Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2008
Sir Michael, on the subject of finance the Government has made
a great deal of the fact that it sees a rising trend in terms
of the money that is going to be available for flood defence expenditure,
principally to the Environment Agency. Is your final report going
to conduct any kind of specific analysis on the size of that particular
Sir Michael Pitt: We are looking
at the scoring system. As you know, there is a scoring system
for flood defences which is approved by central government and
used by the Environment Agency. We are going to be reviewing that
scheme to make sure we feel that it is appropriate. What that
does is to give the schemes in a list of order of priority. The
other issue then is around the total quantum of money which is
spent, which is currently in the order of £600 million and
we know it is rising year by year over the next few years. One
of the points that we need to address is the extent to which we
feel that that quantum of money is the right quantum or should
be at some different level.
Are you going to take into account, for example, the construction
industry inflation which appears to be a missing element in deciding
how much net new expenditure will be available from within the
rising envelope? Having done a calculation it would seem to me
that there is very little at the end of brand new money that could
be used for new projects in what is currently being proposed.
Sir Michael Pitt: I think we have
to take account of things like Baxter indices and the extent to
which construction costs are moving ahead. At the moment it seems
they are moving ahead more rapidly than the general rate of inflation
so I think that has to be put into the calculations.
One of my parliamentary colleagues sent me an e-mail before we
came today because he, for example, finds that looking at his
constituency where there has been a lot of local flooding which
he and local people, for example, attribute to poor surface drainage
systems orone of the issues we will come onto laterland
owner maintenance of waterways and streams within their land.
He asks who has the budget to deal with all of these small scale
works when most of the focus is on big numbers like the £800
million or £600 million which goes to the Environment Agency.
Is that an area which you are going to be commenting on?
Sir Michael Pitt: Yes, it is.
One of the things we feel quite strongly about is the need for
proper inventories of the drainage system in each local authority
area. Even now there is confusion about who is responsible for
a particular ditch or pipe work or whatever and part of the proposals
is that those inventories should be drawn up effectively, ownership
should be clear, quality and standards of maintenance should be
clear and who is responsible for that maintenance should be clear.
I think just doing that alone will be a significant step forward.
In the financial analysis are you going to be able to adjudicate
between the shifting positions of people like the Association
of British Insurers who, on the one hand said a billion pounds
would be good (drawing, I think, from the Foresight Report), then
they welcomed the Government's £800 million, then they issued
a press release just before they came to give evidence to us saying
that it is back to a billion. Going back to the point that Mr
Hall was making when he said no holes barred, no predetermined
position, are you going to be able to come and give some guidance
on what ought to be the global investment in flood defence, drawing
on all the bodies of evidence which are available for example
the Foresight Report which gave an indication that a billion would
be the right number?
Sir Michael Pitt: Certainly at
this stage we have not got figures that we can give to the Committee
today but we will be looking at those issues over the coming months.
Indeed, we are in very close conversation with ABI in relation
to insurance and we pay high regard to the understanding that
has been reached between central government and the Association
of British Insurers in relation to the amount of capital investment
by central government and the degree to which the insurers will
ensure that people can get cover for their property.
I suppose the difficulty we face with what you have done so far
is that even in the 15 priority areas we do not know whether any
of that costs any more money to implement. Do you know whether
that is the case?
Sir Michael Pitt: We have carefully
selected those 15; in my judgment they can all be afforded within
In their agreement by government to those priorities do you implicitly
assume that in spite of Defra's straining financial circumstances
that will be the case?
Sir Michael Pitt: I am making
an assumption that those 15 priorities will be delivered. As we
said earlier we will be measuring their progress by the end of
Q726 David Lepper:
In answering a question from Patrick Hall a little while ago you
used the phrase "value for money".
Sir Michael Pitt: Yes.
Q727 David Lepper:
Is there the suggestion there that some of the expenditure which
is currently going on flood management schemes and flood protection
could perhaps be better used?
Sir Michael Pitt: The first thing
I would say is that the analysis I have seen so far of current
levels of expenditure and current programmes is that they do offer
very good value for money, exceptionally so. From that point of
view one starts from the point that flood defences, if properly
constructed and designed, then flood risk management is a very
good thing and an area where the country does get good value for
money. I have no evidence at this stage of schemes which have
been carried out wastefully or unsatisfactorily.
Q728 David Lepper:
In one of your interim conclusionsI think it is number
28you talk about the need for the Government planning 25
years ahead in terms of investment in flood risk management. I
appreciate the fact that you are not going to talk about particular
figures this afternoon, but is the importance of planning in that
longer term rather than up to 2011 as is the case at the moment
something which you are going to expand in your final report?
Is it likely that will have a bill of some sort attached to it?
Sir Michael Pitt: What you will
not see is a programme of schemes. We are not going to try to
identify the next 25 years' worth of investments. The main point
here is that to undertake these major civil engineering projects,
to ensure that they have planning approvals, that they have been
properly evaluated and consultation has taken place, means that
you need a long lead time. It is very helpful to the industry
to know what schemes are coming forward and also to have a good
understanding of the amounts of money which will be available
in the foreseeable future. The advantage here of a long lead time
is that we will get better value for money on each project than
we would do if we are hastily pulling them together.
Q729 David Lepper:
Is it likely you will advise the Government on this area of public
expenditure that it ought to be thinking more than three years
ahead at a time?
Sir Michael Pitt: I think we have
to wait and see what conclusions we come to on these financial
matters. There have been quite a lot of questions on that today
but I think that until the work has been done, until we have reached
our conclusions, we are probably just about at the limit of what
I can say.
Q730 Lynne Jones:
In your model for the management of surface water flooding you
envisaged the Environment Agency being given overall strategic
responsibility, with local authorities leading on management of
surface water flooding and drainage at the local level.
Sir Michael Pitt: Yes.
Q731 Lynne Jones:
Could you perhaps say a few words about how you envisage this
model working in practice?
Sir Michael Pitt: The starting
point is to look at forecasting and predicting where flooding
will arise. At the moment there is a major gap in terms of being
able to predict the implications of surface water flooding. We
have a pretty good regime now for coastal flooding and for river
flooding, but surface water flooding is a major problem. We know
that the Met Office is looking at a much higher resolution in
terms of their forecasting model and there is a problem about
computer power. They are looking at something called a super computer.
We understand that the modelling itself of what happens to water
once it hits the ground is highly complex. However, I feel sure
that if we are going to make some real in-roads here in terms
of being able to protect property and protect lives we have to
improve our ability to predict where flooding will arise to make
sure that people are properly warned and can take the precautions
they need to take. I want to put that right at the beginning of
this because the response teamsGold Command or whatever
it might beor those people making preparations for serious
flooding must have available to them the best possible information
about where the rain is going to fall, the intensity and the implications
for individual streets within their urban areas. There is a lot
of work still to be done on this and some people say to me that
it is all far too difficult to do, but I take the view that this
is important work and we must make progress in this area. Even
if for a while our estimates are very approximate they will be
better than the ones we have just now. That is the first part.
The second part is about this local leadership issue. I am not
saying that the local authorities have to do all the work themselves;
what I am saying is that they should be accountable to their local
populations for ensuring that that work is being done. I would
expect the local authorities to be relying very heavily upon the
Environment Agency for different tools and techniques for measuring
what would happen in their particular area if there is an intensive
rainfall. I would expect there to be more resilience planning,
more testing of different flood scenarios so that the emergency
services are working at exercising with other local organisations.
I would expect them to identify the critical infrastructure sites,
to know which of those are vulnerable. Then ultimately the elected
councillors of those authorities, through a process of scrutiny,
would call into account the top management of different companies
and other organisations involved.
You have described the co-ordination of a lot of bodies in a very
interesting way. I note that in the Government's 2005 response
to the consultation Making Space for Water it said the
same thing, it said that a joined up approach to drainage management
should be pursued in high risk areas. Two years on it has not
happened. Do you hope your recommendation will actually happen
when the Government, for two years, seem for whatever reason to
have failed to make it happen?
Sir Michael Pitt: I see the Government
placing a legal duty on local authorities to undertake this work.
Q733 Lynne Jones:
That would be the checking of the infrastructure and what other
tasks? Do you envisage this requirement in this new Flooding Act
that you propose?
Sir Michael Pitt: That is absolutely
right. I have to say to you that local authorities now have been
quite seriously denuded or professional expertise in the water
area. The loss of water agencies, the privatisation of a great
deal of engineering work I think presents us with a serious problem.
We have to face up to this that many local authorities are not
currently well equipped to carry out this work. One of the aspects
of the second report will be looking at the consequences of this
new duty on local government, the extent to which they would need
to recruit a small number of very senior engineers who fully understand
how drainage systems work and could stand toe to toe with senior
management in water companies or in electricity companies or whatever
to ensure that when scrutiny of those arrangements takes place
the elected councillors are properly briefed.
Q734 Lynne Jones:
Do you envisage that that will require additional resources for
Sir Michael Pitt: Yes, I do.
Q735 Lynne Jones:
They need to have the ability to be intelligent commissioners
and have oversight.
Sir Michael Pitt: Yes, and that
is something we are discussing with the Local Government Association
and we are meeting them again to talk through the implications.
Q736 Lynne Jones:
Have you looked at the way they do it in any other countries?
France is considered to be a good model. We give a lot of responsibility
to the Environment Agency and many people think that the Environment
Agency has enough on its plate to cope with. Have you looked at
the way it is dealt with in other countries and perhaps considered
a greater role at the regional level?
Sir Michael Pitt: We are thinking
about whether or not we should go to one or two other places,
perhaps in Europe or elsewhere, to check out how they deal with
some of these problems. If we can find countries where they have
made real advances in these areas then I think it would be well-worth
spending some time there during the next three months.
Lynne Jones: We went to Lyon and it was
very interesting. They are well in advance of us in terms of their
understanding of the local areas and where the susceptibilities
Q737 Mr Gray:
You talk a bit in your report about modelling; surely the Environment
Agency has produced loads of models of the years with regards
to surface water and the likelihood of it causing a problem. What
is wrong with the current models?
Sir Michael Pitt: The work of
the Environment Agency has focussed heavily on coastal flooding
and river flooding and that is where they have very high levels
of expertise. Interestingly their terms of reference do not include
surface water flooding and this is an area where we need to improve
our expertise and our ability to model how water moves. When it
does not penetrate the ground it is skidding along the surface
because the ground has become saturated or because the ground
has been largely paved over as a consequence of development or
urban creep as it is called.
Q738 Mr Gray:
Is there a difference in modelling between the summer and winter?
Presumably most traditional studies in these subjects have been
in regards to winter flooding. Would there be a particular difference
in terms of doing it in regards to summer?
Sir Michael Pitt: There are differences,
yes, and you are right to say that most flooding in the past has
tended to be during the winter months and again this was something
which was new and surprising about the major floods that we had
last year. There are issues, for example drainage channels can
often be overgrown with weeds much more so in the summer than
they are in the winter; the extent to which ground is permeable
can depend a lot on agricultural conditions at that time of year
so there will be variables that will change between the summer
months and the winter months.
Q739 Mr Gray:
We have heard evidence that one of the greatest single causes
of urban flooding, particularly in summer, is the hard tarmacking
over people's front gardens, a new phenomenon in the last 20 or
30 years. What can be done to prevent that?
Sir Michael Pitt: One of the interim
conclusions which we have reached in the report is that the automatic
right of any householder to pave over their garden should be removed
unless they use permeable materials. What we are saying is that
if somebody wants to concrete their driveway or concrete their
garden, front or back, that would require planning approval from
the local authority and, if necessary, an opportunity for the
Environment Agency or somebody to step in and say that this is
a bad move. The obvious answer for any householder is to use permeable
materials; they would have the same effect in terms of being able
to get their car off the highway but without causing the consequential
problems with surface water run-off.