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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

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 12 January 2010


[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

Clause 3

“Risk management”
4 pm
Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we may discuss new clause 7—Definition of high flood risk—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must ensure by regulations that local development frameworks must develop a definition of an area as being “high flood risk”.
(2) The Secretary of State must consult all interested bodies as the Secretary of State may determine.’.
New clause 8—Definition of high flood risk (No. 2)—
‘(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 70, after (b) insert—
“(c) For all applications within high flood risk areas, the local planning authority may cite high flood risk as grounds for refusal.”’.
This is to ensure that the Secretary of State sets up regulations to ensure the local development frameworks define certain areas as ‘high flood risk’, with amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act to ensure it is applied.
New clause 25—Flood risk areas—
‘(1) The Environment Agency shall carry out an assessment of the whole of England and Wales to determine which areas of land are at risk from flooding, and it shall determine these as being “flood risk areas”.
(2) For the purposes of this section, an area of land shall be designated as a flood risk area if—
(a) there is evidence of it having flooded in the past;
(b) for the purposes of paragraph (a), an area shall be deemed to have flooded if water has rested on the surface of the land, or just below the surface;
(c) the local planning authority, or the Environment Agency after consultation with the local planning authority, are of the opinion that building on a section of land would be likely to increase the risk of other pieces of land flooding as a result of water displacement; or
(d) having consulted with the local planning authority, the Environment Agency reasonably believes that the area might be subject to flooding in the future.
(3) If an area of land is designated as flood risk, the Environment Agency shall submit a formal objection to any medium or large-scale planning application which is proposed for that land.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), a planning application shall be designated as being medium or large-scale if it involves the building of more than 10 houses, or if it involves the building of a public, commercial or industrial unit covering larger than half an acre in land area.’.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): What a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew, with your knowledge of flooding. You will not be calling me to speak too many times, for sure.
I said in the previous sitting that although I am sympathetic to new clause 25, it is widely drawn, as I think that my hon. neighbour from Tewkesbury would accept. I was making the point that the difficulty with development in the Severn vale is that the River Severn, being such a mercurial river, will inevitably change its course, causing all manner of problems over where to locate housing and employment development. The difficulty is that historically, as my hon. neighbour from Cheltenham will know, the answer always seems to be development in the Severn vale. That might be highly questionable, because we know that it is an increasingly risky place for development, as we have seen from what happened in 2007.
Even if we were to encourage development outside the Severn vale—in the Cotswolds, where I would like to see more development, or the Forest of Dean, both of which are the slowest growing parts of Gloucestershire—the difficulty is that the water will run off the hills and come down into the Severn vale. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We have a real problem over how we develop parts of our countryside, and that is why this is a worthwhile debate.
I will offer some definitive explanation from my constituency, as both colleagues from Gloucestershire who preceded me in the debate used examples from their constituencies. A number of us in the constituency opposed development in a place called Ebley, which is not far from where I live in the Stroud constituency, on the basis that there was likely to be consequential flooding down the River Frome, which is a tributary of the River Severn. We were pooh-poohed and told that the measures that would be put in place would be such that the loss of greenfield land and of meadow land, which has traditionally acted as a water reservoir by sucking up water in times of surplus, would not be a problem. Modern technology is such, we were told, that we would be able to come up with solutions on development, and so it proved.
The problem is that since that time, downstream in Bridgend and Stonehouse, where I happen to live—no one would pretend that the area has not been flooded in the past, and the mills dotted all around the area show that water has been a crucial requirement of everyday life since the 18th century and even before—the poor people living there have sadly been flooded badly, first in 2007 and then every year since. I cannot prove that that is the result of development, because I am not a water engineer and have no specialist insight into cause and effect, but I refer to consequential flooding, which is what the new clause is all about, as something that really should matter.
I will conclude with two points. First, if there is evidence that a development has caused problems elsewhere, that should be taken as seriously as the development itself being regarded as a causation factor in flooding. Secondly, we must not time-limit this, because often the problems are of incremental duration in the sense that one will not necessarily get an immediate impact from a development—it takes some time. The problem is we have used so many of our important water storage facilities—one could argue that that has been happening through time—that the matter has become critical. I would always argue that it is not the development itself that matters; it is where the impact of the development will be felt. That is something we should examine.
I welcome what the hon. Member for Tewkesbury said. He has apologised to me for not being in the room—it is not because I am speaking, but because he is elsewhere dealing with the problems of Ethiopia, which are somewhat different from those that we face in Gloucestershire. His new clause is useful.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister say how we can get fairness for people who have not flooded historically, or who have flooded periodically but now face regular flooding? How can they get greater protection and some justice from the system? It might well be that we have to learn some lessons and be much more careful about where we develop. That will cause huge problems, not just in Gloucestershire, in terms of the Severn vale, but perhaps all the way up the country.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am warming to the hon. Gentleman’s theme. Does he agree with the thrust of new clause 8, which is that one of the crucial powers that can help to tackle the issue is the clear power for local authorities to refuse planning permission on the grounds of high flood risk so that they can deal with some of the things he is worried about?
Mr. Drew: I like giving powers to local authorities as long as they use those powers purposely. I would blame my own local authority—Stroud district council—for causing problems because it chose to develop somewhere despite warnings. I am afraid that local authorities cannot have it both ways. If they want that responsibility, they will also have to take the blame when they have chosen a particular site against expert advice. It might well be—the Minister might want to dwell on this—that the powers of the Bill will enable the Environment Agency to ensure that it is listened to and its advice is acted upon. Too often what has happened in that past is that either the Environment Agency has been ignored or it has not been brought into the decision-making process at all.
This is an important debate. I have concentrated on new clause 25, because that is the most widely drawn of the new clauses, but this is a problem from which we cannot escape, and I hope the Minister will give us some elucidation on how we can take forward sensible development. None of us are against that, but we must ensure that if mistakes are made, people are able to get some protection from the consequences of those mistakes. More particularly, we need to learn from what we have done wrong in the past and prevent undesirable development from occurring in the wrong place.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr. Martlew—it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Despite the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, I congratulate him on new clause 25 and his drafting ability. I will later consider its contents.
I was not convinced by the arguments of the hon. Member for Cheltenham about new clauses 7 and 8. My concern with the drafting is that anyone who was deemed to be living in a high flood risk would probably be incapable of finding any insurance cover or of selling their home. I am very concerned about the purpose of his new clauses in that regard.
Martin Horwood: I am extremely puzzled by the hon. Lady’s objection to the use of the wording “high flood risk” because it is taken directly from Sir Michael Pitt and is used in the measure proposed by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury, which talks about determining such areas as “flood risk areas”. In fact, our proposal is less prescriptive than his.
Miss McIntosh: I shall move on to the context in which that phrase is contained in new clause 25, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree with what I say.
I believe that PPS25 should be revisited on the basis of whether it was the intention to have a proscription or moratorium on building on areas at risk of flooding, although not necessarily floodplains. Recommendation 18 of Sir Michael Pitt’s review states:
“Local Surface Water Management Plans, as set out under PPS25 and coordinated by local authorities, should provide the basis for managing all local flood risk.”
The progress report published by the Government last December sets out where we are with the most recent editions of those plans. The progress report states that £9.7 million has been allocated to 77 local authorities at risk from surface water flooding. I am sure the Minister will accept that that is a small amount to be divided among 77 local authorities—[Interruption.] He will not escape any earlier even though he is feeling the cold.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): That is not an insignificant amount of money and it has been focused, through an open application system, on places at the highest risk. I know the hon. Lady will recognise that it is not the only money that we have put into flooding.
Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for the Minister’s intervention.
A lot of the debate over the general aspect of risk management in the clause comes back to the element of risk and how risk is quantified. The risk of one in 1,000 years in the constituencies of Copeland and Workington is on the scale of an act of God. It would be difficult to prescribe the way in which to cope with that in any legislation.
It is my firm belief, however, that we can do a lot more with regard to new developments putting existing developments at risk. For example, it is inappropriate to build 300 houses in Filey on a field that floods, and is at times of flood permanently waterlogged and saturated, especially as the water flooding off the field has already flooded Filey school and earlier developments. I am surprised that the Planning Inspectorate can agree for that to go ahead.
A number of issues that relate to this matter are not appropriate for consideration here. However, PPS25 could be strengthened. For example, we have established that the Environment Agency should have the status of statutory consultee for major new developments. I believe that PPS25 would be further strengthened if we extended the status of statutory consultee to water companies. We can elaborate on those arguments elsewhere.
In the context of new clause 25, the Environment Agency should carry out the assessment to determine the level of flood risk, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury goes on to establish in his new clause. I wonder if the Minister will be minded to accept some of our arguments. He might want the provisions to be worded slightly differently, but I think that the new clause is well drafted and fits in with the context of clause 3.
4.15 pm
I wish to ask the Minister about the impact assessment in the context of the risk management aspects of the clause. We are told that the one-off costs will be negligible although, under existing provisions, local authorities are already investing £27 million a year by means of local levy. The point I put to the Minister is that page 10 of the impact assessment states:
“Any administrative burdens would be borne by RFCCs”—
regional flood defence committees—
“which include local authorities and the Environment Agency.”
In terms of funding risk management, I put it to the Minister is that it seems that the same people are being asked to pay every single time. The Minister is on record as welcoming the levy provisions and, indeed, they are extremely important if clause 3 is to work effectively. However, will he share with us some of the concerns that were probably raised at the time of consultation, particularly about what the cost of the administrative burden will be?
I understand that the benefits of individual risk management projects are reviewed constantly by the Treasury through the Green Book, and that the risk can be reduced in certain situations, which are set out on page 14. However, will the Minister respond to my concerns that their preferred option of 2(a) in the impact assessment—
“Extend the scope of the RFDC ‘local levy’ to allow funding to be raised from local authorities for coastal erosion projects”—
will put real hardship on those bodies? How does the Minister imagine that clause 3 will be given effect in these circumstances, because I do not believe that the administrative burden is neutral? There is a very real cost to be looked at and, as I say, the same people have to pay it each time. I will be most interested to hear the Minister’s comments about new clause 25 and his response to my concerns about the cost-benefit analysis and the administrative burdens that are placed on those bodies that are already finding it hard to raise the funds required in the Bill.
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