The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 provides the fundamental legislative underpinning for the current flood and water management approaches in England. The majority of its measures have been implemented and we have scrutinised the effectiveness of many key provisions in previous reports, including those establishing the roles and governance of flood risk management bodies. The next Government must act on the recommendations in our Future flood prevention report published in November 2016 to remedy fragmented, inefficient and ineffective approaches to flood prevention. In this inquiry we looked at certain specific provisions in the Act that have either not been commenced or have not been commenced in full, including those relating to sustainable drainage systems, private sewer transfers, reservoir safety, and water customer debt.
Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS)
The commitment to deliver some one million new homes by 2020 must be achieved cost-effectively and without an increase in flood risk. Sustainable drainage systems, which remove surface water through green methods such as infiltrating water through permeable surfaces or storing run-off in ponds and swales, are a key part of the policy solution. SuDS reduce the pressure on conventional drainage, can cost no more to build and maintain, and can have multiple benefits for amenity and the environment. The Government purports to support the use of sustainable drainage but has not commenced provisions set out in Schedule 3 of the Act which would have established a robust policy framework to promote their uptake. Instead the Government has relied on flawed planning policies: these sub-standard SuDS approaches have led to far too few schemes being installed in new developments and too many schemes fail to deliver maximum biodiversity, water quality and amenity benefits.
We considered whether using Schedule 3 provisions would provide the best method of remedying current failings. But there are potential drawbacks to commencing the measures: Ministers, together with many of those submitting evidence, had strong concerns about the potential for delays to development from measures such as the requirement for a SuDS Approval Body to approve drainage systems before planning permission is granted. We therefore do not recommend commencement at this time, but recommend a strengthening of current approaches:
The incoming Government must demonstrate a significant improvement in the numbers and quality of SuDS schemes installed by the end of 2018. Our successor Committee in the next Parliament may wish to reconsider recommending commencement of Schedule 3 provisions if it is not satisfied that sufficient progress has been made by then.
Private sewer transfer: Provisions in section 42 of the Act must be commenced to enable automatic transfer to Water and Sewerage Companies (WaSCs) of private sewers, lateral drains and pumping stations built since July 2011. Failure to do so could lead to an accumulation of sub-standard infrastructure. Furthermore, because measures have not been commenced, those using sewerage systems and pumping stations built since July 2011 unfairly have to bear the costs of operation themselves whilst those using older systems have the costs shared out amongst all of a WaSC’s customers.
Reservoir safety: We support the Government’s current decision to retain the threshold for the application of the Reservoirs Act 1975 to raised reservoirs with a capacity of 25,000 cubic metres or more. However, Defra must provide an update on the findings of its research on lowering the threshold to raised reservoirs with a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres or more. If the Government proposes in future to reduce the threshold, it must set out a full evidence base to justify how this decision balances safety, economic and water management issues.
Water customer debt: Customers are paying on average £21 a year to cover the debts of those who do not pay their water and sewerage bills. With a high proportion of debt attributable to those living in rented properties, voluntary schemes for landlords to share information about tenants with water companies must work more effectively. Should improvements not be secured by the end of 2018, we recommend that our successor Committee consider whether to call for provisions in the Act to be commenced that require landlords to provide tenant information to Water and Sewerage Companies.
25 April 2017