Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2007
BENYON MP, RT
CURRY MP, MARTIN
HORWOOD MP, MR
MP AND MS
ANGELA C SMITH
Q540 David Taylor:
A final question, Chairman. Were there any or many more recent
developments in Tewkesbury that were flooded where you have the
opportunity to go back and see what the Environment Agency had
to say about the flood risk and whether or not they ever urged
a refusal on the grounds of flooding or operational issues?
Mr Robertson: That one is the
most obvious one. There are another couple of developments called
Stonehills-Wheatpieces which in themselves did not flood, but
if they had been green fields they would have soaked up all of
the water which went onto the nearby estates at Priors Park and
Newtown where people are still out of their houses. I have raised
this with the council. I have had the response, "It did not
flood. There you are; it is okay to build there." To me that
is complete nonsense. The water just goes somewhere else. The
water gets very deep, not because that much has fallen but, when
it is all crammed in one place, it becomes very deep, and that
is the point.
Martin Horwood: It is important
to emphasise that flood plains are not the same as flood risk,
and it is probably the same in Sheffield, but where we were flash-flooded,
sometimes there were very dramatic examples. There was one at
Brookvale in Charlton Kingsley, in my constituency, where the
stream is normally about an inch deep and it turned into a 15
foot deep river, it returned to the natural course of the river,
and in the meantime houses had been built on the path of that
river and gardens had been culverted over the original brook.
So it is about intelligent planning, even on uphill areas, as
well as on flood plains, and we just need to get much smarter
Q541 Lynne Jones:
I think it was Laurence who said that the Environment Agency had
objected to a particular development and had withdrawn their objections.
I wonder whether the withdrawal of their objections had anything
to do with the incorporation of sustainable urban drainage systems,
green roofs, or other measures which might have meant that the
Environment Agency's concerns were alleviated? The other point:
I think Richard was talking about the problem, not just of infill
developments, but of permitted development: people tarmacing over
their front gardens, making space for the car rather than making
space for water, and I wondered whether you had any thoughts whether
there ought to be changes in permitted development? For example,
if you wanted to tarmac over a soft area, then that would require
planning permission, and space for the car would only be permitted
without planning permission if it did incorporate sustainable
Mr Robertson: I think the particular
one I was referring to is at Longford. I am not quite sure why
the Environment Agency has said that they are not going to object.
I need to look into that, it is a very recent thing they have
said, but I did talk them about it, in fact at a public meeting,
and they said if water is just below the surface, rather than
on the surface, they would not have an objection. To me that is
outrageous; that is completely wrong. I have shown them photographs
of this land. Part of it is flooded. I have shown them photographs
of the access to the land, which is flooded. It is also very close
to other areas which flooded even worse and, if there are 600
homes built on that land, the other areas will flood even worse
again. So, why they take that view I simply do not know.
Ms Smith: I think your point,
Lynne, is well made. In my area when I talked about the river
forming at the side of my house, it is in a very recent development,
it is a brownfield site, but it does already contain quite a large
area of green space and woodland. What has been suggested is that
they may plan wet woodland as a means of draining the water off
more successfully, and it is a problem in that it is very steep
either side, but I think as well, when we are talking about whether
or not people should be allowed to tarmac or concrete over their
soft green spaces, I tend to think that, if there is an established
problem in an area with drainage, maybe we ought to seriously
consider that, but there are alternatives as well, such as the
use of gravel, which allows the water to sink through and allows
the water to be permeated and pollutants taken out before it joins
the water system. So there are other alternatives as well which
still allow us to create the spaces necessary for people to live
their everyday lives without necessarily becoming draconian.
Q542 Lynne Jones:
How do you ensure that people opt for such measures rather than
perhaps the cheapest measure, which is just getting somebody to
tarmac over their drive?
Ms Smith: That is where the planning
law comes into effect. I think planning law always has to be flexible
Q543 Lynne Jones:
Apparently the consultants who drew up the consultation for the
Government on permitted development recommended that one of the
options should be that planning permission should be acquired
if more than 50% of a porous area was to have hard-standing on
it, but the Government rejected that suggestion and it did not
even see the light of day.
Ms Smith: I would be sympathetic
to more consideration of that, but I do think the planning always
has to be as flexible as possible when looking at local circumstances
as well. Whether or not the same guideline would be the right
one, I could not, obviously, give an opinion on.
Mr Curry: Chairman, that would
quite a big battle to pick, because the whole spirit of the planning
bill which is now in front of us is to have far fewer decisions
passing through local planning authorities and to give much greater
discretion. One can understand the reasons for it. The Committee,
I am sure, is aware that it would be sort of counter-cultural,
given the sort of mood at the moment.
Q544 Patrick Hall:
I am struck by the sentence in David Curry's brief presentation
that reads, "If the score is high enough to justify the preparation
of the complete scheme, how can the score then not be high enough
to justify its implementation?" David, can you just run through
the process that applied in Ripon? Who asked for the flood defence
scheme and who then agreed to prepare it and pay for that preparation?
I gather it got planning permission and then along comes the Environment
Agency to risk-assess that approved scheme. Your sentence implies
that the Environment Agency was there at the beginning to say,
"Okay, let us go ahead and prepare it"?
Mr Curry: That is right. Who asked
for it? The answer is me, I think, but that was hardly a stroke
of brilliant political intuition given that I had umpteen houses
flooded. I talked to the Environment Agency, they agreed that
a scheme needed to be prepared, they drew op all the plans, they
were subject to all the usual consultations in Ripon, it achieved
planning permission, and, of course, planning permissions only
last for a certain number of years, we must remember, but they
also attribute a score to their own project. I can understand
that they need to have schemes ready to be moved into the programme
as the funding becomes available; the difficulty is we are now
about to embark on our fourth year and almost a millimetre away
from our second flood since the scheme was originally prepared,
and that is a difficulty. So the Environment Agency both prepares
and scores the scheme, and it is the Environment Agency which,
because it adjusted the productive frequency of flooding, then
increased the score but only from 16.3 to 17.3 and at least the
information regionally is that the score of about 30 is what would
put you on to the sort of real shortlist. Given what has happened
in the southern part of Yorkshire, one simply cannot foresee that
happening without something changing the equilibrium.
Q545 Patrick Hall:
Resources will always have an influence, but are you saying, David,
that in terms of flood risk the Environment Agency accepted the
merit of the case to prepare the flood defence scheme?
Mr Curry: Yes.
Q546 Patrick Hall:
But then, in terms of assessing priorities, in terms of the resources
available, it did not score highly enough; and that was purely
a resource-based assessment rather than a flood-based assessment?
Mr Curry: The assessment in terms
of the score is based upon economic factors, environmental factors
and factors of feasibility. The feasibility, by definition, poses
no problem because the scheme has been prepared, but the element
of properties affected, a relatively smaller number in Ripon compared
with South Yorkshire, relatively few business affected, keeps
it relatively lower on that score sheet. The only way we are going
to move it up the score sheet is to make it easier for the Environment
Agency to carry through that scheme within a finite volume of
Q547 Patrick Hall:
But it is using its limited resources to prepare a scheme that
it knows it cannot implement?
Mr Curry: Yes, it is.
Martin Horwood: Can I say, the
economic case will start to change with climate change. The Environment
Agency gave us evidence on the Communities and Local Government
Select Committee that once-in-100-year floods could be happening
once every three years by 2080, based on the Foresight Report.
These numbers start to become meaningless in a while, but for
these floods this summer I think the insurance cost is in excess
now of three billion pounds, so the economic case for bringing
more and more schemes forward is going to be very strong.
One of the issues we are going to be taking with the Met Office
is this whole question of the relationship between probability
and intensity, because I think it is a dimension that does not
seem to rate in terms of the flood risk analysis. In the remaining
seconds before the bell goes, Martin, I just wanted to ask you,
you made an interesting point, the second point in your evidence.
You said why, when we had nearly a week's notice of the rains,
were those homes and businesses at risk of flash flooding still
not protected with sandbags and diversionary trenches, and you
identified a precision of fore-knowledge which is not typical
of some of the comments that we have received, but what you have
said there implies almost that local authorities should have a
contingency kit ready to move to deal with this kind of situation
if the knowledge is good enough to advise that an event is occurring.
Is that what you had in mind?
Martin Horwood: Yes; absolutely.
I suppose one of the points I was making when I was speaking earlier
was that the warnings were perhaps not quite specific enough.
We had had quite a serious flood in June. We were expecting something
on the same scale. What we got was something much, much worse,
but it was clear we ran out of sand bags, there were not enough
bowsers, there were lots of bits of kit that actually Gloucestershire
struggled to find in the July floods, and that is a lesson for
Chairman: Colleagues, can I thank you
all very much indeed for your excellent contributions and for
the written evidence. I note your body languageyou are
nodding in agreement with Martinso I think we take that
as an additional contribution. Thank you very much. The Committee
stands adjourned hopefully for ten minutes whilst this division
The Committee suspended from 4.15 p.m. to 4.33
p.m for a division in the House