Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2007
Q360 Mr Gray:
I can understand how you can bring in new standards for new housing
but surely the big problem actually in many townsI had
flooding in my own area of Wiltshireis the highways drainage
is so inadequate that the existing roads take no account of new
building. Do you look at that?
Mr Jordan: We do but we have to
revisit the whole issue about where and how we allow development
to go alongside. A lot of the time highway drainage will potentially
become inadequate because you have increased run off onto the
highway because a new development has been put in which does not
cater adequately for its own drainage needs. There is also an
issue whereby you can allow adequate water flow on a highway because
it can be used as a drain conduit in itself. It is where do you
then discharge it? We could go through the whole country, upgrade
all the highway drainage and it still has nowhere to go and all
you do is move the problem.
Mr Dudding: I think you are right,
there is an issue about existing highways and retro-fitting. I
reckon that generally, although not perfectly, PPS25 issued in
December 2006 is aimed at the planning side of flooding. It is
quite a comprehensive statement whether you are doing a regional
plan, a district plan or a planning application. That in principle
I think does put quite strong standards on anything new, including
anything new with a highway. We are trying to build a road through
Witney through the flood plain and the Environment Agency quite
rightly are being extremely stringent on what we can do. That
will not alter the fact that for the existing highway I think
you are right, there is a considerable problem on drainage. We
move money around from drainage to potholes to killing weeds and
we are moving inadequate money around. We would all recognise
that we are not spending as much as we would like on clearing
gulleys. I do not think there is any issue about that, but we
are doing it with an envelope of money which is not enough and
that is the fundamental problem.
Q361 Dr Strang:
A lot of the submissions which the Committee has received refer
to the need of maintenance of water courses. How do we ensure
that non main rivers are better maintained in the future?
Mr Dudding: I think there are
issues around responsibility but I think you need greater clarity
whatever happens. People just about understand after a crisis
how the current system works; they certainly cannot understand
it ahead of the crisis which is when they should be keeping things
in a good state. I think also it is a rural problem as well as
an urban. Even in rural areas you will find the same water course
will go very rapidly through very different responsibilities.
It needs simpler responsibility and it needs someone who is able
to crack a bit of a whip to make things happen. I would personally
probably give a bit more to the Environment Agency on this. People
think they are responsible for flooding, but they are only responsible
for part. At a strategic level they probably need more.
Q362 Dr Strang:
What about new duties on these riparian owners to cut back their
Mr Dudding: They have a duty at
present. One of the problems if they are conscientiouswhich
might not be commonand try to clear their drains you can
actually fall foul of environment considerations and habitat considerations.
I think part of getting this right is not just getting responsibilities
clarified but also getting the trade off right between flood risk
and environmental risk. I have environment in my job title so
I am not likely to want to destroy anything, but perhaps that
trade off does need looking at especially where water courses
are particular crucial to protecting people.
Mr Jordan: Coming in from a slightly
different slant, I totally agree with all of that but I think
we have also got to make people more proactive themselves because
we are going to face more and more of these different types of
crisis and I think we have to equip people to be able to defend
their properties and actually educate them in terms of steps they
can take so that if these events do happenand they willthat
actually the impact on their lives is not going to be as great
as it is at the moment. One of the things we have done in Gloucestershire
is that we have just produced the Flood GuideI am happy
to leave copieswhich is designed to give people tips as
to what they can do themselves, what we can do through the public
purse and what are the responsibilities of private landowners
and also what we can all do as individuals in our homes.
Can we focus on this private landowner issue for a second? I do
not ever like to suggest that you should have great laws and central
powers, but there does not seem to be any mechanism to impose
an element of responsibility. If you could say that a riparian
home owner does what they are supposed to do then there might
be a liability, for example, if their lack of maintenance causes
somebody else loss. How do you deal with it? I think, Mr Jordan,
you said that this is a very complex area in law. Without going
into prescriptive solutions would I surmise from that that you
would think that out of the outcome of the inquiries into flooding
that we need a good hard look at how you get landlords or landowners
to exercise their responsibility over the water courses which
Mr Jordan: Absolutely. The thing
to bear in mind is the fact that let us say all the landowners
did what they needed to do and they all cleared all their ditches
I still think we would then have a fundamental problem because
the rivers cannot cope with the volumes of water that we are talking
about, so it has to be the whole package. It also has to be the
package of: let us clear it from the downstream end and not the
upstream end because otherwise we are in danger of just creating
even more problems at the moment. To be fair though, there are
some really good landowners out there. It is where you get the
bits and pieces and it is not a substantial section of ditch and
whatever. A simple example is highways. Often the ditch on the
side of that road will not actually be part of the highway, it
will belong to the landowner adjacent; let us bring it under the
highway. It makes it so much simpler. The public would understand
it; the landowner would understand it, but it just needs the money
to then maintain it.
The wider issue that comes out of the discussion is that we actually
have not had a public debate about what level of flooding we are
prepared to accept. You have made the point that there comes a
limit to how much all of this good work can prevent being overrun.
Mr Jordan: Absolutely.
Q365 Mr Drew:
In terms of this issue of riparian ownership, given that like
you I am dealing with specific cases where it really does highlight
that if an owner either cannot be discoveredas does happenor
really is completely intransient about what work they are prepared
to accept and pay for, there must be some power now to really
go in there and do the work and worry about how it is going to
be paid for afterwards.
Mr Dudding: I personally think
that is right, but I think it is not the whole answer. I can speak
from personal experience. I live in a village very close to the
Thames which is prone to flood, but the main danger for us is
from a water course going into the Thames rather than the Thames.
What is quite striking though is the way the parish council can
coordinate action among all the small owners and also work with
the highways authorities who then get a farmer acting on behalf
of everyone and it gets done. I daresay the farmer by mistake
might do someone's who is a bit intransient as well. I know just
up the road in another village called Kennington which previously
got badly flooded. The parish council has worked with the main
utilities to clear their drains. Action at a local level is quite
important in reinforcing and acting with the big powers which
you need as well. The big powers cannot reach everywhere and I
think towns and parishes have quite a role in getting that reach
and getting things to happen.
Q366 Paddy Tipping:
I think I am right in that district councils have powers to take
Mr Dudding: They have but they
are reluctant to use them.
Q367 David Lepper:
Can I just ask about the strategic flood risk assessments? We
heard last week from representatives of Sheffield City Council
how helpful it was to have had their risk assessment in place.
I think Hull, on the other hand, had not completed theirs yet.
From what you have been saying from Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire
this afternoon the impression I have had is that the local authorities,
district councils in your areas had completed their strategic
flood risk assessments and had them in place. Is that so?
Mr Dudding: I might not have my
knowledge perfect on this, but I think the key is the timing of
the local development frameworks which districts are preparing.
They are all under new planning legislation, replacing the old
local plans with new local development frameworks. In preparing
local development frameworks one of the things they need to do
is to produce a strategic flood risk assessment; that is one of
the key steps in that. People will be at different stages and
dependent on that. All will have to do it and we will get more
and more experience if it is effective, but I think it is to do
with the timing of that government framework not a willingness
or unwillingness to do an assessment.
Q368 David Lepper:
Did the completion of a particular district council of their assessments
play any part in helping your two authorities in dealing with
the problems of the summer?
Mr Dudding: My own view is that
the strategic assessments have a longer term impact. That impact
is on the development framework which will affect housing will
happen over five, ten, fifteen years ahead. I think the Sheffield
case which was quoted quite a bit was actually on an individual
planning application rather than a development plan. That had
an immediate effect, it was on a proposition which was about to
happen, but I think it would work through over time.
Mr Jordan: I know our timetable
in Gloucestershire is spring next year for the adoption of our
strategic flood risk assessment plans. Because it is about new
development and how things take off, the thing that was robust
here for us was the fact that we had an emergency major flood
plan and that was a document that took us through this emergency.
Thank you very much indeed for your evidence; it has been very
helpful. Thank you also to Gloucestershire for sending us the
flood guide; I am keeping it by my bed just in case. I notice,
however, it was not on waterproof paper so I had better read it
fairly rapidly. Thank you very much indeed for not only your evidence
this afternoon but your very helpful written submissions; we will
certainly be looking at them very carefully.
Mr Jordan: I also have a copy
of our completed scrutiny inquiry into flooding in Gloucestershire
as well. We can get more if you want them, but we will leave that
Chairman: Thank you very much.