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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, Ann Winterton
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

Thursday 21 January 2010

(Morning)

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House

FW 19 Environment Agency
FW20 Mr. Ewan Larcombe (additional memorandum)
FW21 Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
FW22 Dwr Cymru Welsh Water
9 am
The Chairman: I am conscious that we are programmed to finish the Bill at 5 o’clock today. It would be helpful if hon. Members and the Minister were concise with their comments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): On a point of order, Mr. Martlew. If it would help, I am more than happy to write in detail to hon. Members after the Committee stage if they want to inform me of the points they would have raised in the stand part debates on clauses for which no amendments have been tabled, rather than delay the Committee.
The Chairman: I am sure that hon. Members heard that point.

Schedule 3

Sustainable Drainage
Amendment proposed (19 January): 149, in schedule 3, page 47, leave out lines 36 to 39 and insert—
‘(1) In this Schedule “drainage system” means—
(a) a structure designed to receive rainwater except—
(i) a public sewer, or
(ii) a natural watercourse; and
(b) any lateral drain or sewer communicating with a drainage system.’.—(Miss McIntosh.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 150, in schedule 3, page 48, leave out lines 4 and 5 and insert—
‘(3) “Lateral drain”, “sewer” and “public sewer” have the meanings given by section 219(1) of the Water Industry Act 1991.’.
Amendment 18, in schedule 3, page 48, line 8, leave out paragraph 2 and insert—
‘“Sustainable Urban Drainage System” means a drainage system which—
Amendment 163, in schedule 3, page 48, line 12, after ‘the’, insert ‘natural’.
New clause 12—Sustainable urban drainage systems—
‘A full definition of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) is “Sustainable drainage systems or sustainable (urban) drainage systems: a sequence of management practices and control structures designed to drain surface water in a more sustainable fashion than some conventional techniques (may also be referred to as SuDS).”.’.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I was not entirely reassured by the Minister’s comments on the group, but we have debated it fully. I will therefore not press amendment 163 to a vote.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Good morning, Mr. Martlew, and welcome back to the Chair.
I enjoyed the Minister’s explanatory remarks, which weaved through the issue of urban, suburban or otherwise with regard to SUDS. I did not find his clarification entirely convincing. Amendments 149, 150 and 18, and new clause 12 are extremely important. We submitted the proposal on the Scottish definition for the purposes of debate and it was not as convincing as the others.
We have received a number of submissions from across the industry. The consensus is that we have to get the definition right in clause 32 and schedule 3. A number of water companies, the water industry and the Consumer Council for Water are convinced that we need a proper definition. The terms “sustainable drainage systems” and “sustainable urban drainage systems” are interchangeable. As I mentioned at the outset, they were called SUDS originally because they tended to be in urban areas.
It is important to say to the Minister that we need to understand that it is particularly drainage systems that might pass into the sewerage system that are of concern with regard to later clauses and amendments, so that we can be sure that we fulfil Pitt’s recommendation of ending the automatic right to connect. We will therefore press the Minister on amendments 149 and 150 and new clause 12. We have had a good rehearsal of the remarks. He might be minded to accept the proposals. I do not know whether there has been a change in his position after two days of reflection, but that would be most welcome. If not, we will press the proposals to the vote.
The Chairman: Minister, have you anything to say?
Huw Irranca-Davies: No.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.
Division No. 11]
AYES
Horwood, Martin
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Smith, Chloe
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Watkinson, Angela
Williams, Mr. Roger
NOES
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Drew, Mr. David
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Morden, Jessica
Wright, David
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: 150, in schedule 3, page 48, leave out lines 4 and 5 and insert—
‘(3) “Lateral drain”, “sewer” and “public sewer” have the meanings given by section 219(1) of the Water Industry Act 1991.’.—(Miss McIntosh.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.
Division No. 12]
AYES
Horwood, Martin
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Smith, Chloe
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Watkinson, Angela
Williams, Mr. Roger
NOES
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Drew, Mr. David
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Morden, Jessica
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Wright, David
Question accordingly negatived.
Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment 30, in schedule 3, page 48, line 37, leave out ‘consult’ and insert
‘as soon as possible instigate, publish and have regard to a review undertaken by a panel of independent persons pertaining to the costs currently incurred by local authorties in maintaining private sewers before the Schedule is commenced’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 31, in schedule 3, page 55, line 39, at end insert—
‘(8) The Minister must consult persons who in the Minister’s opinion represent interests likely to be affected by this Schedule and publish a report detailing how the adoption and maintenance of drainage systems is to be funded before the Schedule is commenced.’.
New clause 11—Pilot schemes for adoption of private drains
‘The Environment Agency must establish a pilot scheme with the aim of—
(a) auditing all private drains and sewers;
(b) assessing their condition;
(c) estimating the likely cost of adopting all private drains and sewers in 2011, and
(d) estimating the likely cost on customers’ bills.’.
Miss McIntosh: I am glad to move this little group of amendments relating to private drains and sewers. Is the Minister minded to share with the Committee his letter to me dated 30 December 2009 in which he responded to a constituency case about the transfer of private sewers? I want to refer to certain parts of that letter, the particulars of which will be of interest to the Committee.
In the letter the Minister confirmed that on 15 December 2008 the Government announced that the transfer of all private sewers and lateral drains linked to the public sewerage system would take place from 2011. He also said that the transfer was the only comprehensive solution to the range of problems presented by private sewers. We know from the floods in 2007 and previously, that owners are often not made aware of their liability when buying a property, and think it unfair when they end up being held responsible for pipework outside their property boundaries, often in neighbours’ gardens or under highways.
Private sewer and lateral drain owners are well in the majority of sewerage bill payers. The Minister stated in his letter that the Government have always been mindful of the fact that transfer will lead to an increase in customers’ sewerage bills, but that customer research has indicated firm support for the transfer. I want to place on the record our support for the transfer.
The Minister said that about 180,000 km of private sewers and lateral drains connected to the public network benefit from no effective operational regime. He said that the transfer will provide a better planned and more integrated management of the wider sewerage network. What work have the Government undertaken, and what stage has it reached, to enable them to state definitively where the kilometres of private sewers and lateral drains are, and whether they have identified ownership? In the context of the schedule, and particularly this small group of amendments, such information is extremely important, especially since the floods of 2007. I know from the many visits that both I and other hon. Members made what a huge problem this is. The Government have now had sufficient time to be able to tell us definitively where the private sewers and lateral drains are, how many there are, who owns them and who has been maintaining them.
The Minister also states in his letter that the Government’s ongoing work resulted in a further consultation in July 2007, which followed an announcement in February of that year that the Government were proceeding with the transfer. The summary response was published in July 2008. The Minister also states that subject to approval by Parliament of regulations to effect transfer, which will determine the full extent of what is covered, the proposed transfer will apply to all private sewers and lateral drains that drain into the public network, including pumping stations and associated rising mains.
When will the guidance be published? If the transfer is to take place next year, the guidance must be published this year. It would be immensely helpful if the Minister could give us a definitive month rather than just loosely saying spring, summer or autumn.
The Local Government Association rejects the assumptions on the cost of private sewers and supports this amendment, which requires the Minister to review the current expenditure by local authorities on the maintenance of private sewers before the schedule is brought into action.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that local authorities adopting the maintenance of SUDS will be funded in part through this transfer of private sewers to water sewerage companies, thereby alleviating local authorities of the responsibility for investigating and dealing with potential problems. I should like to put it on the record that the Local Government Association rejects the assumption on the costs of private sewers. In its view, the assumptions used by the Department are based on data that is seven years out of date and is garnered from only 12 per cent. of local authorities. Therefore, it does not bear out that the local authorities will have anything like the resources that they need to implement other parts of the Bill.
Therefore, in its assumptions, the Department is creating fundamental weaknesses in the impact assessments and we press the Government urgently to review them.
9.15 am
Amendment 31 requires the Minister to consult persons affected by schedule 3 and publish a report setting out how the adoption and maintenance of drainage systems is to be funded in the long term before the schedule is commenced. The reason for the amendment is that the LGA believes, again, that the model for charging for sustainable urban drainage systems is unfair. DEFRA has stated that the model is time limited and will, in any event, need to be revisited in eight years’ time. Therefore, it is important that the issue is addressed now, not in eight years’ time.
Further, the Bill will create an unfair system for charging for SUDS, which will mean that people connected on SUDS will not pay the drainage charges. That clearly does not follow the “polluter pays” principle to which we are wedded and, I believe, the Government are also firmly attached, and will mean that some residents in the area will be paying drainage while others will not. That must be dealt with. Local government authorities believe that all properties should pay a drainage charge, including those that are drained into sustainable urban drains. That would not be a new burden on property owners because those connected on mains drainage already pay a charge as part of their water bill.
We are seeking to ensure that sustainable funding for sustainable urban drainage systems is in place from the commencement of schedule 3 coming in effect. Without the amendment, the Government run the risk of undermining the implementation of SUDS across the country, because local authorities will legitimately be concerned about simply not having the income stream necessary to maintain these urban drainage systems in the future. The LGA is working with experts on alternative systems and will be happy to meet and work with the Department to create a sustainable funding model.
New clause 11 relates to the fact that it would be pertinent at this time for the Environment Agency to establish a pilot scheme with the aim of auditing all private drains and sewers, assessing their condition, estimating the likely cost of adopting all private drains and sewers in 2009 and estimating the likely cost on customers’ bills. I hope that the Minister will have some regard to the concerns of many of those points and that he will look favourably on my remarks. As I said at the outset, without these amendments, it is simply impossible for us to make good the recommendations contained in the Pitt report.
 
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Prepared 22 January 2010