Four reactions to EFRA Committee report   

Bob Earll 

The scale of the events: In the face of three major winter storm – flood events in 2012, 2013-14 and 2015-16 – billion pound storms – MPs clearly felt the need to speak out. These events are becoming almost normal and they are characterised not by just one storm-flood event but a number in close succession lasting weeks and months. No agency is to blame for these events although it has been tempting for politicians such as Eric Pickles and opportunists like Dieter Helm to do so. These complex storm – flood events are happening, perhaps they are a new normal, but the reality is that they have found us wanting in terms of our organisational responses. 

Responding the scale of the events and the post event issues   What you do when these events are happening is vitally important and we clearly haven’t been well prepared for this as the Pitt Review highlighted. The Environment Agency was never set up to handle major post event operations but the speed and skill with which they have mobilised their staff from all over the country to the affected areas has been commendable. Few other organisations have the staff, capacity or skill to respond. The Government’s inertia, such as on SuDS, championed by Oliver Letwin was one of problems, so Theresa May’s announcement (see below) belatedly recognises the use of the army is to be welcomed. This move reflects the scale of what is required as part of the ‘normalising’ of standard response to these, now frequent, events. 

Governance and catchments   I recently had the frustrating experience of sitting through a video of Dieter Helm talking about his ideas for catchments. The major problem with these is that there is no catchment Governance mechanism, and the audience would have relished telling him this had he deigned to attend. Providing catchment governance would be a legislative nightmare (we already have one of these – Brexit) since so many stakeholder boundaries are involved. The Environment Agency have the remit for the water cycle across the catchments and a beefed up version (more cash) would help facilitate whole catchment solutions covering all the water land use issues – not just flooding. On this subject the committee have got their ideas very confused as a number of commentators highlight below. 

Theresa May announces that the army are on alert for major flood events in the coming winter.

CLA warns against MPs’ recommendation for new national flooding authority

The CLA is warning that MPs’ proposal to create a new national flooding authority is a backward step to improving how rural land is used to help prevent flooding. The CLA, which represents 32,000 landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales, makes this warning in response to the Future flood prevention report published on 2 November by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. 

Blueprint for Water – NGO Coalition Changing the status quo – will it reduce the flood risk? Simon Wightman RSPB The EFRA Committee report into future flood prevention offers a challenging vision after the damp squib of the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review. It distils a wide range of evidence into a set of pertinent challenges. Headlines will inevitably focus on the proposal to dismantle and rebuild current flood management governance and delivery bodies but the report contains recommendations that have the potential to make a lasting impact on how we approach flood risk management in England. 

Facilitating a whole catchment approach

The Committee recognises that we need an approach to catchment management that considers how to reduce flood risk alongside providing a resilient supply of clean water and a healthy environment. The risk is that, by removing the flood management function from the Environment Agency and the Lead Local Flood Authority role from county and unitary authorities, you take responsibility from bodies with a broad remit to consider a full range of environmental services to create new structures with a much narrower remit. How will this help us to achieve a joined up approach to catchment management that delivers the best outcomes for society in the most cost effective way?

The counter argument is, as the Committee suggests, that combining the full range of catchment management functions into one structure risks flood management not getting the attention it deserves or the size of the challenge results in other functions getting squeezed out. Of course there is a great deal to recommend in the Environment Agency being able to focus on its critical role as the environmental regulator, without getting swamped by the magnitude of the flood risk management role (a similar approach was recently proposed by Dieter Helm) so perhaps it is at the higher strategic level that we need to make sure we don’t lose the join up. Certainly, how well it brings together the multiple outcomes we need from our land management and recognises the opportunity for synergies will be a key test of the Government’s 25 year environment plan. To read more click here.

National Trust response Future flood prevention – our response to the Efra Committee’s report

Today the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published its report on future flood prevention. Here our water expert, Dr Stewart Clarke, takes a look at its findings in the context of our own work on water management. As part of the Blueprint for Water coalition, we’ve called for more joined up management of water and as such would like reassurance that the proposed new model and creation of an English Rivers and Coastal Authority would not be a backward step. It is important that water management is seen in the round, after all floods and drought can both be better managed by careful management of soil, water storage and wetland management. Our work at Holnicote shows that managing for flood risk also has benefits for water quality.

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