Memorandum submitted by the Chairmen of
Regional Flood Defence Committees in England (FL 63)
This summer's floods were the worst
in England for more than half a century, with a much greater impact
than in Autumn 2000.
They cannot be attributed directly
to climate change, but are consistent with the changes that are
Flood defences mostly did the job
they were designed to do, but were in many places inadequate to
cope with the floods that occurred.
Past investment has therefore paid
off, but much more will be needed particularly, if as predicted,
extreme weather events become more frequent, and as sea levels
Greater mobile heavy pumping capacity
is needed and should be stored at strategic locations from which
it can be moved quickly to help deal with major flood incidents.
Surface water and river flooding
combined. Better joint planning of investment in drainage systems
and responses to extreme rainfall events is needed.
Pooling of resources and joint planning
is likely to be more effective than reorganisation of agencies
Both regulation and incentives to
voluntary action have a role in helping prepare for flood risk
and increasing resilience to it
The Government's announcement of
£200 million more for flood defence in 2010-11 is very welcome
However a clear commitment to additional
resources over the next two years is essential to bring forward
delayed capital schemes which are ready to start
Whilst it will never be possible
to prevent all flooding, a failure to invest more in adapting
to this obvious and tangible risk from the changing climate will
cost the country and the economy dearly.
Given the pressure on public funds,
partnership approaches to funding should be encouraged.
1. This note by the Chairmen of the Regional
Flood Defence Committees in England (RFDCs) responds to the Committee's
request for written submissions to their enquiry on flooding.
There are eleven statutory RFDCs made up of an independent Chair
and a number of appointees by the Secretary of State for the Environment,
and the Environment Agency (EA), together with members of local
authorities in the region (who comprise the majority). RFDCs advise
the EA on its plans and priorities for flood risk management investment
(FRM) in the region, approve its business plan and account to
the Agency and to DEFRA for the stewardship of FRM resources.
Committees also raise a levy on local authorities for investment
in local schemes. Amounts of levy vary from region to region,
but in total amount to some £25 million in the current year.
2. The summer saw the worst flooding in
England since 1953. The impact in Yorkshire, the Midlands and
parts of the South West and Central Southern England was significantly
greater than in autumn 2000. Those floods were described by Ministers
at the time as a "wake-up call" and that message is
being repeated forcibly now. What is all the more surprising is
that the floods stem from heavy and prolonged summer rainfall
across wide areas of the country. This is not flash flooding as
a result of localised storms that might be expected in the summer,
but rather the kind of event we associate with autumn or winter
conditions. In addition too many communities, especially those
without proper defences, are seeing repeat flooding far too frequently.
3. So whilst it may not be possible to ascribe
recent flooding to changing climate, the severity and increasing
frequency of extreme weather conditions are entirely consistent
with the thrust of climate change predictions. If anything the
occurrence of extreme weather events seems to be increasing sooner
than predictions might have led us to expect.
4. Existing defences generally worked as
they were designed to do. There were very few failures although
of course in many places defences were simply inadequate to cope
with the sheer volume of water the heavy rain produced. Without
these assets, flood damage and loss of life would have been much
worse. In other words, previous investment in flood defences is
paying off. Notwithstanding the uncertainty that attaches to a
different climate, it is likely that new investment in new defences
will also provide a good return. We believe that that DEFRA's
recent "zero based review" reached the same conclusion.
5. Although the warnings of imminent flooding
in the affected catchments were generally timely and reasonably
accurate, this was not universally the case. In particular there
were still difficulties in providing adequate warnings of the
onset of flooding in areas of the heaviest rainfall, and immediately
downstream from them, particularly where a combination of surface
water and river flooding occurred. There is a case to develop
warning services for areas that are prone to ponding or where
surface drains are known to be inadequate in heavy rain.
6. Emergency services, the military, the
Environment Agency, the water companies and local authorities
generally responded well, in spite of the fact that flood response
plans were not in some places designed to deal with the scale
or particular nature of the floods that took place. That said
we have come across instances of inadequate co-ordination.
7. Although additional pumping capacity
was sourced relatively quickly, a faster response in this regard
could have brought real benefits. Fire service pumps are helpful
but generally do not have the capacity to deal with the scale
of incident seen this summer. For example the Environment Agency
brought very high volume pumps to assist in Yorkshire from the
South West, the only region to have such machines available. Thought
needs to be given to acquiring and storing emergency high volume
pumps in a number of strategic locations around the country so
they can be brought on stream very quickly. This will require
investment in both the pumps themselves and in preparing sites
for their installation where it is reasonable to expect a need
for emergency capacity, but where there is no economic case for
a permanent pumping facility.
8. The impact of surface water was very
great. Increasingly intense rainfall events are overwhelming the
capacity of drainage systems, especially in urban areas. So investment
to improve that capacity is now an imperative. This is clearly
an issue for other sectors too, including local government and
the water industry, and requires a joint approach to planning
the investment in drainage infrastructure (see below).
9. The combination of different sources
of flooding is likely to be an ongoing issue as rainfall events
become more intense. This produces challenges for a number of
different agencies. It is likely that much more could be achieved
through a pooling of manpower and material resources at least,
through joint planning.. Although the number of responsible bodies
compounds the problem we do not believe that it is feasible or
sensible to try to integrate in some single body the flood related
responsibilities of local authorities, the water companies and
the Environment Agency. Indeed far reaching organizational change
could make matters worse. The focus should be on better planning,
to encompass both investment and resilience. This needs in particular
to focus on urban areas and to consider how to manage the impact
in all our towns and cities of rainfall events of similar scale
to those in June and July.
10. In handling existing risks, the permissive
powers of the operating authorities, including the EA, already
confer some responsibility.. The introduction by DEFRA and the
EA of Outcome Measures and Targets will help provide clearer and
more tangible outputs, although as currently formulated they are
incomplete and their effectiveness will inevitably depend upon
the resources that are made available. The true costs of managing
risks are not seen by those that cause or live with them; insurance
diffuses such costs at present.
11. The EU Floods Directive and Civil Contingencies
Act may provide stimuli for multi-agency planning and action,
but mechanisms will be needed to ensure that this happens in practice.
Regulation also has a part to play and for minimising future risks,
PPS25 needs to be applied rigorously and the use of Strategic
Flood Risk Assessments (SFRA) should be compulsory wherever there
is a prima facie evidence of a significant risk from any source.
Development proposals that do not deal properly with flood risk
should be turned down. Incentives to voluntary action are also
important and might be put in place through the Building Regulations
and Code for Sustainable Homes, for example. Grants might be made
available to assist householders to install flood resistance and
12. There is a need to think through better
and plan for the threat to key infrastructure. For example a higher
level of protection might have prevented the loss of the water
treatment works which deprived much of Gloucestershire of fresh
water. We also came very close to losing all power in most of
Sheffield and Rotherham for an extended period. We therefore welcome
the Government's intention to require flood defence plans for
13. Asset maintenance is critical. Many
flood defence assets were damaged and need repair. This will have
to be a priority for the Environment Agency. It is essential however
that the unexpected costs, which we understand to be around £20
million, do not lead to further delays in much needed capital
investment to bring forward new schemes. The EA does not hold
reserves and does not have the benefit of Bellwin arrangements.
These costs therefore should be a call on the national contingency
14. Longer term it is inevitable that more
resources will be needed to deal with these issues. We recognise
that this is not easy and competition for public funds is intense.
However flood frequency is increasing. Rising sea levels and the
growing intensity of extreme weather events mean that this will
continue and may accelerate over coming decades. Whilst it will
never be possible to prevent all flooding, a failure to invest
more in adapting to this key risk of the changing climate will
rapidly come to cost the country and the economy dearly.
15. We therefore strongly welcome the Government's
commitment to increase FRM investment to £800 million a year
in 2010-11. However with construction industry costs rising at
around 7-8%, well above the level of inflation, the three years
between now and then will substantially erode the value of this
increase. The likelihood that the increase will also be spread
amongst many different bodiesthe EA, DEFRA, internal drainage
boards and local authoritiesmay diminish impact. And as
noted above in the short term the EA and others face substantial
bills to pay for flood response and repairs to damaged assets.
Pressure on resources already means that there would be few if
any new starts on capital schemes, although there are many at
an advanced state of planning which could be delivered quickly.
The combined effect of these factors is that the public may not
see much difference on the ground for some years. Confidence in
our determination to improve flood protection will be at risk,
especially if further serious flooding occurs.
16. The Government's recent Foresight study
suggested a need for an annual engineering FRM investment of around
£1 billion. The commitment to increase total FRM expenditure
to £800 million in 2010 is therefore a good step in the right
direction, but more is likely to be needed. Only a significant
increase in resources will enable the country to put in place
a properly funded long term programme of investment in better
flood risk management. This is not just about new capital schemes
but also involves asset maintenance, improved forecasting and
warning systems, better planning and resilience not least around
essential infrastructure. As we state above it also needs to encompass
joint planning and investment to deal with the combination of
river and surface water flooding.
17. Bearing these points in mind we think
it essential that the Government commits to year on year increases
in FRM investment up to 2010-11and ideally beyond, or at least
a clear direction of travel thereafter. During CSR2007, the increases
need to be large enough to do two things. First the national capital
programme should be given a new kickstart by bringing forward
capital schemes in the pipeline which have been delayed or postponed.
Secondly they should enable the necessary design and preparatory
work to be carried out to ensure the most effective investment
in new capital projects as the full additional £200 million
comes on stream in 2010-11. Thereafter funding should recognise
the recommendations of the Foresight Report (DT1, April 2004,
18. It is also important to look at different
sources of funding, and approaches to partnership funding arrangements
with both public bodies and the private sector, including of course
the water industry as well as developers, should be promoted.
19. We hope these initial observations will
be useful to the Committee and we would be glad to elaborate on
them in presenting oral evidence if the Committee so wishes.
Mike Bateman, South East
Robert Caudwell, Anglia Northern
Anthony Coe, Anglia Eastern
Tim Farr, Midlands
Clive Gronow, South West
Frank Major, Northumbria
Sinclair McCleod, North West
Bob Price, Anglia Central
Peter Ryder, Thames
Humphrey Temperley, Wessex
Jeremy Walker, Yorkshire
Chairmen of Regional Flood Defence Committees in England