Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 757 - 759)



  Q757  Chairman: We will move onto our next set of witnesses. We welcome now on behalf of the Regional Flood Defence Committees Mr Tim Farr, who is the Chairman of the Midlands Regional Flood Defence Committee; in a similar role for the Thames Region we have Dr Peter Ryder; and Mr Jeremy Walker occupies the same position but in Yorkshire, so we have a very good geographic spread. I was going to ask you as an opening question how you felt about not being featured in Sir Michael's interim report and then he told us he was going to meet you and take you into account so you can look to star billing in terms of the final report. Perhaps I could just start with a comment from the first paragraph of your written evidence to us. It says: "Regional Flood Defence Committees advise the Environment Agency on its plans and priorities for flood risk management investment in the region, approve its business plan and account to the Agency and to Defra for the stewardship of flood risk management resources".[1] You have given a lot of very good advice, do you ever get frustrated that some of it has quite clearly not actually happened, been implemented or is ignored? Perhaps if some of the things you have said in the past had happened we would not have had some of the problems that we did last summer.

  Mr Walker: There are frustrations clearly but let me start at the beginning of the summer incident. No advice that we could have given would have stopped it raining quite so much in June and July. Would advice that we have given on particular schemes have made a lot of difference to the impact that amount of water had? I doubt it. Would we like to see investment committed further into the future and more of it? Yes, we would.

  Dr Ryder: In the light of what happened this summer, which was a very unusual event in many ways, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned. We have all just heard Sir Michael Pitt about how he has teased out as a result of those experiences and we are part of the business of learning those lessons as well as anybody else.

  Q758  Chairman: Nobody would ever accuse you of being lapdogs to the Environment Agency or Defra; you are in the business of making recommendations about how to improve flood defences. You have your feet on the ground buried in the soggy earth and territory that you are defending from the flood waters, there must have been things in perhaps the last five years where you have made a recommendation which, for all kinds of perfectly justifiable reasons, did not happen, but when you look back if they had been done it might have at least helped ameliorate some of the problems that we are now facing. Or is it the case that everything you have said has been implemented so that my argument falls flat on its face?

  Dr Ryder: There is one example certainly—in our evidence already to the Pitt Review we have made reference to this in the Thames Regional submission—and it is the use of weather radar. You have drawn attention to the fact that there is no reference to Regional Flood Defence Committees in Sir Michael Pitt's report; there is no reference to the use of weather radar either.

  Q759  Chairman: In our evidence with the Meteorological Office we did discuss all kinds of new technologies.

  Dr Ryder: I used to be director of operations in the Met Office before I became first a member of the Thames Region Flood Defence Committee and then its chairman. In fact I was responsible when I was in the Met Office for the installation of the weather radar network in England, Wales, Scotland and in Northern Ireland. I need to say that to you so that you can judge where I am coming from in this. We invested jointly between the water industry and the Met Office in the weather radar network precisely to try to provide warnings and quantitative information to help manage precisely the sorts of events that happened this summer. It is a source of some disappointment to me personally—which I have expressed, of course—that those data were not used in that way.

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