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Floor 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


[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Flood and Water Management Bill

Schedule 3

Sustainable Drainage
Amendment proposed (this day): 151, in schedule 3, page 52, leave out lines 19 and 20 and insert—
‘(1) The Minister shall by order provide for the enforcement of—
(a) the requirement for approval in paragraph 7(1); and
(b) the duty to maintain in paragraph 21.’.—(Miss McIntosh.)
1 pm
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 155, in schedule 3, page 54, line 36, leave out ‘becomes responsible for maintaining’ and insert
‘shall be under a duty to maintain’.
New clause 13—Ownership and maintenance of sustainable urban drainage systems
‘It shall be stated which body has to be responsible for—
(a) the ownership, and
(b) maintenance of sustainable urban drainage systems.’.
New clause 21—Transfer of sustainable urban drainage systems
‘The Secretary of State may make provision for the transfer of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems to water and sewerage companies.’.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Huw Irranca-Davies): I welcome you to the Chair, Lady Winterton. I look forward to serving under your stewardship on this final and very important sitting of this well supported Bill.
I was making my concluding remarks, and I simply wanted to say that the Bill itself provides 100 per cent. clarity on the arrangements for approval and adoption of sustainable drainage systems in new developments—ones that have not yet been built. Unitary and county local authorities will be SuDS approving bodies, and they will be responsible for both functions. Those with responsibility for adopting and maintaining SuDS should also lead on approving their design and construction. That will mean that robust, well designed SuDS that can be efficiently and effectively maintained are built.
The SAB, which is also responsible for surface water and is lead local flood authority, will consider the wider impacts of the development. County and unitary authorities will be responsible for approving drainage systems in new developments. Where planning permission is required, the developer can apply via the planning authority to streamline the process, but the decision on drainage lies with the SAB and it will be guided by the national standards, which will set out connection to the sewer as a last resort.
Water and sewerage companies, as well as the Environment Agency, are statutory consultees to the approving process. Let me be clear: the process holds significant weight. The SAB is liable for approving any SuDS application. As a result, it will be subject to judicial review proceedings should it fail to discharge its duties. It is clearly strongly in the interests of the approving body to consult effectively and listen to the advice of the water company regarding sewer capacity. However, it must equally be emphasised that water and sewerage companies are under a general duty to provide, maintain and extend the public sewerage system in their areas.
County and unitary authorities are also responsible for adopting and maintaining new SuDS that serve more than one property. Where those SuDS are in roads, the Highways Authority will maintain them. SuDS are also located at county and unitary level. Developers welcome that as it sets out clear arrangements for maintenance and provides an incentive for SuDS to be built, which is what we all want to see.
Let me quickly pick up on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby. In Scotland, the water company is state-owned, but here they are private. In Scotland the arrangements are more fragmented, with local authorities adopting SuDS in roads, and Scottish Water adopting other SuDS and so on. This measure is much clearer.
Returning to the Bill, arrangements have also been made to protect private SuDS by way of designation under schedule 1, and enforcement arrangements are provided for in schedule 3. Under the Bill, the SAB can also adopt existing SuDS voluntarily. Such arrangements for approval and adoption are very clear; they cover all types of new SuDS and are all already set out in the Bill.
Let me add some further clarity on adoption functions in order to address the view of some—but not all—water companies that they should adopt and maintain SuDS, and to address concerns about who is accountable. If flooding occurs because a SuDS that the local authority has adopted has not been maintained properly, the local authority will be responsible. It will have failed in its duty, and—I hope this does not happen—it could be sued if damages are caused through negligence. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent unitary and county local authorities, in their role as SABs, from transferring their adoption functions to water and sewerage companies by agreement should they choose to do so, and that may happen. The SAB would retain responsibility and liability for the SuDS, and that is right. However, arrangements for funding in that respect would need to be agreed.
The Bill also makes provision for the Minister to appoint, by order, a body other than the unitary or county council to be the SAB under sub-paragraphs (3) to (5) of paragraph 6 of schedule 3. We have spoken to the water industry and both it and we are content that the spirit of what it wants can be delivered via the guidance on the process of seeking and maintaining approval, which is the subject of Government amendment 159, accepted this morning. The same applies to the following group of amendments. We are content that the spirit of what is wanted can be delivered via the guidance. We will speak to the industry between now and consideration on Report, so that if there are any residual issues, amendments can be tabled on Report. The water industry will be involved in the development of the guidance. As statutory consultees to the SuDS approval process set out in the Bill, the SAB must take notice of the advice of water companies. I will clarify in guidance exactly what that means.
With those reassurances and clarifications, I hope that the hon. Member for Vale of York will consider withdrawing the amendment.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I warmly welcome you to the Chair, Lady Winterton. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. As the Minister said, this is the last lap of the Committee stage, so it is a particularly important sitting.
Unfortunately, the Minister has not satisfied us on many aspects. Immediately before lunch, he referred to his letter of 19 January relating to SuDS and the automatic right to connect. In particular, we have concerns over new developments. On the second page, the letter states that it is already open to planning authorities to impose a planning condition deferring development or, ultimately, to refuse consent for a new development.
Water and sewerage companies should be recognised as statutory consultees on the same basis as the Environment Agency. They should be able to set conditions to avoid the outfall from SuDS into the sewerage system causing spillage, as was described by the hon. Member for City of Durham and other hon. Members. I want the companies to be able to say that the capacity required for a new development requires changes to the infrastructure, and for those changes to take place as part of the planning conditions. Everybody I have spoken to informs me that under the current provisions, what the Minister is assuring us will happen will not happen.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I want simply to reiterate my commitment that, subject to discussions with the water industry next Tuesday, I will come back and give time should the hon. Lady or other hon. Members think amendments are needed subsequently. The water industry should be able to indicate whether it is reassured or not.
Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful. As we learned this morning, the problem is that the Government’s track record on issuing guidance is woeful. We are still waiting for the guidance to be issued on the adoption of private drains and sewers. We are told that that is on target to be brought in by 2011.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): On a point of order, Lady Winterton. Can we confirm whether it would be in order to table on Report amendments similar to those we are discussing?
The Chairman: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that would be entirely in order. Of course, I cannot give an undertaking about the selection of such amendments.
Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful.
The Minister’s letter and remarks show that we are still in a bit of a muddle on this matter, and we seek clarification in the Bill. We do not want water and sewerage companies just to be consulted on guidance, but for the guidance to stipulate that they will set conditions. Can the Minister give us a commitment in Committee that water and sewerage companies will be in a position to set conditions, so that they can advise the planning body—the SAB? That goes to the heart of the Bill. I believe that the developer and the owners of the new houses on a major new development should pay. Any costs that arise from works to the infrastructure owned by the water and sewerage companies—because of the potential for surface water relating to the major new development to come into the sewerage system—should under no circumstances fall to existing customers. Is the Minister prepared to put that commitment on record? He shakes his head, so I am afraid that he does not satisfy us.
Furthermore, the Minister just said that the arrangements for funding the SuDS approval body have yet to be agreed. He has gained a great deal of celebrity and popularity during the Committee’s proceedings, and I hope that he is not now playing us for fools. Why should we let this part of the Bill go without an assurance about what the funding will be and who will provide it? He knows that the so-called SuDS approving bodies, namely local authorities, have made representations at every opportunity, saying that they do not have the necessary funds.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I say only that I have made my commitment clear and outlined what we intend to do about the whole range of funding burdens. Will the hon. Lady make it clear that, if she were in my post after a general election, she would honour those commitments? With those assurances, local authorities, water companies and others would have to have faith in Ministers to fulfil the commitments.
Miss McIntosh: To which commitment is the Minister specifically referring?
Huw Irranca-Davies: We have committed to considering the whole range of burdens—SuDS, sewers, skills, training, capacity and so on—and to sitting down formally with the Local Government Association and others to decide the way forward.
Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friends will hear me make this commitment: my understanding is that we are totally committed to doing that. We forced the Minister to this point by saying that if he were not prepared to introduce the Bill, we would introduce it as an emergency measure if our positions changed. We are seeking his assurance now so that water company customers know that they will not pay, that there will not be an extra charge on the local council tax and that the new developers will pick up the bill.
Another point of difference is that we believe that the SuDS approval body is not best placed to maintain SuDS once they have been approved.
I do not wish to detain the Committee further. I simply wish to press the amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.
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