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One of the conclusions is that the automatic right to connect surface water drainage of new developments to the existing sewerage systems should be removed. This automatic right comes from Section 106 of the Water Industry Act 1991, so this part of the legislation will presumably need amending.
The report also highlights the current complex responsibilities for flood risk management and the need for one overarching body to take responsibility. Currently, drainage management is fragmented among a number of bodies that include the Environment Agency, local authorities, water companies, internal drainage boards, the Highways Agency, British Waterways and private watercourse owners. When something goes wrong, it is all too easy for these bodies to point the finger at each other and say that one of the others is responsible. Indeed, the Secretary of State accepts that,
A number of organisations, including the Environment Agency, I believe, supports having one body responsible for all aspects of flood risk.
Incidentally, I understand that the Environment Agency has changed its policy from flood defence to flood risk management. Noble Lords will forgive the pun, but that is a watering down of its resolve in this area. Sir John Harman, the chairman of the Environment Agency, has written a response to the interim review conducted by Sir Michael Pitt stating:
Some recommendations and interim conclusions require action from us in areas that are not covered by our current legal responsibilities.
Urgent review and consolidation of flood risk management legislation will, however, be needed if your recommendations are to be turned into action. Consideration by Government of a new
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Here are just two examples of where the Government will need to amend existing legislation if they are serious about dealing with the risks of flooding.
Chapter 4 of the Pitt review deals with the obvious concerns about the large number of properties currently at risk of flooding95 per cent of Hull is at or below sea leveland the probability of further significant development in flood risk areas. He concludes that there is a need to strengthen and reinforce the provisions of PPS 25 and the building regulations to ensure that flood resistance and resilience measures are fully built into all new developments where necessary. The aim of proposed new subsection (1)(c) is to ensure that the Department for Communities and Local Government works with other departments and bodies to change the rules, regulations and legislation where appropriate, as recommended by the Pitt review as a matter of urgency, and to oblige the HCA to undertake full risk assessments of flooding to any new development. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 51, Amendment No. 51A:
The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to the other amendments included in this group, in which I have three amendments. Amendments Nos. 51A and 53A seek to amend the paragraph in the noble Earls proposed new clause that deals with flooding. However, Amendment No. 51B appears in this group by mistake. We seem to have spent many hours looking at groupings over the past fortnight and I do not know why Amendment No. 51B has been included here. However, it is not the fault of the Government; it is mine. In fact, the issues it covers will be dealt with when we come to the amendments dealing with planning, particularly those tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. Therefore, I shall not speak to Amendment No. 51B at all.
The new clause being proposed by the noble Earl is interesting in that it covers a number of issues. I shall speak to the first two paragraphs briefly before I move on to the flooding business. I entirely support the aims of the first part of the amendment, which deals with local authorities. Clearly, the HCA should consult with and have regard to the views of local authorities. That is vital. If the HCA does not work with local authorities, it will be a recipe for conflict and the system will not work. It will be interesting to hear the Ministers response and whether they think that it worthwhile putting this in the Bill.
The second part of the amendment in relation to gardens and urban green spaces is a bit of a digression. It is more of a digression than was the rural amendment. In most cases, the HCA will not be particularly involved in the details of giving planning permission for what are, by their very nature, small local developments in gardens. There may be larger developments in urban green spaces where people may build, for example, football stadia. Even so, this matter is for local planning authorities. It is for them
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The noble Earl referred to genuine brownfield sites. The issue here is that often, over the past 20 to 30 years, a local authority has demolished a buildinga factory, a mill, an area of dereliction or whateverand has spent money tidying the area up and making it into a pleasant site. Local people now may think that it is a greenfield site because there is grass growing on it and, consequently, that it is green belt, which obviously is not the case. Some sites are genuinely brownfield sites, in the sense that 25 years ago they were railway sidings, the site of an old mill or whatever, which have been regarded as a local amenity patch since then. When a site changes from being brownfield to a green urban space is a matter of judgment. That can pose an interesting question, but these matters should be resolved at the local level and not by the HCA.
Flooding is a much wider issue than just the projects that the HCA will look at, although by their very nature HCA projects will tend to be larger scale and may be therefore of real significance. I was able to take part in a short debate a couple of weeks ago, which was sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, when we were able to go into some of these issues. We have to be very careful not to use phrases like a presumption against all developments on flood plains. Development on flood plains is not necessarily a bad thing, although it can be.
The key words in the noble Earls second amendment are resilient and resistant. Appropriate development can increase the resilience and resistance to flooding or can reduce damage from flooding because it can change the physical arrangements on a flood plain. What matters is whether it is possible to deal with flood risks at all levels; be it a high, medium or low risk. If there are flood risks, the development and the way in which it takes place should deal with those risks in a sensible way.
If you have a choice whether to develop on a flood plain or elsewhere, the odds are that you will not develop on the flood plain, but that does not mean that all development on flood plains is automatically bad just because we are now getting more flooding. The view is gaining ground in this country, especially in some parts of the press, that developing on flood plains is automatically a bad thing. That is not the case. We must develop in a sensible way in sensible places and use that development to manage the hydrological system on the flood plain. That is the purpose of my amendment.
My other amendment merely queries whether the Government really meant to include parish councils, but that is a fairly minor matter, so I shall not pursue
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The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): May I clarify whether the noble Lord has moved Amendments No. 51A and 53A?
Lord Greaves: I have moved the first one, and perhaps the second one if that is what I have to do, as an amendment to the noble Lords amendment.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Let us stick with the first one. Amendment No. 51A has been moved as an amendment to Amendment No. 51. We now need to deal with that amendment before we go back to Amendment No. 51.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: I would like to speak to Amendment No. 51.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We need to deal with the amendment to the amendment first.
Baroness Andrews: I will deal with Amendment No. 51A very briefly, because the noble Lord did not make a great meal of it. It deals with parish councils. I assure him that because parish councils are not planning authorities, they are not implicated in our provision for relationships with authorities.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Will the noble Lord now withdraw his amendment to the amendment?
Lord Greaves: I have to say that I think that this procedure is odd because I thought that we just dealt with the whole group together, but never mind; we will do as we are instructed.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I am also doing what I am instructed to do.
Lord Greaves: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 51A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 51, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: I support the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcartin particular, the first part of it dealing with consultation and taking account of the views of local authorities. Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I think that this should be in the Bill, rather than just a probing amendment.
I shall give the Committee a practical example of how things can go wrong if consultation does not take place. In doing so, I declare an interest as
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The noble Baroness will probably be aware that the proposals to build eco-townsI am really speaking about the Long Marston eco-town in Warwickshirehave attracted strong local resentment and hostility at individual and local authority level. That is for all sorts of reasons, but the one I want to dwell on is the question of consultation raised in the amendment. The original proposal to create 15 new satellite community towns was never properly put out for consultation. The decision was taken without consultation. There was no consultation on the Governments decision to have about five eco-townsthe position in one of their papers in May 2007. In September 2007, again without consultation, that was doubled to 10 eco-towns. There was no consultation on the selection of the 15 eco-towns on what is now called the shortlist, and no reasons were given as to why those 15 towns were chosen above any of the others listed.
More importantly, and directly relevant to this amendment, the Government did not consult the relevant planning authorities or other statutory consultees on whether the selected sites complied with the statutory development plans. That seems absolutely extraordinary, which is why this part of the amendment should be in the Bill; otherwise, the HCA will simply be top-down and do whatever it wants, as covered in one of the earlier amendments.
The noble Baroness may be awareif not, she will be nowthat both the relevant district councils, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Wychaven, voted unanimously about 10 days ago not to put forward for planning approval the proposal for an eco-town at Long Marston, which has been quaintly renamed Middle Quinton. How does that square with the obligations that the Government have set out in various codes of practice, in their statutory requirements and in the Cabinets code of practice on consultation; or with the Secretary of States claim in a press release on 20 May that,
That was the right honourable Caroline Flint.
I am afraid that so far rather the reverse has happened with eco-towns. There has been no transparency and very little consultation. The Government, in their own planning policy paper, PPS 1, have said:
More effective community development is a key element of the Governments planning reforms. This is best achieved where there is early engagement.
We have not had early engagement; we have not any engagement.
Plans should be drawn up with community involvement and present a shared vision and strategy of how the area should develop to achieve more sustainable patterns of development.
That simply has not happened. I can currently speak only for the Middle Quinton development, but I know, having made contact with the subjects of other proposals, that people there feel equally out of the loop on government consultation. They have little information, and no visits from Ministers, to show them the disadvantages of these proposals.
It is important to use this example to support the amendment, because the intentions may well be there but I am afraid that they do not seem to be happening in terms of facts on the ground. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to respond to some of the concerns expressed, in particular about the lack of consultation over these so-called eco-towns.
I also take this opportunity to add my voice to the request of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, on the question of claw-back on the increased value of MoD land. Long Marstonor Middle Quinton, to give it its preferred name by the developersis MoD land. I am sure that if it is developed, there will be a claw-back, but perhaps the noble Baroness could confirm for the record that the Government will get a cash benefit if MoD land is developed for eco-towns. However, is there not the faintest whiff of the banana republic about this? If the Government are going to benefit financially from giving developers planning permission in the teeth of strong local opposition, there is something a little strange about it; I shall not use the term banana republic. It does not resonate terribly well with the people who are involved. With those words, I reiterate my support for the amendment and ask the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, to consider bringing it back on Report so that it is put into the Bill.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I thoroughly support the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Cathcart, and I should like to add one footnote. The year 2000 may be the first instance of the term brownfield being used in legislation or guidance, but it has an older pedigree in strategic and tactical debate. I recall that many years before 2000 a firm was established in my constituency which published a regular newsletter called the Catalyst and offered site-soil analysis services as a preface to planning and site use. Brownfield was very much part of the jargon even then.
I support absolutely what my noble friend and others have said about gardens. There is an element of coincidence in that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, who unusually is not in his place, was in another era the Member of Parliament for Stratford-upon-Avon. Although my noble friend Lord Cathcart alluded to gardens in a rural capacity, however one places Stratford-upon-Avon in that regard, my understanding is that the gardens issue is wholly live there. In what is an iconic town, the deleterious effect
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On flooding, my former neighbour, the retired disabled agricultural labourer to whom I alluded earlier and who was the oldest person in our hamlet who had been born there, said of a private housing development two villages away that, Theyll rue the day. Theres always been flooding there, and of course they have. The opportunity cost of maintaining ancient rural knowledge and country lore through the disappearance of farm labourers is worth a parody or even a threnody of Thomas Hardy or AE Housmans A Shropshire Lad. At the other end of the spectrum from my retired disabled agricultural labourer neighbour, I recall the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is normally the soul of geniality and good sense, having one of his rare sense-of-humour failures when on one occasion yet another noble Lord raised the flood risks in the Thames Gateway, where so much housing development has been contemplated and where there does seem to be an element of perversity on which I am sure the Minister will be able to set our minds at rest.
The professional advice on the flood risk, however, seems to be pretty comprehensive. I see a virtue in the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on the subject of floodplains. Amendment No. 77 is a happy antidote to the gardens problem already described. Moreover, in an era of climate change, it is a potential stimulus to the employment expansion of the expertise to which I referred in the initiative in my former constituency.
Finally, I turn to the caveats that the Minister, Caroline Flint, expressed, to which my noble friend alluded. I think that I am at this moment the only person in the Committee who has served in the other place. The noble Lords, Lord Graham and Lord Howarth, have and they have contributed to other parts of the debate. But there is no moment that a constituency Member of Parliament dreads more than when you are having a meeting on a contentious issue and a person at the back, who almost certainly you recognise, raises the one question that you do not want raised. At a meeting which was reasonably placid until that moment, you can watch the infection run contagiously the whole way around the room. Therefore, if the Minister, Miss Flint, has given the assurances she has, all I that I can say is that I hope that she is not too often on the platform when the disagreeable question is asked.
Lord Dixon-Smith: Perhaps I may throw one more thought into this discussion on which the Minister may care to comment. Over the years, we have had a progressive tightening of housing densities. In the good old, bad old days when life was civilised, when I first began in local government, and my noble friend first began in the business of government in the other place, 10 houses per acre was considered to be high-density development. But now, the standard has been raised to 50 houses per hectare, which is 20 houses per acre, which gives rise to a lot of the pressures and reactions that we are hearing about.
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Baroness Andrews: This has been a long, complex debate because the amendment addressed three different but related issues. First, I shall turn to consultation and then address back gardens, green spaces and flooding. I made it clear at Second ReadingI do not think that Members of the Committee are in any doubt about our sinceritythat there is no way in which the Homes and Communities Agency will achieve its very ambitious, necessary targets if it does not work in partnership with local authorities. We have made absolutely clear that this is a condition of its success. Sir Bob Kerslake, who addressed us and sat in on one of the sessions, is committed to making a success of it, because he is a very sensible man.
The words of the amendment that the HCA will,
go without saying. Without that commitment, it will not be able to do its job. It is the key delivery partner and it would not be effective if it did not do that. In the vast majority of cases it will be dealing with in its relationships with social housing providers and local authorities, it will work through informal consultation as part of that partnership.
The questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, have been specific and about a specific set of circumstances. I appreciate that they have taken the opportunity to raise them now. I shall try to reassure Members of the Committee. I have listened closely to the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. I sincerely believeI said this yesterday in the Chamber in response to a Questionthat the concept of an eco-town is extremely significant and is not like anything we have done before.
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