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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100 - 1101)



  Q1100  Mr Drew: But you would accept that there is a significant problem now, given what you said earlier? In my area, you have two-tier authorities, you have got water companies, you have got the Environment Agency, you have got British Waterways, you have got other utilities and you then get riparian ownership with 20 owners, 19 of whom are all willing to do something to take responsibility and one is saying, "It's not my problem", and then the other 19 flood.

  Mr Woolas: My view is that we have got to get real about the problem we are dealing with here. I do not think the country, well, the public are actually, but I do not think the body politic, outside of course of this Committee and people directly concerned with these issues, appreciate the seriousness of the problem that we are facing. The people who live in the flooded areas of last summer, they of course understand it, but that surface-water flooding that happened in Hull and happened in other parts of the country, what happened in south Yorkshire and where the river flooding coincided with surface-water flooding, those sorts of patterns are happening all of the time all over the country, and we have had surface-water flooding in the last two weeks in the country. If the scientists' predictions are right, that this extreme weather is going to continue apace and indeed increase, then we have to radically change the policy and statutory framework that we operate in this area, and this is why it is such an exciting and important debate, and the specific on Mr Drew's question is not yet answered, but you can see my attitude and the Secretary of State shares that attitude, as I believe the Government more generally does.

  Q1101  David Lepper: We went to have a look at the washlands scheme last week, which was a very interesting scheme, and in our discussions afterwards with Natural England, they expressed some frustration about the lack of progress on the 25, I think it was, schemes that came out of the Making Space for Water document. All of them are schemes which have a multiplicity of functions, in part controlling the flow of water, in part flood defence, but also to do with biodiversity plans as well. One of the issues, I think, was that putting together packages of funding for some of these schemes was difficult because the money allocated for one aspect of the scheme could be transferred to be used elsewhere within a scheme. What is the view of Defra about that? Does it sense that frustration that is felt by Natural England and others?

  Mr Woolas: Yes, I think it is fair to say that we do, and it is a very fair question actually. I think the attitude to that is reflected in some of the answers I have given on surface water, that the need for a transparent public plan, national and local, the need for horses for courses, if I can use that phrase, the need to stop some of the local bureaucratic obstacles getting in the way, and one group of residents I meet from Yorkshire last week explained to me that there was a local authority boundary that had stopped the upstream storage, flood meadow storage, and their village was hit as a result, that sort of obstacle we have to address, and I believe that our national flood framework and our national flood plan will do that. Again, with permission, perhaps I could ask Martin to give some more detail.

  Mr Hurst: I think the basic point is a very astute one, that, to be fair, government finds it easier to do single sources of funding for single outcomes than it does for multiple outcomes. I think we are addressing that with the caveat on floods that, with many of the things we are talking about, it is very hard to demonstrate a catchment-scale effect; it is a local effect and you have to appraise it as such. If you look, for example, at the way that the catchment flood management plans from the Agency and the river basin management plans are working together, so we take water quality and flood benefits together, if you look at the way that Natural England are running and developing environmental stewardship, which is using money with landowners to deliver multiple outcomes, and if indeed you look at the money on catchment-sensitive farming which Natural England and the Environment Agency jointly deliver, these are all examples where we are acutely aware of the need to bring agencies together and work together for more than one outcome.

  Chairman: Minister, there are a couple of other small things which we will drop you a line about that we would have liked to have asked you, but I am conscious of the passage of time. May I thank you and your officials for your assistance in helping us with our enquiries. We have had an unprecedented response from members of the public and organisations from as wide a field as local authorities to internal drainage boards; it has certainly captured the public imagination. While we might still have some public interest, I would just like to put on record my personal appreciation on behalf of the Committee for the tremendous interest and input that we have had on this particular inquiry. I do not think I have known as much public interest on any inquiry, certainly during my time on the Committee, as this particular one. The BBC have also helped with the programme You and Yours where they certainly exposed to a much wider audience the work that a lot of people, including government and agencies, are undertaking to try and deal with the very difficult situation on flooding, so with those words of thanks I now draw to a conclusion this last oral session. The Committee will soon be considering its heads of report and I hope that it will not be too long before we are able to produce our final thoughts, but the Committee are now going into closed session to deal with another vexed issue, namely our report on bovine TB. Thank you very much indeed for coming and for contributing to our inquiry.

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