On 18 November 2009 the Flood and Water Management Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech to be included in the legislative programme for the 5th session of Parliament. The Bill received its first Reading on 19 November. In parallel the Flood Risk Regualtions 2009 were laid in Parliament. These transpose the EU Floods Directive. Taken together the Bill and Regualtions provide for a more integrated approach to the management of flood risk.

The Flood and Water Management Bill is seen by many as a positive step towards updating ageing flood, coastal erosion and reservoir safety legislation. The Bill and Regulations will hopefully fill the present gap in responsibility relating to local flood risks, and in particular surface water management.

The Bill can be viewed on the Parliament UK website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmbills/009/10009.i-ii.html

Parliamentary Progress

The Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 15 December where there was general cross party support.

Committee Stage began on 7 January with oral evidence sessions. Representatives from the Environment Agency, Local Government Association Environment Board, Local Government Flood Forum, and the Centre for Local Sustainability at the Local Government Information Unit) gave evidence

During the formal Committee Stage, where the Bill was scrutinised clause by clause, the Committee highlighted several key themes.

  • The theme of a landscape-scale approach, and the need for catchment-wide holistic solutions.
  • Concerns about the vertical versus horizontal split, with some members suggesting that Local Authorities should have responsibility for all flood risks at a local level.
  • The need for a clear ‘buck stops here’ responsibility on the Environment Agency – including suggestions that there should be more leadership from the Environment Agency with the power to investigate and enforce.
  • The role of landowners and farmers in flood risk management and greater recognition of this in local strategies.
  • Mechanisms for appeal against Environment Agency decisions.
  • Concerns over how much control the Environment Agency would have over private property designated as ‘third party assets’.
  • The need for ‘better, faster’ flood warnings.
  • Maintenance reporting by the Environment Agency.
  • The cost of implementing the Bill for Local Authorities, particularly for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDs).
  • The definition of SUDs.
  • Ensuring commercial confidentiality for water companies and their role relating to SUDs.
  • Ending the automatic right to connect surface water drainage for new developments to public sewers.
  • Whether the proposed new capacity threshold of 10,000m3 for the reservoir safety provisions is too low. See our 2008 Post-Incident Report for examples of recent incidents http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/sectors/37218.aspx
  • The need for provisions dealing with social tariffs and bad debt in relation to water charging, and for a Sustainable Development duty on Ofwat.

The only amendments, bar one, to make it through Committee stage were Government amendments and these were mostly technical, although several Opposition amendments were pushed to a vote. The one exception to this was an amendment put down by John Grogan MP on Clause 23: “The Agency may not implement the regional programme without the consent of the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee for the region concerned”. The Government will decide during the Report Stage on 2 February if it will accept the amendment. There will be further opportunities for Government and MPs and Peers to propose amendments in the next Parliamentary stages.

The Remaining Stages in the House of Commons (Report and Third Reading) will take place on 2 February. The Bill will then pass to the Lords for First Reading. Although there are no dates yet, it is anticipate that Second Reading in the Lords will be around the week commencing 22 February.

Future Legislation

The Bill presently in Parliament is much shorter than the draft version which was published for consultation in April 2009. It is hoped that Government will bring forward further legislation as soon as possible covering the other flood risk and water resources topics that were set out in the draft Bill, but not included in the current Bill. The future legislation should make provision for:

  • Water resources – time limiting of abstraction licences and provisions to implement the recommendations of the Cave and Walker Reviews;
  • Main River Mapping- with a proposal to make main river maps more widely available to the public as set out in the draft Bill;
  • A Statutory Coastal Map – the present Bill will give Environment Agency concurrent coast protection powers with local authorities and a map would ensure that responsibility for each section of the coast was clearly demarcated in statute;
  • Updating of consenting and enforcement provisions in accordance with the principles of modern regulationtatutory nuisance provisions for surface water run-off and property-owner liability;
  • A duty on caravan and campsite owners to prepare a flood evacuation plan and warn residents in the event of flooding.