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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 852 - 859)



  Q852  Chairman: To quote a very old radio phrase: if we are all sitting comfortably, then we will begin. Can I welcome to our inquiry this afternoon from Central Networks—this is not, I must add, a railway company that is before us, it is to do with electricity distribution—Mr Alan Raymant, the Director of Operations and Asset Management, and from National Grid, Mr Nick Windsor, the Executive Director of Transmission, and Mr Chris Murray, the Director of Asset Management. Gentlemen, the facilities that you have responsibility for certainly hit the headlines in the flooding last summer and a lot of questions about resilience and preparedness to protect these valuable assets from the inundation and the effects that they would have have been raised by none other than the many thousands of members of the public who had their power cut off, but let me just go back a little bit before last summer's flooding. When the former Chief Scientist, Sir David King, produced the Foresight Report, in which he put forward a number of scenarios as to what could happen in the United Kingdom due to climate change and extreme weather events, what did your respective organisations do when that report was published?

  Mr Raymant: From Central Network's perspective we had identified as part of that a number of sites that were at potential risk of flooding, and we identified 81 potentially critical sites depending on the extent of the flooding. The next step of work was to identify exactly what the risk was, quantifying the risk and the precise likelihood of flooding and, therefore, damage to the equipment. That work was commenced then and is on going.

  Q853  Chairman: What about National Grid?

  Mr Winser: From the National Grid perspective, we have always taken account of the possibility of flooding to our assets right back in our heritage to the Central Electricity Generating Board. Of course, a lot of our sites, in fact virtually all of our sites, were a product of going through siting and planning in the 1960s. There have been a number of things that have focused us in recent years, not least Sir David King's work but also the floods in Carlisle, and we had already kicked off work with the Meteorological Office Hadley Centre which was to look at what might be the overall effects on our system. We had also, as a result of the Carlisle floods, commissioned a study looking at all of our assets once again to check, as the understanding of these effects was becoming greater, how they would be resilient against those risks.

  Q854  Chairman: So Foresight did not trigger, in your judgment, any new activity but added to your knowledge about existing activity?

  Mr Winser: Yes, I think so. We had been spurred on to a significant degree of activity by the Carlisle floods actually in 2005, but this had always been very much part of the way that we planned the system, and we have been working with the Met Office.

  Q855  Chairman: If you had done all this work and spotted all the potential risk sites, why did we have any problems in the summer?

  Mr Winser: From our perspective there were two events which are worthy of debate. Firstly, the floods in Sheffield, which Chris will talk to you in a second about if you would not mind, Chris, and, secondly, the events round Gloucestershire. Of course, we did lose some supply in Sheffield, a very rare occurrence on the transmission system, by transmission standards quite a small loss of supply. Of course, at Walham, despite there being, as was well covered in the media, quite a close shave, there was no loss of supply at all from our facilities in Walham. It is important to make that clear, I think. Chris, do you want to talk about Neepsend?

  Q856  Chairman: Before we leave Walham, what did that show up, in terms of all this work you were doing, if you like, post Foresight: because the one thing about Foresight was it warned us about extreme weather events and one, I think, could say with some accuracy that last summer was extreme. You seem to be working very hard with the Met Office doing all of these things, but you just told us it was a close shave. Did Walham come up as a risk site?

  Mr Winser: Walham is a very interesting sort of example of the history of this. Walham, as far as we can understand, when it was sited in the sixties and, indeed, thereafter as we looked at the likely flood contours from the EA, was something of the order of quite a low risk actually. Although it was quite close to the flood plain, it was deliberately on raised ground. We have not managed to surface documents from the sixties to say exactly what went into its siting, but it was on raised ground and actually featured at something like one in a thousand, which is, by the way PPS25 works, pretty remote. In recent years (and these are very recent years), as we have got better and better understanding from the EA publishing better and better flood contours, actually the assessment of Walham has gone from one in a thousand to one in 200.

  Mr Murray: One in 75.

  Mr Winser: One in 75.

  Q857  Chairman: Over what time period was that?

  Mr Murray: That is over about the last two years, Chairman. One has to remember that this site was built in the 1960s. The whole area around it is subject to flooding, but this site has never flooded.

  Q858  Chairman: The area is subject to flooding, the risk factor has gone down from one in a thousand to one in 75. What did you do when you discovered that this was now a more vulnerable site? Did you actually take any specific additional measures to protect it? As you said, you ended up with a close shave. What I am probing for is to find out how, in the light of all of the information that has become available (and some of it you have alluded to), we still end up with a close shave at one in 75? I can understand one in a thousand. That is a pretty extreme event by anybody's standards.

  Mr Winser: Although it had only dropped to one in 75 in literally the last year or two, a period in which we were doing intensive work following Carlisle which revealed, as is in our submission, that there were about 28, quite a small proportion, less than a tenth, of our sites that were in areas which may have some vulnerability to flooding. Therefore, it was a matter of engaging with our colleagues in the distribution networks and in particular with the EA to understand the impact on supplies.

  Q859  Chairman: Was Walham one of the 23 that you mention in paragraph 11 of your evidence?[2]

  Mr Murray: Not at that time.

  Mr Winser: Not at that time, because it was still up at one in 200 at the time. The development of this may seem curious to the Committee but this is as we have had access through much better IS, I guess, as we have seen the use of GIS and flood contours become more available. Whilst this is a capability these days, it is a relatively recent one actually, and that probably explains why Walham has moved so much in the probabilities. Of course, having had the events of the summer, we have spent a considerable amount of money not only putting up a semi-permanent barrier around Walham, which is there today, but also we have spent over a million in total buying a relocatable flood barrier which can be deployed as we get warnings from the Environment Agency.

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