Written evidence submitted by Witham and Humber Drainage Boards (FLO0007)

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Written evidence submitted by Witham and Humber Drainage Boards (FLO0007) Summary and objective

Recent events have brought the challenges of managing flood risk back to national attention, and climate change means these events are likely to become more frequent. Building on the previous Committee’s interim report on coastal flooding and adaptation to climate change, this inquiry would focus on the Government’s approach to managing the risk of inland flooding in England.

The inquiry will also consider evidence received and questions raised during the coastal flooding inquiry.

Terms of reference

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

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

3. 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?

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

5. 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?

6. 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?

House of Commons EFRA Committee Floods Inquiry

Terms of reference– Consultation Response to Questions 1-6.

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

This response is submitted on behalf of the 4 Internal Drainage Boards which work in a voluntary partnership under S11 of the Flood & Water Management Act [2010] collectively known as ‘Witham & Humber Drainage Boards’, but retaining their independent status as 4 separate and local Land Drainage, Water Levels and Flood Risk Management Authorities [i.e. North East Lindsey IDB, Upper Witham IDB, Witham First District IDB and Witham Third District IDB]. The 4 IDBs are 4 of 112 IDBs nationally.

Structurally, since the Pitt Review [2007] following extensive heavy rainfall events and flooding, there has been considerable clarification and improvement nationally and locally in governance responsibilities for water and flood risk management in what may appear to the public as a ‘crowded land scape’. The Flood & Water Management Act [2010] assisted with this and the introduction nationally of Lead Local Flood Authorities [LLFAs] and the requirement for the LLFAs to produce a JOINT Strategic Plan supports a coordinated and joint approach to water levels and flood risk management [indeed to the management of water from all sources – be that tidal inundation, fluvial, surface water or ground water]. In Lincolnshire for 3 of the 4 IDBs here this means the LLFA responsibility sits with Lincolnshire County Council and the second iteration of a Joint Strategy was approved in February 2020, having been developed in a collegiate way using the well-established partnership architecture of the Lincolnshire Flood Risk Management & Drainage Partnership [which includes representation from, for example, the Upper Tier Authority in

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Lincolnshire County Council, the 7 District Councils, the Environment Agency, relevant Water Company representation like Anglian Water Services, Local Resilience Forum input for emergency planning, voluntary sector input via the Canal & Rivers Trust etc]. For our North East Lindsey IDB, the Board relates to two Unitary Authorities, namely North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council. The Board is a full member of North Lincolnshire Council’s Flood Risk Management Board.

Under the leadership of the Environment Agency, the IDBs are linked into the Anglian [Northern] RFCC structure which is the IDB mechanism for accessing Grant in Aid funding for significant capital schemes. It is helpful that local scheme sign-off thresholds have been raised to £250,000 but undoubtedly for small-scale public bodies like IDBs, the current Partnership Funding calculator mechanism is complex and bureaucratic for accessing minor improvement schemes at catchment scale, which is where IDB schemes are focused. Many of the circa 60 Pumping Stations in the 4 Boards’ drainage districts protect prime agricultural land, indeed these were schemes developed post-WW2 in recognition of the need to meet increased food production targets. Whilst the IDBs maintain these Pumping Stations and other flood defense structures, some are now reaching the end of their life-cycle and the current funding mechanism which awards points and grant in aid monies largely in line with number of properties better flood protected does very little to recognise the value of prime agricultural land and its economic value to achieve food production targets. Unless the scope of this funding formula is broadened there is a very real risk that existing and ageing flood defense assets will not be adequately maintained in the medium term. In short, whilst IDBs understand the investment in flood protection via RFCCs and the emphasis on better protecting homes, there is a need for increased investment to wider criteria including protection of agricultural land and agri-business. We would also highlight the differences in national policy approach between the UK and, say, the Netherlands. Listening to the Delta Commissioner present in February 2020 there is more emphasis on flood prevention in the Netherlands’ national policy than in the UK, where we appear to be more reactive to flood events [which is evidently not a cost effective way of managing flood risk] and also now placing policy emphasis on flood resilience rather than prevention.. There also appears to be longer-term planning in the Netherlands, with a 14-year Delta Plan, which provides better planning and investment certainty. The Delta Commissioner is obliged to account annually for progress on implementation of the Plan and Report to Parliament, which arguably keeps national focus upon and accountability for Flood Risk Management. A similar focus should be considered for the UK. There are also publicly published ‘Standards of Protection’ in the Netherlands, reviewed every 6 years. The UK should consider committing to defined national standards of flood protection and investing in such which we suspect would bring comfort to may communities adversely affected by Autumn 2019 and early 2020 flood events.

Turning to our local flood risk management and the adequacy or otherwise of this:

On balance yes, these arrangements are adequate within the national constraints just outlined. The reason for this is based on the availability of technically competent and experienced officers as well as the strength of the local voluntary partnership arrangements for flood risk management in Lincolnshire.

The 4 IDBs do not see justification for an additional administrative tier or governance at a RFCC level with the creation of, say, a Lincolnshire Rivers Authority akin to the separate precepting body established in Somerset as the Somerset Rivers Authority [which may suit the partnership architecture in Somerset]. The bodies already involved like the RFCC, LLFA, EA, DCs, Water Companies, IDBs etc contain enough local representation with the presence of appointed members supported by technical officers form the FRMAs. Adding

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another layer of governance or administration will only spread resource more thinly, increase bureaucracy and potentially increase administrative costs.

With respect to the local response to a high rainfall or tidal event:

At times yes, the arrangements for emergency response and then recovery are adequate. This is especially so when the various criteria/thresholds are met and local Emergency Planning LRF architecture invokes TCG/SCG. This system works well for the organisations involved. Indeed, for the type of rainfall or tidal inundation event incident being managed it can provide a clear line of responsibility and accountability. In the heat of an event, it is important that stakeholder expectations are reasonable and informed, based on evidence. In Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, IDBs are involved in the response phase and management of a high rainfall event, tidal/coastal event, and where appropriate, pollution incidents. This is a good thing and should be encouraged as the Boards provide a sizeable portion of the operational and management of land drainage and flood risk management within the County of Greater Lincolnshire, outside of the main river system maintained by the Environment Agency, and in such events very local knowledge is imperative.

However, the effectiveness of the incident response system is diminished by several local factors:

i) During times of LRF event activation, the TCG is resource hungry, with little flexibility for involvement. If you sign-up as an organisation [or group of organisations as are the IDBs, honorary cat 2 responders] you are expected to comply with all the systems requirements and procedures. During flood events this is very difficult for small public bodies such as IDBs as their very limited resources are required to ensure the Boards’ core functions are maintained. Therefore, the Lincolnshire Boards operate a system of mutual aid and assistance [e.g. the home Board may therefore maintain the operational presence within their own drainage district and another Board not as affected by the incident will staff the County Emergency Centre].

ii) There is an expectation from other, larger public bodies that an IDB will have similar processes and systems as they are able to resource. An IDB does not have such levels of flexibility available to it. The available resources are provided and developed to serve the needs of the Drainage Rates and Special Levy payers within an IDB’s drainage district on a routine operational basis. It is very difficult for a Board to provide a system that can gear up to a major flood event, maintaining this system and then operating it 24/7 for sustained periods of time. It would be argued that this was not the best use of IDB resources. It is not the one heavy rainfall event, for example, which causes undue pressure but like 2019 the series of heavy rainfall events which for our IDBs started on 08.06.19 and continued as a series of intermittent heavy rainfall events through into early 2020. This really tested capacity and sustainability, both operationally and financially [e.g. the very high electricity costs incurred at circa 60 Pumping Stations where we had pumps running for many more hours than is usually the case in an ‘average year’].

iii) In the sphere of land drainage and flood risk management, the need for and benefit of river catchment management in a drainage district and its extended rainfall catchment area is crucial. During an incidence response phase, knowledge of an area and local expertise is required. In the drainage, water levels management and flood risk management industry, there are few shortcuts and reliance upon computer-based graphics and databases, or spreadsheets is insufficient. Daily, IDB

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rate payers [occupiers of land in the drainage district] and professional partners expect sound, technically correct answers to questions and the proper management and operation of the 4 Boards’ maintained systems. During an event, everyone expects this.

iv) One significant lesson to learn from Autumn 2019 is that a series of heavy rainfall events, rather than one significant event, can be challenging to deal with and difficult to sustain capacity. In Lincolnshire, for example, the LRF Gold Command declared a formal ‘emergency’ situation for only a short period of days in November 2019 [other than in response to the June 2019 Wainfleet bank breach event] and this has a number of impacts, some unintended. So, for example, a number of our 4 Boards incurred third party costs due to the consequences of failures of EA maintained main river systems [river bank breaches, overtopping and significant bank seepage], but in the absence of a declared formal emergency situation, the usual reimbursement mechanisms for costs incurred, notably the Bellwin claim formula via a local Council, were not available for costs reimbursement. For 3 of the 4 Boards here this amounted to over £200,000 of costs. The Committee is asked to give consideration to introduction of a direct reimbursement claim mechanism for smaller public bodies like IDBs.

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

The high rainfall events that occurred within Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire between June 2019 and January 2020 were severe and chronic in nature and pattern. In many ways, they were unlike any experienced before, certainly within the drainage districts the IDBs serve and within the last 40 years.

Planning for future events:

i. Any investments made by central or local Government to review or improve systems to respond to events should not be simple, single financial capital or one-off injections of cash. Any system that is created or commissioned needs to be maintained to ensure its proper operation or relevance during a future event. This will take a commitment to provide monies ad infinitum to those expected to provide this service or response in future events. In short, the UK needs not to invest merely in assets, but it needs to invest in the maintenance of assets.

ii. Many of the systems and policy/procedures FRMs operate are based on the premise that a ‘flood event’ is a relatively short distinct event, usually not exceeding two weeks in duration, having an effect upon a distinct catchment. The period considered here lasted for 10 months and contained numerous high rainfall events. Catchments experienced 10 specific records of rainfall over 20mm during that time [of which 3 were over 50mm in a 24 hours period]. Rivers and drainage systems did not always return to their ‘normal retention’ levels between these events and so previous designed thresholds, lead-in times and levels were often irrelevant.

Month 20mm / 24hr 50mm / 24hr Month total

May 2019 1 0 73mm June 3 2 167mm July 0 0 42mm August 2 0 94mm September 1 0 104mm October 2 0 110mm

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November 2 1 173mm December 0 0 66mm January 2020 0 0 38mm February 1 0 102mm Monthly Average 97mm / 3.8 inches

iii. The management and operation of the drainage systems throughout a catchment needs to be reviewed to reflect the potential change in weather and rainfall patterns. Many [nearly all] of the systems IDBs operate were designed to fairly simple design criteria with the information and guidelines that were available in the 1960’s and 1970’s. IDBs may not start from there if undertaking those designs today. The designs would be much more sophisticated and nuanced, reflecting the potential for the effects of climate during the expected lifetime of a scheme.

iv. There are LLFAs that now have relatively new responsibilities and expectations placed upon them. These authorities may not have the skills and experience to meet the demands placed upon them by the legislation and their professional FRM partners. Local authorities cannot create experienced workforces overnight and without the investment needed to recruit and retain them.

After an event:

i. There is a balance, or compromise, between the needs of the IDB organisation daily, and its ability to respond to extreme events. Smaller FRMAs require the clear guidance and forecast of Government or Environment Agency, to enable them to plan. If the forecast changes in sea levels, rainfall patterns or its distribution or frequency, then these forecasts will enable IDBs to ensure they have sufficient resources to respond. ii. More joint exercise between the FRMAs concerned would provide many benefits and

ease the tension between them in TCG and in the field.

iii. Threshold for the financial assistance to respond to an event. 2019/20 illustrated the need for more appropriate criteria against which an event could be considered an ‘emergency’. For events to almost bankrupt a public authority and yet not be considered an emergency is not sensible.

iv. Clarity in what a particular authority will do in response to calls from the public. Recent changes to responsibilities under the FRMA 2010 have meant that lower tier authorities have taken a step back, whilst upper tier authorities have not picked up all the expectations of the public, or fully appreciated the requirements of the Act in terms of resource or knowledge required.

v. The range and content of any review held. Section 19 type reviews or investigations are quite limited with regard IDBs and the problems that were illustrated recently. There is a need for more long-range planning and strategic thinking as to what is the future for the vast tracks of low-lying fen lands drain for the purposes of agriculture over the last 2-300 years. IDBs were created out of necessity and local needs and they continue to work well providing a service deemed appropriate by the local representatives. Should the land use then change, if it is thought agriculture is not economically viable, then the nature, and funding, of the Boards needs to change. There would be some fundamental changes to local economies should agriculture wither.

3. 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?

Firstly, a decision needs to be made as to what you want to achieve. With respect to W&HIDB’s, do you want to maintain the man-made drainage system that allows much of

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the land within the 4drainage districts to be occupied by residential / industrial properties and businesses that include important utility infrastructure? [Business includes agriculture as this is a commercial activity that generates not just food security for the nation but taxable income].

Current events [Covid-19 pandemic] may have persuaded those within Defra that having a robust supply of food grown within the UK is not just important but necessary for the continued food security of the nation. Where do you want this food to come from within the UK? If land occupied by drainage districts is considered important for the generation of this food supply, then it needs an infrastructure to maintain, operate and protect it. It will be a cost/ benefit appraisal exercise. Other European countries have demonstrated that should the country decide it wants to provide a lower risk of flooding to this type of land then it is technically feasible. UK Engineers are more than capable of providing this standard of protection if there is a political will to publish standards of protection.

The lower reach of the River Witham is a perfect example of the investment of public monies to do just this from the 1930’s onwards, up to the 1980’s. From then onwards capital investment moved away from such areas towards more urban areas; a not un-reasonable plan as more housing was built in areas at risk from flooding and they need protecting. However, monies available for the maintenance of this investment were also removed from allocations made by central Government to the National Rivers Authority and its successor the Environment Agency. This has ensured, thanks to the gradual deterioration of the condition of these main river systems, that the benefits upon which the investment of public money was justified, have not been realized for the full duration of the schemes existence. The desired and designed standard of protection envisaged by our predecessors could have been maintained for the duration of the scheme, and the financial benefit realized, but arguably the capital investment has been wasted through poor and non-existent maintenance.

The lower River Witham does not provide the standard of protection it was designed to provide through poor maintenance. Witness the photo of a maintained main river system:

The lower River Witham system was not designed to accommodate large trees in countless locations throughout the system. There are hundreds of similar examples throughout the main river system within the drainage districts in which the 4 IDBs operate. This causes real pressure from landowners and Councils who regard this as inadequate maintenance of assets for the conveyance of water.

The level of financial investment will need to be significant, and there will be two elements to it.

Initially, assuming the decision has been made that it is beneficial to continue occupation of the area, the original design profile of the main river system must be reinstated. The

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reinstatement of the original design standard of protection will require the removal of all obstructions within the system and to ensure all control structures operate as designed. How quickly you want to change national policy is linked to how quickly politicians want to reduce the risk of flooding to a national asset and source of national income.

Secondly, the decision must be made as to whether the existing standard of protection is appropriate, or the risk of flooding needs to be reduced. To reduce the risk of flooding then both capital and revenue investment is required to provide and maintain it into the future. But whatever it costs, it will be cheaper, and perhaps more realistic, than expecting to be able to purchase all the food necessary from third parties in other parts of the world. Or to leave the alternative, continued investment in the high cost of flood incident response and recovery some of which is attributable to inadequate planned preventive maintenance.

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

Currently IDBs involve the local community, by being led by the local community. Their membership is made up of volunteers from those who occupy land and nominees from local authorities. IDBs undertake work that is deemed appropriate by the local community, both capital and revenue. Improvement schemes that will see the status quo change do need to reflect the needs of the local community and there are already well-established methods and processes of seeking the views of local communities. The degree of involvement may depend on the nature of any proposed changes.

For example, if the Defra policy is that the drainage districts are not worthwhile protecting then seeking the views of the thousands of residential and business owners affected will not be a problem. The views of those affected will be provided quite readily.

Where only some will be affected because of an improvement scheme, then the wider publication of the options available will be required. Moving people and businesses will require compensation or a financial scheme that allows people to relocate or amend their businesses. Some landowners and occupiers may become part of the solution, and so long as a living can be made, they may well embrace the opportunity, and this may make their futures more secure than trying to maintain the status quo.

Any changes to the existing local arrangements would need to demonstrate benefit over and above the existing. Drainage districts formed over many years as a direct result of local needs. When catchments were small, relying on gravity outfalls and pumps capable of only small lifts, then groups of Commissioners were many and very local. But as technology improved the capacities of pumps and structures then the drainage districts themselves increased in size. Today we may have reached the zenith of Board size, as a Board covers a larger geographical area, then there is a loss of local knowledge and accountability. 5. With increasing focus on natural flood management measures, how should future

agricultural and environmental policies be focused and integrated with the Government’s wider approachto flood risk?

There is not one size that fits all. ‘Natural flood management measures’ can be employed in certain catchments where there is a gradient, flood plain and little that will come to harm in flood water. For most of the land within a drainage district this is not the case. All pumped catchments are manmade, and they were created for an economical reason, to grow food that can be sold to others, for profit. Agriculture is a business. There appears to be a misunderstanding that watercourses are there to be used as an ecological reserve. They are there for the conveyance of water, to drain the adjacent land and protect the adjacent business and residential properties. The Romans started it the fens areas like Lincolnshire, we are just continuing what was thought worthwhile until the 1990’s. You

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cannot just change the purpose of an engineered structure [which is what the lower River Witham system is]. If you want to change its purpose, then you have to re-design it.

A large majority of the complaints and problems experienced by Boards and riparian owners, especially during high rainfall events, are caused by the criteria against which the maintenance of main river is measured and justified. Virtually all main river systems designed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s were provided purely for land drainage and flood risk management. During the intervening 50 years additional demands and aims have been applied that are completely inappropriate, if you expect them to continue to do what they were originally designed to do [e.g. competing demands of navigation and recreation]. A trapezoidal channel designed to take a design flow, will not be able to perform as it needs to if it is altered by the inclusion of vegetation or should you amend its channel geometry. This is especially true in Lincolnshire’s flat, low gradient, gravity systems. As soon as you introduce, or allow, the presence of a single tree or bush, you cannot achieve your desired standard of protection. The problems this causes were demonstrated in several locations through our 4 drainage districts over the last 8 months. Therefore, IDBs cut a lot of grass and channel vegetation; the channels were designed to be smooth and regular; trees, bushes and long grass are not smooth and regular.

If the districts are to be retained to allow the continued business of food production. Then the systems put there to protect and serve them, need to be maintained in their original condition, at least.

This standard of protection can be achieved through less trapezoidal methods, but the systems will need to be redesigned to accommodate these amendments. ADA has had a handbook advising how to do this, to provide good channel maintenance.

If the Defra/Treasury guidance valued the adjacent land, these capital/revenue schemes can be created. There will be a cost though, not just financial, but also in the loss of productive land and this will be part of the scheme cost/ benefit calculation on a greater scale than a single project.

How important will the loss of productive land be when placed against the creation of habitat. How valuable, in an ecological sense, would these margins or parcels of land be. Those are policy decisions which need debate and resolution.

6. 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?

IDBs start from a policy perspective of advising Local Planning Authorities not to continue building houses, or anything else susceptible to flood water, in areas you know will flood. You then stop building things that will divert flood water into areas where the houses and businesses are already.

Insurance: these companies can speed up this process by not insuring new properties that are in areas identified to be within the blue bit of a flood map [like zone 1], surface water flood map or at risk of known areas of ground water flooding.

They can require policy holders to spend their payout on flood prevention measures proven to reduce the physical damage to an existing property, signing off proposed specifications/programmes of work.

Sustainable Drainage: as a concept is to be welcomed as it relies on more softer measures to provide drainage to developed areas. These systems contain fewer hard engineered structures that need regular maintenance and ultimate replacement. However, the question

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of maintenance remains as this activity needs to be undertaken by an appropriately competent and funded authority; this competent authority may not be a ‘management company’ and this we see as a real risk area for the future

Planning Policy: is the foundation upon which all improvements are to be founded. The allocation of land is to be appropriate and the strict adherence to district or unitary authority boundaries need to the abandoned where it can be demonstrated to be short sighted and illogical [City of Lincoln, NKDC, WLDC housing quota for example]. Where the only land available to a local authority to build upon is known to be at risk from flooding, do not keep requiring them to build houses upon it.

If a planning authority allocates land in areas known to flood, or is protected by a raised defense that will fail at some point in the future, then all buildings should be built to be resilient from the point of design, not after the first flood event at the cost of the individuals insurance companies. This should be at the cost of the developer, if not the insurers should refuse to provide insurance or make it appropriately expensive.

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