Written evidence submitted by Hampshire County Council (FLO0024)

 

  1. Are the current national and local governance and co -ordination arrangements for flood and coastal risk management in England effective? 

Recent flood events have proven that emergency response to severe weather events and resultant flooding is, in general, good in England. With co-ordinated responses from all category one responders, the emergency services and armed forces, our residents feel secure that, should the worst happen and their homes flood, they will be in little physical danger.

Hampshire County Council believe that the response from our own Emergency Planning and highways teams, supported by the County Council in its role as Lead Local Flood Authority and in liaison with Bronze, Silver and Gold command from Hampshire emergency services further demonstrate an excellent first response to flood events.

However, this service alone does not prevent houses from flooding or provide residents with a sense of security when their homes are not at immediate risk. There remains a lack of clarity within the co-ordination arrangements for flood and coastal risk management in England which can be confusing for the public and frustrating for the separate Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) involved.

The majority of flood events in the UK are the result of multiple source flooding, involving extreme rainfall causing surface water flooding, exacerbated by rivers bursting their banks. In coastal regions this is often added to by high tides causing further issues. In certain regions, of which Hampshire is one, chalk aquifers, which usually effectively infiltrate water, fill after prolonged rainfall and groundwater begins to emerge, not only adding to surface water flows, but meaning that existing water on the surface cannot drain away and often compromising foul water systems.

Clearer guidance is required to ensure that Risk Management Authorities are assured of which areas of flood risk management, including asset management and maintenance are their responsibility.  Water UK’s recent policy, produced in collaboration with water companies, details how water companies may pass responsibility of assets which appear on their mapping, but whose ownership is disputed, onto the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA). This will obviously create a significant increase in the amount of asset maintenance the LLFAs will need to undertake, with reducing resources. This will in turn increase flood risk from surface water.

The responsibility for investigating and striving to reduce the risk from groundwater flooding lies with LLFAs. This seems unproductive for several reasons:

Where it is clear which RMA has the responsibility over assets and flood risk, for example, the EA’s responsibility for main river flood risk and LLFAs’ responsibility for Ordinary Watercourse flood risk, there is often not sufficient power in current legislation to allow the RMA to enforce riparian maintenance works or removal of blockages etc. This results in riparian owners not undertaking their responsibilities, LLFAs and the EA having to undertake works on their behalf using dwindling resources, and an overall increase in flood risk.

The water companies hold responsibility for the risk from contaminated/foul sewer flooding. Asset wise this is usually more clear-cut as the water companies are the only RMA responsible for foul sewers. However, this situation often leads to discussions regarding either surface water draining into combined sewers causing flooding, or groundwater infiltrating damaged sewer pipes and causing them to surcharge. There is no clear guidance on whose responsibility this is and can lead to work not being done, as infiltration reduction plans or the replacement of combined sewers can be expensive to implement.

The responsibility for investigating and reducing risk from coastal flooding remains with the EA. This works adequately in most areas around Hampshire. However, it must be ensured that sufficient local input from coastal partnerships, local authorities and Regional Flood and Coastal Committees (RFCCs) is sought.

In order to begin to address the co-ordination and effective monitoring of flood risk across England, guidance from central government regarding the collection of flooding data should be issued. This guidance should detail what information should be collected, how the data is stored, in what form and how it should be comparable to other data. Guidance regarding asset management registers and Section 19 reporting is currently minimal at best and LLFAs record differing information at different trigger levels on different assets in different formats.

At present, schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act has not been enacted, and this has led to confusion and lack of clarity on the future management and maintenance of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). Hampshire County Council would therefore recommend that some guidance is given as to who should retain responsibility for this area.  Currently, private management companies are taking on works they do not understand, maintenance agreements are not legally set up, developers move away from site without securing onwards maintenance, private companies go into liquidation etc and flood risk once again increases.

Summary of response to Question 1

 

  1. What lessons can be learned from the recent floods about the way Government and local authorities respond to flooding events? 

More work must be done in advance of events in the areas of strategic planning and co-ordination, including the preparation by each LLFA of individual catchment management plans. These plans should highlight prioritised areas which are at greater flood risk then others in the catchment. This should be based on historic flood risk, vulnerability of residents and the presence of strategic infrastructure. From these plans, more coherent and detailed individual action plans can be worked up to tackle the individual needs of each area.

In Hampshire, a significant amount of flood risk comes from the emergence of groundwater and the filling of aquifers preventing the infiltration of surface water. Groundwater flooding is known to be more difficult to predict than other sources of flooding and is therefore more difficult to control. Methods for preventing groundwater flooding are also more complex and therefore more expensive to implement. This is why the County Council believe it is important to be able to comment on the potential risk of groundwater flooding at the pre-planning and consultee stages of planning applications.

On a more local scale, greater resource should be given to LLFAs to work more closely at community level in their regions. Greater significance and responsibility should be given to locally organised Flood Action Groups (FAGs) with support from their local RMAs and Local Resilience Forums (LRFs). These groups should create emergency response plans detailing trigger levels, information points, vulnerable residents, access and egress points, the purchase and storage of temporary defences for example sand bags.

As discussed in the previous question, the County Council believe that LLFAs and the EA should have stronger powers to ensure riparian owners undertake their responsibilities with regard to maintenance works being undertaken; ordinary watercourse consents applied for and ensuring blockages are removed. These seemingly small measures can make a significant difference to whether or not properties in the area and further upstream are flooded. Unfortunately, all too often, legal advice is that the legislation is not clear enough and LLFAs and the EA end up not pursuing these cases and either have to undertake the works themselves, or it does not get undertaken and flood risk increases. This also demonstrates that the current fee for Ordinary Watercourse Consent, set at £50 in the Land Drainage Act (1991) is completely inadequate and goes no-where near covering the costs incurred by the LLFA in providing this service, this needs to be re-examined, and an appropriately revised increased fee put into place.

More powers should be given to LLFAs to ensure developers provide best practise Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) at planning stages of development. At present there is no statutory technical guidance and a significant percentage of developers are unwilling to incorporate good quality surface water SuDS into their schemes citing a lack of space, expense, lack of clarity on adoption etc.

Lastly, unrealistic expectations from members of the public must be addressed. Some areas, which are low lying or functional flood plain and have historically flooded, will continue to do so. Other areas which may not have flooded in the past, but with significant development and an increase in extreme rain events due to climate change, may begin to flood regularly. In these areas, there may not be action that can be taken which will be cost effective. If this results in the flooding of external areas such as gardens and driveways, residents must be informed that this is not regarded as significant flooding and action may not be taken. Though this is often noted on individual LLFA websites, the message needs to be supported by national guidance.

Summary of response to Question 2

  1. Given the challenge posed by climate change, what should be the Government’s aims and priorities in national flood risk policy, and what level of investment will be required in future in order to achieve this? 

As discussed above, Hampshire County Council strongly believes that more significance should be given to water management and flood risk during the planning stages of development. With increasing knowledge and understanding of the potential (and current) effects of climate change, more links should be made between flood risk reduction, water storage, drought provision and holistic water management. Fresh water needs to be viewed as a resource and should not be pumped directly into the sea when it will be scarce in following months, especially bearing in mind the amount of carbon produced in the filtering and treating of water.

Wider strategic planning should be based on catchments where development can safely occur. Developments in prioritised catchments which are more vulnerable to flood/drought risk, may need to provide larger percentages on top of modelled attenuation/storage areas for surface water, to account for greater potential changes due to climate change.

The County Council believe that the Government should prioritise the production of more detailed and more accurate Risk of Flooding from Surface Water Maps, based upon impermeable development and geology, rather than just the topography of the landscape.

Investment also needs to be made to improve weather forecasting technology to ensure that smaller more intense rainfall events, which are potentially missed at present, are monitored and communities can take adequate measures when required.

With the introduction of the need for water companies to produce Drainage and Wastewater Management Plans (DWMPs) the opportunity should be taken to align the high-level strategic plans of all RMAs and partnership organisations, including the EA, Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) and LLFAs. These plans should provide strategic direction for all organisations with water management responsibilities and should be heavily influenced by climate change resilience and carbon reduction planning.

Coastal damage is going to increase with the continuing onset of the effects of climate change. Updated national guidance for local authorities with regard to coastal development and protection should be a priority for the government to give a clear steer on what will be permitted in coastal areas in the future.

Summary of response to Question 3

  1. How can communities most effectively be involved, and supported, in the policies and decisions that affect them? 

As discussed above, the County Council believe that there should be greater interaction with parish councils and flood action groups when local plans and policies are being finalised. This liaison should offer support to the residents, but also define the parish council’s role in flood risk management and the need for an emergency plan at parish level.

Communities must be made aware of all the resources available to them including LRFs, the Flood Forum, support from Emergency Planning teams, legal information from LLFA websites etc.

Parish Council’s should be encouraged to support local arrangements such as a local lengthsman scheme to keep drainage ditches clear, prevent blockage of gullies and trash screens etc, which can have a significant effect on flood risk.

Summary of response to Question 4

 

  1. With increasing focus on natural flood management measures, how should future agricultural and environmental policies be focussed and integrated with the Government’s wider approach to flood risk? 

Funding should be made available to allow farmers to more easily access and use Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) techniques which take into account the health of local water bodies and potential flood risk to agricultural land. Education and demonstration of simple techniques can radically change the amount of water, chemicals and silt that drains off agricultural land into rivers and ordinary watercourse causing contamination and flood risk.

Incentives for farmers to work with universities and embrace new technologies and fertilisers may lead to a decrease in water contamination from silt and fertilisers.

Incentives could be offered to farmers in upland areas to provide land for tree planting, attenuation areas, offline storage or other natural flood management (NFM) techniques, especially where NFM opportunities mapping has suggested it would be effective. Investigation should also be undertaken to look at the potential for emergency attenuation areas on farming land for use in times of flooding, with suitable compensation for the loss of cropping income.

With regard to water as a resource, farmers are concerned with the potential of drought and lack of water for irrigation as well as flooding. Therefore, priority needs to be given to investigation of potential storage options for water during times of excess. Links should be investigated between the need for development to store water and the need for agricultural land to be irrigated. These links can be worked into tangible plans to help address the effects of climate change.

Summary of response to question 5

 

  1. How can housing and other development be made more resilient to flooding, and what role can be played by measures such as insurance, sustainable drainage and planning policy?

Planning guidance should be provided stating that all homes built in vulnerable zones (flood zones, surface water hot spots, coastal development and groundwater vulnerable zones) should be built to a resilient standard, including storage space only on ground floors, electricity sockets placed higher up on walls, covered air bricks, higher Damp Proof Courses, washable floors, non-return valves fitted on pipes, flood doors, all kitchen units raised off ground etc. This should be extended to landscape and surroundings, to include surface water SuDS including permeable surfacing.

As discussed above, LLFAs require strengthened powers to ensure that effective SuDS are incorporated into new development across England. At present too many developments are ‘slipping through the net’ as the planning authorities and LLFAs feel the legislation is not there to support them through a refusal of planning permission enquiry. Planning policy should be strengthened to avoid this.

Insurance, maintenance and ongoing management of flood alleviation schemes, SuDS and NFM assets is an area of significant concern for RMAs, landowners and developers. More investigation should be undertaken into what assurances can be offered to landowners that responsibility for potential future flood events can be insured against. At present, those with the potential to push NFM schemes forward are often unwilling to commit to them due to a lack of clarity with regard to responsibility.

Summary of response to Question 6