109.Surface water flooding happens when rainfall overwhelms local drainage capacity. The quality of data about surface water flood risk, and a lack of clarity on responsibility for drainage, are long-running issues. The Climate Change Committee said in 2019 that “inadequate progress has been made” on managing increasing surface water flood risk, noting that “the plans that do exist do not consider different climate change scenarios”, and that there are no plans which ensure that new development does not increase overall vulnerability to surface water flooding. CIWEM told us that funding had recently been made available to model surface water risk, but this was “based on improving national mapping with set thresholds, rather than understanding how catchments behave and identifying the level of local risk”. We also heard suggestions that a lack of maintenance or upgrading of drainage infrastructure may be exacerbating flooding risks from surface and foul water.
110.A key obstacle to effectively addressing surface water flood risk is a lack of data on the capacity of drainage systems, and whether they can safely take additional volume. The NIC’s James Richardson told us that data on drainage assets is owned by local authorities and water companies, and that better data being made available would allow bodies such as the NIC to make recommendations for future solutions. The Government’s Surface Water Management Action Plan, published in July 2018, includes a number of actions around sharing data on surface water. The Government’s July 2020 flooding policy statement committed to publishing a progress update on the Surface Water Management Action Plan by spring 2021.
111.It is essential that work is done to improve understanding of the scale of surface water flood risk at a national and local level. In particular, we are concerned to hear evidence of surface and foul water flooding caused or exacerbated by the failure to adequately maintain drainage systems. It is difficult to determine the scale of this risk due to the lack of centralised information on the capacity of sewer systems. The Government should quantify the surface water element of its overall ambition for flood resilience. In its update on the Surface Water Management Action Plan, it should also explain how it will improve the collection and sharing of data on drainage and sewerage capacity.
112.We have heard recommendations for deeper co-operation between water companies and other risk management authorities. Doncaster Council called for “stronger leadership across the RMAs to engender the partnership approach ethos of the 2010 Flood & Water Management Act”, going beyond the relationship between the Environment Agency and local authorities to include local water companies and Internal Drainage Boards. The National Infrastructure Commission recommended in 2018 that “water companies and local authorities should work together to publish joint plans to manage surface water flood risk”. The Environment Bill currently before Parliament would place a statutory duty on sewerage undertakers to produce Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans (DSMPs). Defra told us that DSMPs would “provide a consistent basis for planning across the water sector, enabling companies to target investment on drainage and wastewater more effectively”.
113.Water companies have already been working toward producing “Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans” (DWMPs), and Water UK told us that the Bill’s introduction of DSMPs therefore “only places obligations on water companies to do something they are in fact already doing”, and do not reflect that “drainage is a shared responsibility”. Defra’s evidence to our inquiry acknowledged that the development of DSMPs would “require engagement and involvement from other Flood Risk Management Authorities”. Hampshire County Council likewise said that drainage planning presents an opportunity to “align the high-level strategic plans of all RMAs and partnership organisations”, providing “strategic direction for all organisations with water management responsibilities”.
114.One specific example of potential synergies between flood risk and water resource management is the use of reservoirs in floodwater storage. Several submissions called for water companies to make greater use of reservoirs as part of integrated water management, and this was also raised in our roundtable discussion with flood risk community groups. Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan told us that the EA has an arrangement with Northumbrian Water relating to the Kielder Water reservoir, and that “we are talking to other water companies about whether we can replicate that arrangement elsewhere”.
115.Water and sewerage companies have an important role to play in managing flood risk and we welcome moves to put drainage planning by companies on a statutory footing. It will be necessary for other Risk Management Authorities and owners of drainage assets to be involved in preparing and maintaining these plans. The Government should explain how the statutory provisions for water company Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans will ensure appropriate co-operation and consultation with other Risk Management Authorities and owners of drainage assets.
116.One way in which surface water risks in new developments can be managed is through the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). These are designed to control run-off close to where it falls and to mimic natural drainage as closely as possible. Practical examples include soakaways (draining water through permeable surfaces into the ground) and ponds (draining water into a surface water body). SuDS can also provide other environmental benefits, such as reducing water pollution and improving amenity and biodiversity.
117.Many of the submissions we received supported the use of SuDS where appropriate. Water UK’s Rob Wesley said that “we should aim to have as little as possible and ideally no more surface water entering sewers than at present”. However, Water UK told us in its written evidence that the current “more or less absolute right” of new developments to connect surface water to the public sewer contradicts the Government’s policy aim of encouraging SuDS. This right exists under Section 106 of the Water Industry Act 1991, and individual water companies have also advocated its modification due to concerns about the capacity of the public sewer system to take surface water.
118.The automatic right to connect would have been removed by Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. Under Schedule 3, all construction work which has “drainage implications” would need approval from the local authority (as a “SuDS approval body”) that its drainage system met national standards for sustainable drainage before connecting to the public sewer. The Schedule came into effect in Wales, following commencement by Welsh Ministers, in January 2019, but it has never been commenced in relation to England.
119.For England, the UK Government has instead focussed on using national planning policy to further the installation of SuDS. The current National Planning Policy Framework states that all major developments, and all development in flood risk areas, should only be allowed if it incorporates sustainable drainage systems, “unless there is clear evidence that this would be inappropriate”. The previous EFRA Committee, in its 2017 report on Post-legislative scrutiny of the Flood and Water Management Act, concluded that “we are not persuaded that it is currently essential to commence Schedule 3”. However, it recommended that the Government “strengthens planning approaches to require SuDS schemes to be installed in all developments of more than one property”, and that if progress in improving the SuDS regime was insufficient, it would be appropriate for a successor Committee “to consider recommending commencement of Schedule 3 measures”.
120.Several submitters to our inquiry said that Schedule 3 should now be commenced for England, including the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee. Water UK’s Rob Wesley said that ten years of the Government taking a different approach “cannot be regarded as a particularly successful ten years”. Water UK told us in written evidence that “the scheme of the legislation is still seen by our members to be the right approach for the country”, although it cautioned that “the detail would need to be reconsidered”, and Rob Wesley also said that if the Government was “not minded” to commence Schedule 3, it could at least remove the automatic right to connect, and “introduce mandatory adoption [ … ] to give confidence that SuDS will both be built and be built to appropriate standards”.
121.An independent review of surface water management conducted by David Jenkins was published in August 2020. It recommended that “the case be re-examined for bringing into effect Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act of 2010, or some equivalent mandatory arrangements”. The review also recommended that Defra “re-examine the working of Section 106” of the Water Industry Act, to ensure that the sewerage system is not “subjected to unnecessary flood risk through the connection of surface water drainage”. The LGA said that it had not called for Schedule 3 to be commenced because of the potential new burden but, it would “consider this issue again” in the light of the Jenkins review.
122.The Secretary of State told us the Government had taken the view that Schedule 3 “does not help that much, in that it creates a whole new load of processes and regulatory procedures in addition to what is there”. He said that “the current system is working reasonably well”. David Cooper, Deputy Director of Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management at Defra, likewise told us that the planning system is “driving outcomes in terms of better surface water management and SuDS”, referring to a 2018 review which found that “90% of planning applications had SUDS in them”. However, it is not clear that these SuDS features are of high quality and provide additional environmental benefits. Professor Richard Dawson, of the Climate Change Committee’s Adaptation Committee, told us that current data on SuDS is “very coarse level”, so that “we have a rough idea of the percentage of new developments that have SuDS”, but not necessarily whether they are “just, say, plastic tanks underground or whether they are actually multifunctional green space SuDS that provide additional co-benefits to the public realm”.
123.While the uptake of sustainable drainage systems has improved in recent years, we are concerned that the installation of high-quality SuDS features delivering multiple environmental benefits may still be insufficiently incentivised. The evidence we have received clearly shows that the non-statutory approach to promoting SuDS, coupled with the persistence of the automatic right to connect surface water drainage to the public sewer, is not working. The Government has not adequately explained why it believes the commencement of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which is widely supported, is the wrong approach, and we consider that the case should be re-examined. The Government, as part of its ambitious plans to manage flood risk, should commit to ending the automatic right to connect to the public sewer, and consult on measures to improve the uptake of high-quality SuDS features. This consultation must include a legislative option, commencing Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 or making equivalent statutory provision, along with a commitment to further consultation with local authorities on any new burdens arising from this.
124.In addition to SuDS for new developments, we also received evidence about retrofitting of SuDS in existing properties, and potential for integrated water management approaches such as rainwater harvesting. Water UK told us that rainwater harvesting improves water efficiency and reduces flood risk. The NFU also noted that “simple measures such as grey water recycling and water butts can all help”. Blueprint for Water’s Ali Morse told us that, in the future, there will be an increasing need to look at rainwater harvesting in the context of pressures on water resources. She also highlighted the potential for water companies’ Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans to prioritise locations for the retrofitting of SuDS in existing developments.
126.There has been much focus in recent years on measures collectively termed Natural Flood Management (NFM). The Secretary of State said in February 2020 that “our new, independent agricultural system will give farmers a big part to play, by encouraging land management that supports flood management”. These seek to reduce the risk of flooding by harnessing natural processes. Examples of NFM measures include:
In addition to their role in managing flood risk, NFM measures can often provide various other environmental benefits, such as improving biodiversity through habitat restoration, as well as mitigating the impacts of insufficient rainfall by supporting the “recharge” of aquifers.
127.It has been stressed to us that NFM ought to be considered alongside other measures, as part of a catchment-wide approach. CIWEM told us that NFM has a “key role” to play in managing “lower intensity and higher frequency” flooding, but that it will not be effective on its own against extreme floods. Inappropriate use of NFM interventions could even exacerbate flooding, with academics at the University of Hull telling us that measures could “synchronis[e]” flood peaks from different tributaries to a watercourse if not properly deployed. The NFU said that “NFM must sit within a robustly evidenced catchment-wide flood mitigation plan”, accounting for local environmental and economic conditions.
128.While much of the evidence we received supported the use of NFM measures where appropriate, there is a question over whether NFM measures to be delivered by farmers would better be funded from the FCERM programme, or under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which proposes to pay land managers for delivering a range of “public goods”. Most of the evidence for our inquiry was submitted before the Government published an update on ELM in November 2020. The NFU argued that the funding for ELM “will be limited, given the many demands”, and that schemes with NFM as the “sole outcome” should continue to be funded through the FCERM budget. NFU Environment Forum member Richard Bramley also told us that “if you start to pull in a lot of funding that would normally have come from a flooding background and start to dump that on to ELMs, you risk there being quite a shortfall”. However, the NFU did acknowledge that “short-term, more ephemeral measures” like soil management would be suited to certain components of ELM. CIWEM told us that long-term measures should be funded from the FCERM budget “to ensure their long-term viability”.
129.There are various other environmental policies and initiatives which have potential synergies with flood risk management and catchment planning. CIWEM suggested that catchment partnerships under the existing Catchment Based Approach are “an effective way to ensure a joined-up view of water and land use with water catchments”, involving farmers, risk management authorities, conservation NGOs, businesses and a range of other partners. Ali Morse highlighted the Nature Recovery Network outlined in the 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims at providing “500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat”, as helping to ensure that flood risk measures are not “conceived and undertaken in isolation” but are planned in the context of wider catchment management. Other potentially relevant policies include the upcoming Tree and Peat Strategies.
130.The Secretary of State echoed the calls for a catchment-based approach, telling us that “if you are going to pay farmers to flood you have to have the right sites that work for that catchment”. When we asked how landowners within a catchment could be brought together within ELM (which will be a voluntary scheme), the Secretary of State explained that, through Local Nature Recovery (the second component of ELM), the Government is “looking at ways to encourage and incentivise collaboration between farmers” but also noted that, in the case of flooding, “it would have to be linked to a catchment management plan that the Environment Agency would ultimately have to have a view on”.
131.Working with natural processes is an important part of a holistic approach to flood risk management. There are several initiatives that could serve as delivery vehicles for natural flood management, including the new Environmental Land Management scheme, and a catchment-based approach requires join-up between these policies to ensure that natural flood management interventions are appropriately targeted and incentivised. We recommend that the Government should scale up natural flood management, whilst ensuring that the measures are appropriate to local conditions and form part of a catchment-based approach. The new Environmental Land Management scheme provides an opportunity to do this.
132.It is clear that initiatives to increase the uptake of natural flood management measures will depend on farmers and land managers having confidence that they will be effectively supported. The NFU told us that Risk Management Authorities’ work with farmers and landowners should ensure “early engagement, safeguarding productive farmland, reasonable annualised or event-based payments, and long-term strategic planning”, and that incentives need to go “beyond the simple calculation of income forgone given the public goods that will be delivered”. Aside from the upfront capital investment, there are also questions about ongoing maintenance of, and liability for, NFM schemes. The NFU told us that existing schemes like Countryside Stewardship provided no cover for liability, so that if an NFM feature were to fail and flood risk downstream were increased, the liability would fall to the farmer as the riparian landowner. The EA’s John Curtin also acknowledged the questions around maintenance, and said that ELM provides “a vehicle to pay for the maintenance of these natural solutions”.
133.We also received some evidence that the confidence of farmers in entering into environmental schemes may have been dented by previous experience. Following the flooding over the winter of 2019–20, the NFU told us that it had challenged the Government over a decision to exclude land deemed to be washlands (areas of land adjacent to rivers which flood at times when river levels are high) from the Farming Recovery Fund (which provides assistance with certain uninsurable repair costs). Richard Bramley said that “withdraw[ing] payment for public good at the first opportunity” would “completely and utterly undermin[e] the direction of travel” of a payment for public goods policy.
134.The Government has been clear that paying farmers for measures such as floodwater storage forms a key part of its plans. Any measures which call on farmers and land managers to allow their land to be used in this way must ensure proper recognition for the public goods provided. The Government should ensure that natural flood management schemes will involve farmers and land managers at every stage of identifying, designing and implementing a scheme. The Government should also ensure that land managers are paid appropriately for the public goods provided, and that financial assistance and technical advice for long-term maintenance are provided. Any scheme must also include clarity on liability should a flood occur.
237 Adaptation Committee of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) ()
238 Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management ()
239 Caterham Flood Action Group (); Cllr Dr Erica Lewis ()
242 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (July 2018)
243 HM Government, (July 2020), p 23
244 Doncaster Council ()
245 National Infrastructure Commission, (July 2018), p 92
246 , Clause 78 [Bill 220 (2019–21)]
247 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (), para 1.9
248 Water UK () para 4.2. Water UK has also highlighted the distinction between “Sewerage” and “Wastewater”, and has called for the Bill to use the latter. See Water UK, , accessed 26 January 2021
249 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (), para 1.9
250 Hampshire County Council ()
251 The Keswick Flood Action Group (); West Yorkshire Combined Authority (); see also Annex.
253 Susdrain, and , accessed 26 January 2021
255 Water UK ()
256 Anglian Water Services (); United Utilities ()
257 Flood and Water Management Act 2010,
258 . The Schedule was commenced for the purpose of making subordinate legislation (in Wales) in May 2018, and for all remaining purposes in January 2019.
259 National Planning Policy Framework, , February 2019, paras 163–165
260 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth report of session 2016–17, (April 2017) HC 990, para 19
261 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth report of session 2016–17, (April 2017) HC 990, paras 19, 39
262 Adaptation Committee of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) ()
264 Water UK ();
265 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, ‘’ (May 2020). The report was published on GOV.UK on 26 August 2020.
266 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, ‘’ (May 2020), p 8
267 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, ‘’ (May 2020), p 8
268 Local Government Association ()
273 Water UK ()
274 The National Farmers Union () para 46
277 , speech by Rt Hon George Eustice MP, 26 February 2020
278 Natural mitigation of flood risk, , Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, May 2020
279 Natural mitigation of flood risk, , Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, May 2020; Ali Morse, Acting Chair of Blueprint for Water ()
280 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management () para 55
281 Dr Kate Smith (Researcher at Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull) ()
282 The National Farmers Union () para 6
283 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (November 2020)
284 The National Farmers Union () para 7
286 The National Farmers Union () para 51
287 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management () para 52
288 The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management () para 53
289 Ali Morse, Acting Chair of Blueprint for Water (); HM Government, (January 2018), p 58
290 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (June 2020); “Coverage on government’s progress to ban peat burning”, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , 21 September 2020
293 The National Farmers Union () para 53
294 The National Farmers Union () para 23
296 ; The National Farmers Union () para 12