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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880 - 883)



  Q880  Mr Drew: And Central Networks?

  Mr Raymant: From our perspective, the key interim conclusion relates to making information available about critical sites. I mentioned earlier, we are working on those 81 critical sites across our patch. In terms of the Pitt Review itself, we are very supportive of the conclusions and recommendations that are coming out of that. I think probably two threads from me. One is the emergency preparedness: in the event of an incident, how we respond to that as a Category 2 responder. I actually feel that in terms of the Gloucester floods we responded very well. We participated in all of the Gold Command meetings at senior level and that worked very well for us. I think the point I would draw out from this is that as an organisation we manage probably one to two emergencies a year, on a fairly significant scale, associated with bad storms and, therefore, we are in quite a high state of preparedness anyway for managing emergencies, and that was actually borne out in the management of the Gloucester incident. The thing that was different about Gloucester was that the nature of the event was very different, it was flooding, and also it was the first time we had engaged actively with Gold Command—it was the first time we had to do that—and we learnt a lot from that and we have built that into our own emergency plans and updated those and, subsequently, tested them again since that event.

  Q881  Mr Drew: Have either of you sought to look to move any of the critical infrastructure or have plans to so do following your re-evaluation of the flood risk? You are nodding.

  Mr Winser: We certainly have done work on that, and that will be further informed by the work with the industry and the ENA because it does come back to making sure that it is an holistic solution. In fact, relocating our substations, which are pretty big pieces of equipment, overall is a very expensive option. It is much more likely we will see some expenditure of just increasing the resilience of the current footprint rather than actually lifting it up or moving it to another site, although as we get into the asset replacement phase we will keep that absolutely under review because we will over the next decade, 15 years be looking at a lot of this equipment again.

  Mr Raymant: Our position is very similar. When we are looking at replacing sites we will clearly look at the location and we will also look at the permanent protection that is required given the flooding risk. You cannot get away from the fact we have to locate these sites near the point of load; so if we have developments going on in those areas, then naturally we have to follow. That is one point I would make. The other piece of information I would share with you is we did actually upgrade a switch yard in the locality called Port Ham two years ago—that has now been operational for a year—and we did purposely build that on elevated stilts, knowing the flood risk, and we were able to build that into the design of the substation, but, as Nick said, it is very difficult to do that in retrospect. The only option really is to build more permanent protection around the site.

  Mr Murray: May I add one supplementary point on this which is really driving why it is more expensive to move something than to protect it. Of course, one has to remember it is not just a question of moving a substation: one would then have to move all the overhead lines that come in and out of the substation, with all the associated planning issues that would go with that as well; so although we cannot pre-empt the outcome of the ENA work, our expectation is that we would invest in further protecting sites rather than moving them.

  Q882  Mr Drew: One final point on that then. Is there a time frame for this? Here we are talking about humanity being threatened by 2050. If you were to say we will be doing this over the next 40 odd years, then some of us might say that is not really within the parameters of the state of emergency we now face. Can you give us a feel for how quickly you could re-evaluate the site that you have got at the moment?

  Mr Winser: Our thoughts are five to seven years. As we get through the detailed understanding of what, overall, is the best economic solution, we will need to engage with Ofgem about how that is to be funded; but ultimately that is why we have invested in the portable barrier, because we know that getting through that very sensible analysis and working with the regulatory authorities will take some time and so the portable barrier is, if you like, our opportunity to bring some resilience quickly to bear. Five to seven years is probably what we are guessing at the moment.

  Q883  Mr Drew: Finally, would you welcome any clarification in law about your responsibilities? Clearly we have got the Civil Contingencies Act which we are looking at with a range of interested parties, but do you feel that you know that the law is clear enough in your area or would you welcome some further clarification in how that particular Act and all the legislation operates regarding what expectation there is on yourselves?

  Mr Raymant: I think from a distribution perspective we are very clear what our obligations are and would suggest the legal framework is robust enough for that. I think what we have learnt from this incident is the need probably for Category 2 responders to work more closely with Category 1 responders, which the existing legislation provides for, so clarity in that respect is probably the most valuable thing.

  Mr Winser: And, I think, the introduction of PPS25, which gives a greater degree of clarity about the sort of sites you need to provide greater resilience to flooding is also helpful, so we are in the same place.

  Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for your oral evidence, thank you for your written submissions and we will reflect very carefully on what you have had to say. Thank you very much.

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