how many had actually been successfully translated into practice,
and it was a small number. That is very much an issue of concern
to this flood risk management research consortium, which has end
users who are really very keen to see products that are deliverable.
There is generically a bit of a gap in that universities on the
whole are funded to do research and graded through a research
assessment exercise which is all to do with the quality of their
published output, and what the UK actually needs is products that
can be delivered into practice, and so there is a bit of a funding
gap. I think that is increasingly being recognised and to some
extent facilitated, but it is important to realise that there
is a big step between producing research results and producing
a tool that engineers can use in design, and that is a step which
is not always easy to fund. However, I think Defra and the Agency
are aware of those issues and are very keen to promote delivery
of products that are useful.
Q157 Lynne Jones:
Could I ask you how severe is the shortage of trained flood risk
management specialists in this country?
Professor Wheater: I think it
is very worrying. I can only speak from my own experience. I run
a post-graduate training programme in this area and there is huge
demand from industry for technically qualified, numerate graduates
for consultants, for the Environment Agency and for research organisations,
and yet we find it difficult to fill places on our Masters programme
and we have research studentships for collaborative work with
the Environment Agency currently unfilled because we do not have
suitable candidates with the right qualities. When we come to
staff research programmes for Defra and the Environment Agency,
we need to appoint people with PhDs in relevant areas and we find
none in the UK; we have to go to Greece and China and Italy and
places like that, so my personal experience is that it is a big
issue. It really relates to numeracy. If we go back 20 years then
there was a stream of people coming through our programme from
a range of backgroundsengineering, the hard sciences and
also geography. Nowadays people coming from the softer science
background do not have the mathematical skills to cope with the
methods that they need to use in practice, so there are a lot
of people being produced who are effective managers but they cannot
necessarily use the development tools and do the quantitative
analysis to solve the problems.
Q158 Lynne Jones:
Have you got any suggestions as to what could be done about that?
Professor Wheater: It really goes
back to maths in schools.
Q159 Lynne Jones:
Back to more people doing maths at school and wanting to go on
and do maths and physical sciences at university?
Professor Wheater: Yes.