Supplementary written evidence submitted by the Environment Agency
Responses to outstanding questions from the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
1. The Cabinet Office is the overall departmental lead for the resilience of CNI. What engagement have you had with the Cabinet Office on the forthcoming Resilience Strategy?
The Environment Agency (EA) engages with the Cabinet Office on a range of issues, including the development of the forthcoming UK Resilience Strategy. In particular, the EA has participated in a number of Cabinet Office meetings focused on key aspects of the Resilience Strategy and we worked closely with the Cabinet Office to help develop the questions within the Resilience Strategy call for evidence. We will seek to increase this engagement with Cabinet Office as they move closer to publication of the Strategy.
Our own response to the Resilience Strategy call for evidence made the following points:
as a nation we should explicitly plan to be resilient to Catastrophic Emergencies and use the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) Planning Assumptions to shape the necessary capabilities, preparation, and response;
investment in incident management and resilience activities should be put on a secure long-term footing for Category 1 and 2 responders, including the EA.
2. Does your lead department host a forum for operators and/or regulators to discuss climate resilience specifically?
Defra attends the practitioner-led Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum, which was initiated by the EA and for which the EA is co-secretariat. This forum brings together operators, regulators, trade bodies and relevant government departments across a range of infrastructure sectors including water, energy and transport, to share learning and best practice on adaptation.
The forum works towards infrastructure assets being resilient to today’s natural hazards and prepared for future climate. It aims to do this by:
The EA also leads various forums working in partnership with industry and other regulators to develop strategies, best practice and guidance on climate change adaptation in sectors that we regulate and which include CNI. For example, we currently co-chair the Chemicals and Down Stream Oil Industries Forum working group on Climate Change Adaptation and Natural Hazard Triggering Technological Disasters. We also sit on the Nuclear Industry Liaison Group (a forum for the environmental regulators in England, Scotland and Wales, and the nuclear operating companies) and the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Expert Panel on Natural Hazards.
3. The Environment Agency’s written evidence references an ‘Infrastructure Steering Group’, which wasn’t referred to in the Government’s evidence. What more can you tell us about this group?
The Cabinet Office Infrastructure Steering Group (ISG) aims to address the complex and interdependent delivery issues which have affected major infrastructure projects and programmes in the government’s portfolio in recent years. It does this by:
The ISG has also recently committed to including the three interlocking priorities of climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and the natural environment as a key focus of all its discussions.
The group is chaired by Alex Chisholm (Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary for the Cabinet Office) and brings together senior officials and non-executive directors from relevant ‘infrastructure departments’. It was originally set up with a focus on transport projects but has expanded its focus to defence, environment and social infrastructure. The ISG plays a key role in ensuring departments work closely with industry to address challenges in the sector, and make collaborative decisions to maximise opportunities. With the record levels of infrastructure investment confirmed in the 2021 Budget and Spending Review, the ISG also has a role to play in driving progress on the government’s agenda to build back better.
4. Numerous witnesses have suggested that the Government should play a stronger role in addressing interdependencies between CNI sectors. What specifically do you think the Government should be doing differently?
It is vital that infrastructure planning and delivery is not done in isolation but considered in an integrated way. We need a holistic and systems-based approach to infrastructure and resilience across all government departments and better integration across infrastructure sectors. Adaptation and resilience measures should be embedded into all publicly and privately funded projects in the national infrastructure pipeline, from the point of design.
There could be a role for government to coordinate or mandate the relationships between connected or proximate infrastructure, especially where there are interdependencies and the potential for cascading risks or where one operator may create or increase risks for others. Understanding the potential risk and cascade effects at a local level and across infrastructure sectors is essential and needs leadership and strong governance. In the USA the National Infrastructure Protection Plan coordinates critical infrastructure and key resource protection efforts across the country and between public and private sectors. The UK does not have a corresponding mechanism to coordinate national infrastructure climate resilience and local adaptation measures.
The EA is working on a pathfinder project with BEIS to ensure that thinking on environmental constraints, including the need to strengthen resilience to climate impacts, is factored into the development of net zero industrial clusters. We hope that learning from this can be embedded into plans for the deployment of net zero technology. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is also engaged in a Regulators Pioneers Fund initiative to create an Industrial Net Zero Regulatory Hub that fully embraces climate resilience, in line with ISO 14090, which we are supporting.
Ministers could choose to make more strategic use of existing powers to direct operators to report on climate risks under the Climate Change Act (‘adaptation reporting power’). Paragraph 61(1)(c) specifically empowers ministers to direct reporting bodies to cooperate with each other in preparing reports and paragraph 62 empowers ministers to require them to report jointly. These powers have not been exercised yet but could be used to require operators to jointly assess their interdependent climate risks and produce joint plans to manage them.
Government could also require all regulators with interests in CNI sectors to co-ordinate their regulatory duties with the aim of minimising environmental risks and maximising the resilience of sectors. This could be achieved by amendments to, for example, the regulators’ code or the growth duty statutory guidance.
5. What is your understanding of the CNI Knowledge Base currently under development by the Government?
The EA has no direct involvement in the CNI Knowledge Base which is currently under development.
6. To what extent, if at all, does the Government engage or consult you on the development of the National Security Risk Assessment?
a) Do you have sight of the NSRA?
b) If not, do you find the National Risk Register a useful tool?
In addition to direct engagement with the Cabinet Office as described above, the EA also engages with other departments and regulators to support activities such as the completion of the NSRA 2022, which involves updating the scenarios for key industrial accident risks. This collaborative engagement ensures risk assessments are holistic and support appropriate strategies. Improved joint working of groups of bodies on an ongoing basis would further reinforce the outcomes from this work.
EA employees with a legitimate business need for information in the NSRA have access to this via Resilience Direct, which is a private online network used by emergency planners and responders. The EA uses the NSRA Planning Assumptions for individual hazards relevant to the EA to inform our interpretation of risk to our organisational activity as well as in our role as a responder.
Whilst the National Risk Register, which is the publicly available version of the NSRA, does not include the information necessary for our detailed emergency planning, it is a useful reference document for those involved in incident management but who do not require access to the NSRA Planning Assumptions.
7. You also kindly offered to provide further information on the manner in which you allocate flood defence funding, including the balance between urban and rural areas.
The government’s partnership funding policy was introduced in 2011 following the recommendations of Sir Michael Pitts’ review of widespread flooding in 2007. It provides a standardised formula that enables different types of flood and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) schemes to be assessed on a common basis; the amount of funding a scheme can attract mostly depends on the flood risk benefits to properties. Where the government funding (FCERM Grant in Aid) available to a scheme does not cover its full cost, it will need to be ‘topped up’ through partnership funding from others, such as local businesses, for it to go ahead.
More information about the government’s partnership funding policy can be found here:
Working with Defra, we have recently updated the partnership funding rules to support schemes in attracting FCERM Grant in Aid. This includes changes to support surface water schemes, account for climate change and recognise the mental health impacts of flooding. Defra has also held a call for evidence on how it can strengthen the assessment of local circumstances, such as where areas have flooded on multiple occasions, when allocating FCERM Grant in Aid.
The FCERM capital investment programme is built up of projects which are developed by local authorities and internal drainage boards as well as the EA; and Regional Flood and Coastal Committees play a key role in making local choices and agreeing the final programmes in their areas. We do not classify FCERM investment based on whether it benefits urban or rural communities and cannot provide a balance between urban and rural areas, but we know this investment protects hundreds of thousands of properties in coastal, rural and urban areas.
The £2.6 billion 2015-21 capital investment programme better protected more than 300,000 homes from flooding, including more than 46,000 homes in deprived areas. The programme also reduced the risk of flooding to nearly 230,000 acres of agricultural land, 570 kilometres of railway and 8,600 kilometres of motorways, roads and local streets along with thousands of businesses and major pieces of infrastructure. It also included £1 billion investment in coastal erosion and sea flooding schemes. The current 6-year programme to invest £5.2 billion in flood and coastal erosion risk management schemes started in April 2021. This new capital programme will ensure that hundreds of thousands of homes and non-residential properties, such as businesses, schools and hospitals, are better protected from flooding and coastal erosion.
18 March 2022