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Session 2009 - 10
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Flood and Water Management Bill

Flood and Water Management Bill



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, Mr. Eric Martlew
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab)
McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)
Morden, Jessica (Newport, East) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Smith, Chloe (Norwich, North) (Con)
Turner, Mr. Andrew (Isle of Wight) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Witnesses

Dr. Andy Johnston, Head of the Centre for Local Sustainability, Local Government Information Unit
Barry Dare, Chairman of the Local Government Flood Forum and Leader of Gloucestershire County Council
David Rooke, Head of Strategy and Engagement, Environment Agency
Gary Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association Environment Board
Dr. Jean Venables, Association of Drainage Authorities
Robert Cunningham, Head of Water Policy Team, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Nick Starling, Director of General Insurance and Health, Association of British Insurers
Fran Hitchinson, Policy Lead for Water, Woodland Trust
Jenny Bashford, Water policy adviser, National Farmers Union
Tony Smith, Consumer Council for Water
Phillip Mills, Deputy Chief Executive, Water UK
Keith Mason, Ofwat

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 7 January 2010

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
FW 01 Andrew Sheerman-Chase
FW 02 Local Government Flood Forum
FW 03 City of London Corporation
FW 04 Association of Drainage Authorities
FW 05 Association of British Insurers
FW 06 Ofwat
FW 07 RSPB
FW 08 Water UK
FW 09 National Farmers Union
FW 10 Consumer Council for Water
FW 11 Woodland Trust
FW 12 LGA Group
1 pm
The Committee deliberated in private.
1.6 pm
On resuming—
The Chairman: Good afternoon everybody. Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence to the Committee. Can each witness introduce himself, starting with Dr. Johnston?
Dr. Andy Johnston: Good afternoon, my name is Dr. Andy Johnston and I am head of the Centre for Local Sustainability at the Local Government Information Unit.
Councillor Barry Dare: I am Barry Dare, chairman of the Local Government flood forum and leader of Gloucestershire county council.
David Rooke: I am David Rooke, head of strategy and engagement with the Environment Agency.
Councillor Gary Porter: I am Gary Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association environment board.
The Chairman: Thank you. As you realise, the evidence session cannot go on beyond 2 o’clock. To ensure that we get the maximum benefit, I hope that you will keep your responses succinct. I am sure that I do not need to urge hon. Members to keep their questions similarly succinct.
Linking that, if I may, to how the new responsibilities under the Bill pan out, are you satisfied that the measure will lead to the end of the automatic right to connect? I am talking about major new developments. We saw a lot of flooding in 2007, particularly sewerage flooding, where the foul water overflow of new developments overspilt from the connection pipe. One way around that is to end properly the automatic right to connect. I do not know if the Environment Agency has a view on private sewers and their funding, and whether local authorities are going to make savings. The local authority representatives may want to chip in on that. My understanding is, and it may be an erroneous understanding, that private sewers are precisely that—private. It falls to the householder to pay the costs of maintaining and repairing those sewers, so I am hard pressed to see where the savings will come from.
Finally, would the Environment Agency be minded to support greater clarification on sustainable drainage systems—SUDS—in the Bill? It is leading to a great deal of confusion because they have hitherto been known as sustainable urban drainage systems and most of them, apart from highways ones, apply to urban areas. Would it be useful to have one definition for the whole country?
David Rooke: If I take the Bill overall, we welcome it and are very pleased with the provisions that the Government have published. While there are some new responsibilities in the Bill, they apply mostly to local authorities, as well as to ourselves and other drainage bodies, such as internal drainage boards. While they are far-reaching in some respects, we believe that they are necessary to implement in full the recommendations in the Pitt report. There will, of course, need to be some national direction, which is why we are pleased that the Bill includes a provision for a national strategy so that the Secretary of State can approve it to give that overall direction. There is also provision for local strategies, which lead local authorities can develop, publish and implement, for dealing with local flood risk in their areas.
On whether there should be an appeal against any of the powers that any of the operating authorities have, including the Environment Agency, we do not believe that it is necessary. We are not aware of appeal provisions for other public bodies exercising their powers and it would make it extremely difficult for us if, on every decision we take and every activity we undertake, we have someone with a right of appeal. In existing legislation, although not in the Bill, there are already significant safeguards for rights of appeal.
When we are carrying out new works generally, we need planning permission and the permission of the local planning authority to go ahead, and there are appeals provisions and public consultations within that. There are statutory instruments in relation to land drainage works that require environmental impact assessments. Where there are not, there is a safeguard in the Secretary of State if there are unresolved objections. We believe that there is enough opportunity in existing statutory instruments and legislation to render further appeal provisions unnecessary.
On resources, the table was published by the Government and it contained the comprehensive spending review settlement for flood and coastal risk management. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated some money to us to help implement the Pitt recommendations, and our current funding is based on that CSR settlement. Within that, we believe that we can start to implement not only Pitt, with the extra support from DEFRA, but the provisions in the Bill.
The explanatory notes published alongside the Bill comment on whether the Environment Agency should have additional resources. There will be a transfer of some of our powers to local authorities, so there will be a saving to the Environment Agency from that. We would divert that resource to dealing with the new strategic overview that is given to us under the measure. We believe that within the current CSR there will be sufficient funds, and of course future CSRs are a matter for future Governments, but we did publish last year a long-term investment strategy that set out a number of policy options for different responses to managing floods, what those would cost, what the benefits are and what the residual risks are. We would hope that future Governments would take that into account in determining our funding levels in the future.
On the automatic right to connect, it is our understanding that the drafting in the Bill would lead to stopping that. That is certainly the Government’s policy position and certainly ours, but if the drafting doesn’t achieve it, we’re very willing to look at that with the Government.
The transfer of private sewers is a matter for the Government, not the Environment Agency. We support the provisions for SUDS. We believe that the current drafting will deliver the policy aim, which is about sustainable urban drainage, but again, if there is an issue, we will have to look at that.
Miss McIntosh: Do any of the others wish to comment?
Councillor Gary Porter: The LGA doesn’t have any problem with the national strategy being developed through the Environment Agency, provided that there is no mission creep. The tendency in the past has been for a national strategy to start looking further—beyond its own reach. We’ve seen it recently with the Tenant Services Authority—another piece of work we were working on. We also share Anne’s views about the financial savings in relation to transferring private sewers. Clearly, we’ve made the case. It was seven-year-old information, based on a very small sample at the time. I think everybody, apart from the Minister, has accepted that that was actually out of date and that it was probably wrong to use it as a baseline.
David has just made a point about transferring some of those powers to local authorities. He’s made the case again for us. He’s going to be making those savings, but if he’s making savings, we must be picking up costs we’re not currently picking up. Again, I hope that you could bear that in mind.
Q 17Miss McIntosh: Does Councillor Dare wish to comment on the resource issue?
Councillor Barry Dare: Yes, I think it’s the centre of the whole problem. My colleague has just been talking about the transfer of responsibilities. Consistently, we in local government have been required to undertake additional responsibilities without central Government financial support. This seems to me to be yet one more spend where we are likely to be put under severe pressure. The reality is that the only place we can go to plug any gap is the council tax payer, and we all know what view they take about rising council tax, and we also know central Government’s view of capping, so we really are between a very hard rock and a hard place.
Q 18Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask a straight question of David Rooke? Clearly, the Environment Agency’s prime responsibility is coastal and riverine flooding, yet we know we’re looking increasingly at ground and surface water flooding. To what extent do you have the skills and the resources, certainly working in local government, to be able to reorient yourself, if that is what you think you should be doing?
David Rooke: No, we will concentrate on main rivers and coastal flooding. The Bill also provides for our powers to be extended to cover coastal erosion. Where local authorities may not want to do that, we will now have the powers in the Bill to do it. We see local flood risk, which involves surface water, ground water and ordinary watercourses, being managed by lead local authorities or in partnership with internal drainage boards and district councils where there is a two-tier system. We believe we currently have the skills and the resources to deliver on main rivers and the sea. The extra resource that we would need is for the strategic overview role, which is about giving direction and guidance, and we would use the savings from the transfer of some responsibilities to local authorities to fund that.
We accept that there is a skills issue for the industry as a whole, which is why we’ve been promoting our foundation degree course at the university of the West of England. We are pleased that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now provided some funding to help local authorities put students through that foundation degree course, which is already under way. We have had some engineers graduate from that course already. We accept that we are going to have to work more closely with local authorities to help them, and I think this joint initiative on the foundation degree course is a good example of how that is going forward, to get the skills that the industry needs to tackle all the problems.
 
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