Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2007
Mr Jordan: Pretty much the same
in terms of the statutory organisations but the first big difference
for us was the military. I do not think that it is an understatement
to say that we would not have survived without the military. We
had about 250 troops on the ground, those alongside our three
emergency services, alongside highway staff and so on. They made
all the difference. They meant that we could keep the electrical
station dry, effectively, and if that had gone we would have lost
power to 500,000 homes. They were also instrumental in supporting
us in terms of all of the water distribution systems. The uniqueness,
I think, about the military is the fact that they say they need
X number of lorries and they turn up. One of the things that would
be really helpful on a civil contingency basis for this country
is that you need a source of resource. One of the big things we
struggled with every time we needed something was where do we
go for it. At a local level we can manage because we know the
local issues, but it is where you get that resource from. There
is one lovely story where, because we had lost water and we had
sanitation issues, we found out about something called a wag bag
which is basically a portable toilet which is a bag, but they
only have them in America. We were trying to facilitate the delivery
of these bags from America, whereas actually on the civil basis
for the UK, things like that need to be available. Similarly with
water bowsers; we had 1300 water bowsers distributedI think
we had virtually the whole of the UK stockso if there had
been another emergency of that type at the same time the country
could not have coped. I think something I would recommend to this
Committee is that there is something done about that provision
of resource. The other big one for us obviously related to this
with the private sector was that we were not aware of the risk
to the utility plants and to be fair I do not think the work had
been done. It certainly had not gone through our local resilience
forum in the way that most other things had.
Mr Jordan: I think it was the
case that we had never had a flood event of this nature before.
The worst last flooding in Gloucestershire was in 1946. If we
had experienced a similar flood again, those sites would not have
been at risk. It is the scale of risk and therefore this raises
a whole question of at what level do you stop planning your risk?
That is a difficult one because you get into all sorts of logistical
issues and also cost and economics. That is the bottom line. There
had not been on record a flood of that severity.
Q342 Mr Drew:
That is a key point. I was going to go on to look at that, the
degree of forward planning that you had engaged with. Jack and
I will share our experiences having nuclear installations either
on or close to our constituencies and you will both know that
there is at least an absolutely top drawer, fully worked through
plan where everything is tested and yet when we come to both water
treatment plants and substations and distributing power that does
not seem to happen, even at a more limited scale. Is that a real
lesson to be learned from this experience?
Mr Jordan: To be fair to the utilities
companies, I think they have done reasonable endeavours in terms
of their risk analysis. What we were not aware of when we went
into that emergency situation was the fact that we had a sole
source of water supply and a sole source of electricity supply
and there was a built in assumption that you have always got backfeeding
on both of those utility supplies which we did not have in Gloucestershire.
That is a fundamental weakness which I know is now being addressed
by those utility companies in terms of future resilience. Aside
from that weakness, it was the fact that it was not brought through
the local resilience forum as a key risk area. The other one that
I would just like to pick up on is the voluntary and community
sector because they were tremendous. You name the sector, they
were there. We had search and rescue charities there: RAPID UK,
Severn Area Rescue Association, Maritime Volunteers; we had the
Red Cross who did a tremendous job in terms of helping us with
the vulnerable in the community. People like HM Coastguards and
alsothis is something that was just raised by colleaguesloads
and loads of offers of help, so many in fact that we could not
actually coordinate them so we actually had to say to people,
"Sorry, our resources are fully occupied at the moment dealing
with what we are dealing with; we will get back to you".
Over time we have got back to these people and we have been able
to take them up on those offers of voluntary help, but at the
time it was phenomenal, the overwhelming nature of it.
Q343 Mr Drew:
Does Oxfordshire want to say anything about infrastructure in
the sense of have you done any contingency planning at the site
of any of these major installations?
Mr Etheridge: Certainly in terms
of the major installations in Oxfordshire the answer to that is
yes. To echo my colleague's comments, it is these smaller type
pumping stations and the smaller type substations which are dotted
here, there and everywhere that we did not actually have a fantastic
picture of when we were in the silver control room looking at
the flooding footprint. I think certainly that is a lesson learned,
that if we have the ability to draw upon a flood footprint which
says that in 2007 it happened like this, we are then able to look
at what is within that flooding footprint and therefore ensure
that that information gets fed into things like the local resilience
forums and different agencies' and organisations' plans.
Q344 Mr Drew:
Can I just presume that the Environment Agency did not draw to
your attention that this was something that may be in their looking
at one in a 100 year flood analysis and so on. This is perhaps
something you should have known.
Mr Dudding: I think we knew where
all the utilities were relative to the flood plain. I think we
knew experience about previous flooding and dealing with that.
We had an electricity substation which we knew was in a flood
plain, we knew there were issues about and we had quite a lot
of experience of dealing with it and protecting it. Again one
of the problems is that flooding is becoming much more dispersed
so just looking classically at the map of the flood plain it does
not give you all the answers, especially the smaller facilities
which might be affected by flash flooding and more localised flooding.
There was a change in the nature of the problem.
Mr Jordan: Just to add to that,
the other scenario is that the Environment Agency could rightly
say that anything could flood given a certain weather condition
event and it what is reasonable and what is expected. I think
the latest prognosis on the Gloucestershire event was that it
was a one in 300 years storm. Should we be designing everything
to be able to cope with a one in 300? I think that is a key question
for us now to be asking in relation to climate change: is this
going to be a more regular event? In the past, economics wise,
it would not have been something you would necessarily design
Q345 Paddy Tipping:
Can I ask you about SUDS and what experience you have of them
and would it have made any difference in the situation you faced
Mr Dudding: Whether it made a
big difference I would not like to say. Whether it is important
and right is massively yes and it is something which we have given
quite a bit of attention to over time, to try to ensure the new
housing estates or whatever are built with best drainage and not
only in the flood plain. I think it is crucially that that happens
absolutely everywhere, not just because everywhere can be flooded
by flash flooding but we are learning more and more about the
run off from everywhere into the flood plain. It would not necessarily
have solved or avoided all the problems but in terms of the future,
yes, yes, yes.
Q346 Paddy Tipping:
Who is responsible for SUDS? Who is going to do the maintenance?
Who provides the money to put them in?
Mr Dudding: There is generally
a requirement upon the developer so the issues go with the developer;
they bear the costs. I think there are issues around maintenance.
You might have a better knowledge of the problem than me but I
was certainly told of one or two instances in Oxfordshire that
did not work quite as they should have worked on the day and there
might well be that maintenance issues are one of the future lessons
for us. I think the more we go into this, the more solving these
problems in future, requires a very, very dispersed responsibility
and new ways of bringing those responsibilities together to make
sure they happen, and that is part of it.
Q347 Paddy Tipping:
That is interesting, is it not, the notion that the developer,
who will disappear, is responsible for maintenance? Is there not
an argument that the water and sewerage utility should take them
Mr Dudding: My own view is that
in a number of respectsSUDS is only onethere are
responsibilities which presently fall on individual landowners,
developers, owners, which probably are not realistically being
carried out fully by them and given the dispersed nature of flooding
which could happen anywhere we are going to have to find new ways
of either changing responsibilities or making sure those responsibilities
happen. I think that rises over a whole range of things. The river
flooding (fluvial) in Oxfordshire was historically only a 1 in
every 30 years event, whilst the rainfall flooding (pluvial) was
nearer 1 in every 500 years. The increased risk of pluvial flooding,
potentially covering a much wider geographical range, means we
have to build into having that dispersed responsibility to handle
maintenance over a much wider area than the flood plain. I think
it requires new ways of doing it.
Have you had any feedback at all about the work of the national
SUDS working group?
Mr Dudding: I suspectand
I should knowthat we have contributed to it because we
have been quite active in it. I am afraid I cannot help you more
I am delighted about that because this is another of these Making
Space for Water things. The Government say they acknowledge the
valuable work of this august body of SUDS persons and that they
will continue to work with the group, building on what has been
achieved so far. It obviously has not quite reached Oxfordshire
Mr Dudding: It has reached Oxfordshire;
we have been very much part of it. We pride ourselves in actually
working at national level on these issues. We have been quite
active in this.
If you have been part of it, what has it contributed to what you
are doing in Oxfordshire?
Mr Dudding: It is producing best
practice guidance. To take a little exampleit is little
but I will still give it as it something that makes a differencean
increasing number of people are paving over their front gardens.
That has a significant impact on run off and cumulatively it is
quite a big problem. Anyone in Oxfordshire who wants to apply
for a dropped kerb so they can drive their car into their front
garden, they will receive quite full guidance on how to actually
avoid paving over their garden in a way which causes drainage
problems. That is a small practical thing but quite a significant
Does that apply in Gloucestershire?
Mr Jordan: It does in terms of
looking at the effect of run off and so on.
One of the bits of evidence that one member of Parliament put
to us about Sheffield was about the state of the moorland, for
example, around the city. They were commenting on the fact that
eventually that became full of water so it could not be a SUD,
it could not be sustainable, it could not absorb any more. Somebody
else made an observation about heavy sheep crushing down the grazing
area and suddenly you discover that what might be sustainable
soakaways is a more complex subject. I just wondered if, in the
light of this, there was any counting or evaluation now taking
place of the potential for developing this type of arrangement
and, if you were embarking on that, were you yet in a position
to draw any conclusions about it? Obviously it affects the whole
question of spatial planning.
Mr Jordan: I do not know the answer
to that from Gloucestershire's perspective.
Q353 Mr Drew:
One of the issues in my constituency is the degree to which you
try to pre-empt the threat of flooding by looking at places where
you can make a balance, in towns where you may be able to hold
water so that it prevents that water from flooding down into the
more urbanised area where it causes enormous problems. Is this
an active discussion in your local authorities? To what extend
do you have the powers to do something about it? Clearly you have
to work with the Environment Agency and potentially the water
companies, but is this something you can engage with and should
be engaging in?
Mr Dudding: If I could take that
in two parts, the Environment Agency with ourselves and districts
and others are carrying out a series of studiesthere are
15 I think in the Thames western area of which we are partlooking
at catchments, what actually happened there, what caused it to
happen, what some of the micro-engineering solutions are around
that and in doing so getting a lot of local knowledge because
people tend to know locally how it floods and why. They are trying
to develop from that some local small solutions alongside the
bigger ones which people are calling for. It varies area by area,
but I think some of the issues around the smaller tributaries
and brooks and drainage and where there is knowledge around them
there are local things which can be done. I think there is an
extent to which we will always be referring to last time's problem,
but it will be different next time, but I think those local studies
by the Agency are quite important. The first one was published
in Abingdon last Friday and I think the follow-up around that
will raise issues about the way the organisers are able to do
these things because the recommendations will effectively range
from the main river (which is the Environment Agency's responsibility),
to local rivers (which is the riparian owner's responsibility),
to highways, to the responsibilities of the utilities. I think
again it is in that follow through from that that we might need
some new ways of making things happen.
Q354 Paddy Tipping:
Moving to highway maintenance and highway drainage, there has
been a lot of pressure on local authorities, how much do you spend
on highway drainage and maintenance. Given the scale of flooding
in urban areas the present system simply cannot cope and needs
renewing and enlarging. There is a big cost to that, is there
Mr Jordan: It is a classic area
because up until now drainage has not been a priority. All of
the government indicators, all of the government allocation of
funding is for improvement of road network and not for drainage.
So straightaway you have a head-on issue there in terms of where
is the funding going to come from to improve drainage systems.
For somewhere like Gloucestershire we probably spend at least
half a million pounds a year maintaining drains but there is not
a budget for new drainage; new drainage goes in as and when we
build a new road or we do an upgraded system to an existing road.
On the issue of scale of drains again this comes back to what
are we designing for? If we take a normal housing estate that
is probably designed for a one in 20 weather event.
Who defines the design specifications?
Mr Jordan: This is based on best
practice guidance nationally so this is something coming through
the whole planning system; it is built through what developers
are and are not allowed to do alongside what is needed from a
highways design perspective. One of the debates that we are having
at the moment through joint working arrangements is do we, as
local planning authorities, actually want to up those standards
now? The question is, if we do, what do we want to up them to?
Is it a one in 100? Is it a one in 300? Again this has to come
back to risk versus to cost and practical delivery. To be fair
the systems we have in place at the moment are there because historically
they were adequate, which clearly they are not now in terms of
Q356 Paddy Tipping:
So you would appreciate some national guidance on that.
Mr Jordan: I think it has to be
because I think it has to be there for house builders as well.
If you look at the pressures that local authorities are under
with all of the regional housing allocations that are required,
the first thing that a developer is going to do is to say, "I
don't have to meet those standards" because it is cutting
directly into their profit margins. So yes, I think there needs
to be national guidance on this and I think there needs to be
a set standard. That standard could vary for different scenarios,
for example if you are building on the top of a hill you do not
need to meet the same requirements, but where you have risk of
floodingbearing in mind there is still the main requirement
on us to allow housing development in flood plain areasthere
has to be better infrastructure from day one on those sites.
Q357 Paddy Tipping:
That is for the new housing; what about retro-fitting?
Mr Jordan: On the retro-fit one
of the things that we have is a multi-agency review of all 300
of our flood sites going on at the moment. I know what that will
come up with. At best there will be some easy fixes but for most
of those there is going to be major investment required. Again
I will come back to: where does that come from? Not only major
investment, but this issue that Richard was talking about in terms
of enforcement because a lot of this will come back to riparian
ownership because even in housing estates you will be amazed at
how much of the drainage system is owned by the house owner and
is not part of a communal or district system. I think we need
to change the statute in this country as to who is responsible
and then put the resources there to match it.
Q358 Paddy Tipping:
Riparian owners is a bit of a medieval phrase, working in rural
areas where there are big land owners. In urban areas, as you
say, it becomes fragmented very quickly. What are you suggesting
in its place?
Mr Jordan: I think it is an old
expression because it is an antiquated system. If I am honest
I have had lawyers pore over it to try to give me some guidance
as to where my powers are and it is an absolute nightmare. I think
there has to be a power and again I was speaking to Richard about
this earlier and we slightly differ on this. I would put a power
with local authoritiestop level local authorities so that
would be unitary or county level onlyto take responsibility
for let us call it all localised drainage and then leave the main
rivers with the Environment Agency. Within that I think there
has to be recognised that the local authority needs funding to
enforce those powers and to be able to go in and do work itself
even though by law it is not responsible, and then recharge the
landowner. That would be my approach.
Q359 Paddy Tipping:
You have to be able to identify the landowner.
Mr Jordan: You have, but in most
cases you can nail it down. If you cannot then perhaps the public
purse should be able to support that.