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The Jubilee River story - Learning lessons from the 2007 floods

Learning lessons from the 2007 floods – interim report of the independent, “Pitt”, review – personal comments by Tom Crossett


My comments focus on policy issues and are based upon my involvement strategic public engagement in communities that have been flooded since 2000 but did nit suffer badly in the summer of 2007 ;

A “level playing field “ is needed for distributing resources between the main elements of the flood management package – paras 1,2 & 21

Decision makers should be better supported in their efforts to determine appropriate precaution in flood management and development planning having regard to uncertainties about valuation of economic, social and environmental factors and climate change and its effects on flood probability – paras 3 – 4

PPS 25 should be strengthened. Better transitional arrangements are needed if we are to avoid inappropriate development before essential information has been obtained - paras 5 – 14

Planning decisions should be rigorously enforced - para 16

Training of, and collaboration between, planning authorities in flood risk areas should be encouraged – paras 15 & 16.

Access to insurance should be improved and criteria for insurance of new developments should be respected– paras 18 & 23

Better information on the effectiveness of flood resiliencies needed to inform investment decisions by householders, businesses and developers– para 19

A classification of flood warnings is needed to improve operational effectiveness – para 24

The case for strategic public engagement as a means of promoting an holistic approach to flood risk management should be considered. Particular should be given to communities at risk of low probability high consequence flooding but without recent flood experience – paras 25 - 32



I make these comments on the basis of experience gained between 2001 and 2008 while working with communities that had been recently flooded and lecturing on flood risk management [1]. The communities that I was working with during the summer of 2007 fortunately did not experience catastrophic flooding. However their experience of major floods and recovery since 2000 is relevant to the national picture, particularly since the Review looks forward to “adaptation over a generation”. I welcome the Review’s recognition of the scale and complexity of the problem that we face and broadly support all recommendations and interim conclusions. My personal comments therefore amplify or qualify a few of the review’s recommendations and interim conclusions and highlight a couple of issues that I do not think have received sufficient attention yet.

Strong leadership from government.

1.      IC1 Supported. Government should lead and but delegate the detail of policy development and delivery, as it is doing. The review should confirm that there is a “level playing field” for delegation. The Environment Agency, under the direction of its Board appears to many to be much better equipped for the hierarchical approach than local authorities and others who are responsible for delivery. Since managing the consequences of flooding, surface water management and are responsible for ensuring appropriate development of the flood plain are likely to become relatively more important in flood risk management the review should ensure that plans and proposals for revision of EA responsibilities meet new needs.

2.      There is also need for a “level playing field” for resource allocation. The Review should give more consideration to two key aspects of resource allocation;

2.1.  Outcome measures that fully reflect the importance of non-structural measures in flood risk management. The Thames Flood Forum was concerned that the output measures that have recently been adopted by DEFRA were biased towards engineered flood defences. The Forums arguments in support of its position are posted in Paper 70 on its website. [2] Recent Environment Agency expenditure plans show this bias. A research project is underway that should provide methods for evaluating non-structural measures in flood risk management [3] but it will take some time to produce results. Meanwhile there is a risk that essential maintenance work and initiatives that would help communities to live with flooding and flood risk will be unfairly starved of cash. The Review should ensure that current DEFRA output measures do not bias resource allocation against non-structural measures for flood risk management.

2.2.  Alternative funding streams for flood risk management. Two of the key points that emerged from Foresight  the were;

- It is almost always cost effective to reduce flood risk.

- Flood risk reduction is usually more effective if it is embedded in multi objective projects.

Given the shortfall in grant in aid to operating authorities in relation to flood risk management needs it is vital that constraints on alternative funding streams should be relaxed. The Thames Flood Forum is concerned that the £200 million needed for the engineered component of the Lower Thames Strategy will not be available from Government grant in aid to the Environment Agency for many years if at all. It is therefore exploring opportunities for alternative funding streams linked to development and regeneration. The point was recognised in the DEFRA Making Space for Water Review and may be helped by recent changes in planning law. However, overall, progress remains painfully slow. Particular attention should be given to regeneration and well being funding. The Review should consider further opportunities for widening the funding base for flood risk management. 

Contribution of science


3.      IC 3 – 6 Supported. As the Interim report stresses the extent and impacts of climate change are and will remain uncertain, although UKCIP08 will bring further clarification. The problem is severe and at this stage there should be a reconsideration of fundamentals. Predictions of flood probability are central to strategy, plans and resource allocation. During the summer floods a senior Met Office scientist questioned whether past climate was still a reliable indicator of the future[4]. The review should explore further with the Met Office and insurers the possibility that a central plank in the policy framework is not sound. The aim should be to secure better guidance to stakeholders on how they should establish appropriate levels of precaution in relation to economic, social and environmental objectives.  The “exploration” should be linked to development of the UKCIP 08 scenarios.


4.      As the review also recognises many models and data sets are already in use for strategic and tactical purposes, eg CFMPs, and SMPs, Flood management strategies, SFRAs and specific projects and planning applications. Given the complexity of underlying science and variation in data sets it is hardly surprising that results are sometimes hard to reconcile, as is the case in Lewes. A key part of the EA role should be identification of preferred approaches and standardisation of quality assurance protocols. Particular attention should given to avoiding waste and duplication eg in relation to depth velocity mapping, in the interim period before SFRAs reach acceptable standards. Mapping carried out on behalf of insurers and developers should be exploited wherever appropriate agreements can be reached. Discussion in the Thames Flood Forum underlined that this is not easy. The EA should support Planning Authorities seeking to establish levels of precaution that are appropriate to prevailing uncertainty.


Managing flood risk.


5.      IC 8 Supported but the interim conclusion needs to be developed. PPS 25 is impeccable in theory, but challenging in practice. It is right that decisions on development of the floodplain should be matters of judgement for planning authorities acting on the best available information available. However PPS 25 allows too much latitude in relation to current levels of uncertainty. Stricter, more prescriptive, policies are needed immediately. It would be much safer to restrict freedom to develop now and relax restrictions later if justified by the science.


6.      Implementation of PPS 25 is difficult, especially for Planning Authorities (PAs) that have do not yet have an approved local development framework (LDF) informed by an EA approved strategic flood risk assessment.


7.      The Thames Flood Forum stressed the need for appropriate transitional arrangements in its response to the PPS 25 consultation. The Forum was not satisfied when it discussed the matter in July 2007 and I believe the situation remains unsatisfactory.


8.      It may be some time before all PAs are sufficiently well informed to implement PPS25 effectively. This is understandable since the necessary appreciation of flood hazard, delivered by SFRA, is formidable and costly. Moreover, as the review has already concluded, some of the essential tools and data require substantial development. Some PAs are finding it difficult to secure resources for an adequate SFRA. Others are having difficulty in securing EA approval of SFRA because of inadequacies in modelling (often because of shortage of resources) or conflict between the results of different studies. Acceptability of proposals for development of the floodplain in controversial areas as defined in PPS 25 depends, of course, on proof that sustainability benefits outweigh added risk. Sustainability appraisal in accordance with the key considerations set out in PPS 12 (Local Development Frameworks, September 2004) is also proving difficult so that community and Government endorsement of core policies is also taking time.


9.      It follows that PAs are having to make very difficult judgements on limited information that falls far short of that required assumed by PPS 25. In doing this they often have to deal with developers who have a limited understanding of the wider context and vested interests in short term initiatives that could compromise the sustainable development of communities. The point is well made in Lewes where an application is being prepared for a very large development in the floodplain. The PA has established a technical working party with the Developer, the Environment Agency and other official bodies and is reporting proceedings of each meeting promptly. It has also, like the developer consulted a wide range of stakeholders on their “vision” for the area. However lack of an accepted strategic flood risk assessment and related safety assessments so far has meant that debate of the flood risk dimension has been largely conjectural. Compliance with the PPS 25 exception test is likely to be challenging and controversial. There is more detail in the text box following para. 14. Projects on this scale could generate a momentum that is unstoppable.  The review should look in more detail at a large scale project of this type before giving Government advice on how to refine its policy of appropriate development of the floodplain. In doing this the review should take note of views expressed by insurers.


10. Under these circumstances PAs are rightly nervous about appeals and associated costs. DCLG has promised interim supplementary guidance and this should be issued without further delay.


11. Guidance should include advice on;


11.1.                    Compliance with Para 26 vi in PPS 1 (Delivering Sustainable Development) “Ensure that plans and policies are properly based on analysis and evidence. Where the outcome of that analysis and evidence remains uncertain, policy makers should exercise and demonstrate soundly based judgment, taking account of the other principles set out in this paragraph. Where justifiable on the basis of the evidence available, a precautionary approach to proposals for development may be necessary.”


11.2.                    The circumstances where a PA can refuse planning permission on grounds of prematurity or set planning conditions and obligations in relation to flood risk. Revision of paras 17 – 23 appear to be unduly restrictive in the flood risk context.


11.3.                    Using the housing trajectory in the sense of PPS 12 (Local development frameworks. Paras B25 – B29 ) to phase development pending adequate appreciation of flood risk.


11.4.                   Definition of the lifetime of a development especially where change of use for a large section of land will shape a community for a period much longer than the lifetime of individual buildings. At the other end of the time horizon consideration should be given to time limited planning consents or bonding to facilitate development in the face of uncertainty by making risk clear and transferable.


11.5.                   Design, construction, resistance and resilience of that should be carefully and prescriptively reserved in outline permissions.


11.6.                   Clarification of what is meant by “exceptional” circumstances. In theory the PPS exception test should define the exceptional circumstances where new developments in the flood plain are necessary (PPS 25 para 5, pg 2). However it seems to be difficult to establish good practice. After a bad flood in Lewes in 2000 the EA pointed out that the flood had been a catastrophe because of previous development of the floodplain and overconfidence in flood defences. A flood management strategy published in 2003 and revised in 2004 recommended against further development and even suggested that the LPA should attempt to find ways of removing assets from the floodplain. Recently however the EA has been saying that developer contributions are the only way to improve defences. Although the two positions are consistent many construe it as a softening. There is a risk developers could overload the system with highly speculative applications.


11.7.                   Blight and compensation.


11.8.                   Estimation and acceptability of flood risk to people. FD 2321[5] provides an excellent foundation. The policy status of the research report should clarified and awareness should be raised through strategic engagement of stakeholders. The research also needs further evaluation in the context of a wider range of examples. 


12. While interim, supplementary, guidance is being finalised DCLG has advised me (Annex 1) that until the LDF is available PAs should rely on flood risk assessments provided by developers. This policy lacks credibility.  Developers have a huge vested interest and limited insight. Clearly the issues that I have raised above will take a long time to resolve and aspects may have to be tested in Court. There is a huge risk of inappropriate development and wasteful litigation meanwhile.


13. Given the exceptional circumstances of climate change and the challenge of producing “policies are properly based on analysis and evidence” (PPS 1, see 15.1 above) a high degree of precaution is relation to planning  decisions for the floodplain. DCLG should make it easier for PAs  without an LDF to defer, if they wish, applications for major developments in the floodplain until there is an adequate evidence base. Failing this developers should be required to pay for sequential and exception tests commissioned and assessed by the PA rather than submitting this information for assessment.


Text Box: Challenges of PPS 25 exception testing - Balancing added risk and sustainability gain 
In Lewes, which was badly flooded in October 2000, an application is imminent for 600 homes and commercial assets together worth £200 million in a flood cell that contained only one residential property and business assets with an economic value of £33 million at the time of the flood. The developer is offering to build (but not to maintain) a fluvial defence with an initial SOP of 1:200 years. This is likely to be reduced by climate change to 1:100 within 80 years on the basis of EA hydraulic modelling, published in 2003. It is very hard to see how a 600 fold increase in homes and a six fold increase in assets at risk in exchange for a modest fluvial defence could be a sensible sustainability bargain for the town in exception test terms, however good any associated resilience package might be. Further detail can be provided on request.








14. To accelerate the development of good practice and avoid waste of PA, EA and developer time;


14.1.                   DCLG should immediately publish the PPS 25 practice guide.


14.2.                   The EA should immediately publish its criteria for evaluation of flood risk assessments required under FRA guidance to complement its guidance on FRA requirements. [6]


15.  Collaboration between neighbouring PAs should be encouraged. Planning Authorities on the Lower Thames have joined the Environment Agency in a planning officers liaison group. It is helping to secure consistency and economy in strategic flood risk assessment, interpretation of PPS 25 and accommodation of flood risk in LDFs and LDDs. The network has made a great contribution to the Thames Flood Forum by regularly informing the Forum of progress and challenges.[7] The review should consider methods of encouraging professional collaboration and networks in pursuit of good practice in planning development of the floodplain.


16. Strict enforcement of planning decisions and conditions is vital. There is anecdotal evidence of weakness. The Review should consider whether practices and resources are adequate.


17. Implementation of PPS 25 is requires planning officers and elected members to consider questions of risk assessment and management at a time when many local authorities have lost drainage expertise. Although work is generally contracted out or delegated to private or Environment Agency specialists planning officers require training and resources to do the job effectively. The review should consider whether training arrangements are adequate. If there are weaknesses these should be addressed in discussions with LGA and appropriate professional bodies.


18. Property insurance is an essential feature of the UK approach to flood risk management. ABI advises its members to demand higher standards of flood protection for new build than for existing property. [8]   ABI policy was developed in the context of PPG 25 and has yet to be updated in the light of PPS 25 and the experiences of summer 2007. The review should work with the ABI to clarify that policies on the insurance of new developments and promote awareness of them so that they can be taken into account at the earliest stages of the planning process.


Resistant and resilient buildings.


19. IC 14 – 15 Property owners and developers considering improvements to resistance and resilience will wish to consider the cost effectiveness of their investment. Improved assessment of flood probability and intensity will help but more needs to be done to develop a framework for project appraisal paralleling that emerging for assessment of hazard to people. The review should consider opportunities for building on work done already by the CIRIA, the ABI, NFF, the EA and others to provide a better support project appraisal. After considering the evidence the review should recommend a lead body and arrangements for support for building control authorities.


Surface water flooding and drainage.


20. IC 24 It may take some time to develop comprehensive arrangements for drainage related flooding. Meanwhile Water Companies should be required to notify and prepare those who they already know to be at risk of sewer flooding.


Flood defence.


21. IC 29 The interim report refers to the risk based system for allocation of resources to maintenance and the recent NAO report but does not draw clear conclusions. The subject has also attracted the attention of the Public Accounts Committee. [9] There are concerns about the priority given to maintenance work on the Thames and The Sussex Ouse. The interim report recognises that some of these concerns may be misplaced but I am convinced that there are serious questions to be answered about the determination of priorities, implementation of remedial works and the quality of the asset database. A particular concern in Lewes is maintenance of defences that are scheduled for upgrading but where resources for upgrading are not likely to be available within the foreseeable future. The review should revisit the issue of risk based flood defence maintenance programmes to establish criteria for a “level playing field” relative to other flood risk management measures.


22. IC 33 The streamlined, comprehensive legislation should require structural and non structural flood risk management measures and development planning control to be viewed on an equal footing.




23. IC 35 supported. The Thames Flood Forum (TFF) has already asked ABI to consider how individuals and businesses can be helped to access the insurance market. Government and the ABI should work together to develop ways of

23.1.                   making the insurance market more transparent especially to the vulnerable and the poor

23.2.                   helping those who cannot access the market because of circumstances


Engaging the public


24. IC 64 supported. The quality and penetration of warnings is a key determinant of flood management plans.  Acceptance of limits to warning lead times, accuracy and reliability and the effectiveness of distribution channels in relation to target audiences is vital if flood management plans are to be optimised. Great improvements in warnings have been made since the Environment Agency took responsibility in England and Wales. A drive for national consistency and economic and technical constraints may have meant too much “one size fits all”. Critical issues, like warnings for “flashy” catchments and more effective distribution systems are being addressed. But the problem is so great that much remains to be done to match affordable service to diversity of need. The interim report highlights elsewhere the needs of vulnerable groups. These include the business sector. Well managed businesses understand risk, including flood risk. Some, especially those with high value stock that can be moved, for example car dealers, will wish to take above average levels of precaution and therefore to tolerate false alarms. The Environment Agency should offer, on repayment a bespoke service based upon an assessment of warning lead time and reliability in relation to business profile. The review should consider the optimisation of flood plans and warnings in more detail. Particular attention should be given to;

24.1.                   An operational classification of warnings in terms of lead time, accuracy and reliability which can be used to optimise flood plans.

24.2.                   Arrangements for vulnerable groups including business users who may have circumstances that mean they are willing to pay for bespoke warnings.


Strategic public engagement.


25. REC 15 Supported, but needs amplification. Over the past decade a lot has been done to promote flood risk awareness, improve flood warnings and prepare communities for flooding. Much has been achieved but there are still very significant weaknesses. I support the recommendations and IC s in Chapter 7 but more is needed. The full benefits of work done over the past decade have not been realised because some communities do not yet appreciate the need for an holistic approach to risk management. Many communities have not appreciated or accepted that they will have to learn to live with flood risk rather than see it quickly reduced to a negligible level. This position is completely understandable because reducing flood probability is obviously preferable to mitigating its consequences.


26. For the public, for practical purposes the main elements of an holistic approach are;


26.1.                   Flood defences and water management measures that reduce the probability of flooding in homes and businesses. (Largely structural measures.)


26.2.                   Help for vulnerable householders and businesses in preparations for flooding and recovery from it. (Largely non structural measures.)


26.3.                   Development plans that do not allow the wrong kind of buildings and infrastructure in the floodplain.


26.4.                   Access to insurance.


27. The challenge is to optimise the package for time and place. I believe that strategic community engagement can accelerate the process. I have contributed to community initiatives to this end in Lewes, East Sussex and on the lower non tidal Thames (Teddington to Hurley)


28.   Lewes Flood Action – a community driven initiative.


28.1.A river flood that devastated more than 800 homes and businesses in Lewes in October 2000. Following comment by visiting Ministers flood victims expected help with recovery and rapid improvements in flood defences. Lewes Flood Action (LFA) was formed by and of flood victims about 18 months after the flood because victims concluded that nothing was being done to improve their situation. In fact the Environment Agency had altered priorities to produce flood risk management strategy for the Sussex Ouse ahead of the CFMP. This was released shortly after LFA had come into being. It showed that only small improvements in standards of protection were possible and affordable under prevailing project appraisal guidance. The community would therefore have to rely on non structural measures and prudent planning to protect future prosperity and quality of life in the longer term. Two flood defence schemes have proved viable and should be completed by the autumn of 2011. These will improve standards of protection for about two thirds of the properties damaged in 2000.

28.2.LFA made great efforts to help the community to understand the EA strategy and the policy framework that determined its features and implementation.  Working with the local MP LFA campaigns on both local and policy issues. It also spearheaded a national campaign on flood defence funding in the run up to the recent CSR. LFA’s 2007 review and 2008 plans[10] commits to the holistic approach but reflects members’ strong, reasonable and obvious view that reducing flood probability is preferable to managing consequences. However within LFA there is a minority view that successful campaigning for improvement in flood consequence management would weaken the campaign for improved standards of protection.

28.3.I described the early years of LFA activity to the 40th DEFRA Flood and Coastal Management Conference[11]. LFA has not been formally evaluated, although its strengths and weaknesses are being considered in a number of DEFRA funded research projects. LFA is a community organisation. It’s style combines confrontation (the voice of outrage) and careful consideration of policy and financial constraints (the voice of reason). LFA has developed productive relationships with the Environment Agency, both tiers of local government, central government and the Association of British insurers. Many believe that the LFA has brought great benefits to the town.

28.4.LFA has received several hundred pounds in grants and its website is donated by a benefactor. All stakeholders have given time so opportunity costs are significant.


29.   Thames Flood Forum – a joint initiative between communities and operating authorities.


29.1.River flood probability for 42,200 homes and businesses in the Thames floodplain between Hurley, Berkshire and Teddington, Middlesex (the tidal limit) is greater than 1:75 years. The EA is leading development of a comprehensive flood risk management strategy which is likely to combine £200 million water management programme (much of it unaffordable for the foreseeable future) on some reaches with non structural measures on other reaches.

29.2.A £110 million flood alleviation scheme, creating a relief channel round Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton, the Jubilee River was completed in June 2002. In January 2003 areas around and downstream of the scheme flooded about 500 homes and businesses and disrupted services. The flooded community was angry. Calls for a public enquiry were rejected. Instead the Environment Agency commissioned a distinguished engineer to work with the Agency, Local Authorities, (LAs.) Community Groups, Thames Water and others on an independent enquiry into the mechanisms of flooding. The enquiry published its report in March 2004, making 14 recommendations. It concluded that the Jubilee River did not affect the peak of the event but recommended nevertheless that the Environment Agency should review operating procedures for the diversion channel. It also recommended that all stakeholders should improve communications and recognised that a public that was hungry for information would regard missing or unreliable information with deep suspicion. The independent (and very costly) enquiry did much to clear the air but there was still a lot of anger in the flooded communities. The Environment Agency, working with County, Borough and District Councils therefore established the Thames Flood Forum to bring Agency, LAs, community groups and Thames Water into collaboration on risk reduction, development of a flood risk management strategy for the lower Thames and implementation of the recommendations of the independent enquiry. (Full terms of reference[12]). I was invited to chair the Forum as an independent, lay, outsider. The Forum met for the first time in November 2005. As would be expected members differed greatly in their understanding of issues and priorities for action. There was some acrimony at first partly because those who remained angry were motivated to attend. I therefore advised the Forum that;

29.2.1.    It should study carefully the holistic approach to flood risk management and the policy framework for local optimization.

29.2.2.    the volume of work was too great to deal with at the small number of meetings that were possible given other calls on stakeholders’ time.

29.2.3.    It should concentrate on cross cutting issues but foster bi or multilateral relations between stakeholders. That said any member should have the right to bring any issue to the forum verbally or preferably in writing.

29.2.4.    In order to secure continuity the Forum should have its own independent secretariat.

29.3.The Forum accepted the advice. It therefore embarked upon a programme of five themed meetings. Half of each meeting to discussion of contributions from invited experts, often from outside the Thames Valley. The remainder of each meeting was devoted to discussion of progress and “issue” reports from members. I took on the role of executive chairman, drafting papers and updates on matters discussed at previous meetings. The Forum also responded to consultations notably on PPS 25 (it was concerned about the inadequacy of transitional arrangements) and DEFRA output and performance measures (It believes that there is serious bias against non structural measures in allocation of GIA.). LAs continue to host and record meetings in rotation. More than half of the 125 papers considered by the Forum and its Steering Group are posted on its website

29.4.In the late summer of 2007 a survey of Forum stakeholders indicated that most were very satisfied that the Forum had performed well in relation to its terms of reference and that the majority hoped that it would continue.[13] Most thought that improved mutual understanding had lead to much more constructive attitudes on all sides and genuinely fostered practical collaboration.

29.5.The Forum will continue, but now that stakeholders understand each other better there will only be one or two meetings per year. A local Chairman will lead and LAs will provide the full secretariat as originally planned. The emphasis will be on sub-regional issues, especially the lower Thames Flood Management Strategy. The Environment Agency will continue to support a website to provide continuity between meetings and links to relevant information. Direct costs of the Thames Flood Forum amount to about £30,000 so far but will be much less now that the initial phase is complete. Costs have fallen mainly on the Environment. Opportunity costs for the Agency and other have been significant.


30. I believe that strategic public engagement can secure support for, and build confidence in, programmes that do meet initial community expectations but are the best that can be done at the time. It can also help to optimise the flood risk management package and thus contribute to efficiency. The initiative can come either from communities or from operating authorities, but success will depend on all stakeholders showing mutual respect and understanding. Mediation may be needed on occasion. The National Flood Forum has a role to play in development of good practice.


31. The two initiatives that I describe above developed as a reaction to flooding. Both helped to build a constructive climate in the face of understandable community anger. I believe that pre-emptive strategic engagement could contribute also to the greater challenge of a holistic approach to flood risk management in areas that are at risk but have fortunately been spared recent flooding. Strategic engagement is not a panacea and costs can be significant. Direct costs for the Thames Flood Forum were about £10,000 pa in addition to opportunity costs for participants. Criteria for determining situations where strategic engagement is appropriate in terms of area, assets and people at risk, flood probability and potential management solutions need to be defined more clearly.


32. The Review should consider the potential of strategic public engagement in long term development of an holistic approach to flood risk management .



Annex 1


DCLG position on PA’s determining applications for major developments in the floodplain before they have an approved LDD.




Letter from Tom Crossett to Yvette Cooper MP             22nd July 2007


Minister of State


Eland House

Bressenden Place

London SW1E 5DU


Planning permission for major developments in the floodplain.


When Angela Smith launched PPS 25 her written statement concluded, “…we need a strong set of tools to assess flood risk. We must avoid those areas where housing development is never going to be acceptable. But we must also identify those where, with good design and local mitigation measures, it is possible to manage the risk and still build safely


This is a sensible policy. I support it fully.


The problem here in Lewes, and I suspect elsewhere, is that we have not yet been able to use the new tools to complete an adequate strategic flood risk assessment. We therefore still lack a robust Local Development Framework.


However outline planning permission for 125 live work units in the floodplain was granted just before consultation opened on PPS 25. The application for detailed permission goes to Committee at the beginning of August. Applications for over a 1000 homes in the floodplain may come forward before our LDF is in place.  It will therefore be impossible to complete the exception test required by PPS 25.


In view of recent developments could you, as a matter of urgency and before the recess, grant Councils powers to defer all applications for outline or detailed planning permission for major developments in the floodplain until their LDF has been approved.


I am copying this letter to my MP Norman Baker, Jane Milne at the Association of British Insurers, Peter Gardiner, Chairman of Planning Lewes District Council, Mike Bateman, Chairman Southern RFDC, and Mary Dhonau at the National Flood Forum.




Tom Crossett


Flood Defences Coordinator Lewes Flood Action

Chairman, Thames Flood Forum

Past Chairman National Flood Forum

Member Southern Regional Flood Defence Committee


Reply 15 August 2007 - OCR scan of original.


Dear Mr Crossett,

Planning permission for major development in the floodplain


Thank you for your letter of the 22nd July 2007 to Yvette Cooper to which I have been asked to reply regarding development at Lewes within the floodplain. I cannot comment on any specific planning applications as this may prejudice the outcome of any planning decision.


For any new development, even though a SFRA has not yet been completed and the LDF has not been finalised, the policies in PPS25 apply. For any new development in a flood risk area the applicant will need to provide evidence to the local planning authority so that the sequential test can be applied - i.e. there are no other suitable sites available to develop at a lower risk of flooding, and that any proposal passes the exception test. The developer will have to demonstrate through a site specific flood risk assessment that the development will be safe, without increasing flood risk elsewhere, and where possible, will reduce flood risk overall. This will need to take account of predicted climate change allowances.


The Environment Agency will have to be consulted by the local planning authority under the amendment to Article 10 of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995 if the site is within a flood risk area. If the Environment Agency decides to object on flood risk grounds and after negotiations, remains unwilling to withdraw its objections and the local planning authority is still minded to grant planning permission, the Town and Country Planning (Flooding) (England) Direction 2007 requires the LPA to notify the Secretary of State of the proposal, and may not make a decision on it until the Secretary of State has considered whether it would be appropriate to call it in for determination.


Local planning authorities need to ensure they are implementing national and local policy in their planning decisions. There should already be saved polices from the existing local plan. The local planning authority will need to show when developing their LDF how they have considered flood risk through the sustainability appraisal process. A Strategic Flood Risk Assessment is key to informing this process and if the Environment Agency, which is a statutory consultee for LDFs, is not satisfied about the strength of evidence of how flood risk is taken account of, it may decide to object to the LDF on this basis.


As the Environment Agency and local planning authorities have the powers outlined above and the Secretary of State has the final sanction, we hope you will agree that it is not necessary for local planning authorities to defer all applications for outline or detailed planning permissions for major developments in the floodplain until their LDFs are approved.

Yours sincerely,

33. Roger Orpin


Department for Communities and Local Government     Tel 020 7944 3858

Zone 4/A1                                         Email

Eland House

Bressenden Place




[1] I developed an interest in flood risk management after witnessing a serious but largely unexpected flood. The event happened just after I had retired from a career in research and technical policy advice. I have no formal qualifications in disciplines directly related to flood risk management or planning, but wide experience of risk assessment and management in the food chain, energy industries and the environment.


The comments are based on experience gained in the last seven years through participation in;


·          Lewes Flood Action, (Flood defences Coordinator 2001 – 2008)

·          The Thames Flood Forum (Chairman, 2004 – 8)

·          The National Flood Forum (Director 2003 - 4, Chairman 2004 – 6)

·          The Southern Regional Flood defence Committee (ex officio member 1996 – 2003, DEFRA appointee 2005 – date.)

·          Lecturing on flood risk management to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Kings College London. 2004 – date.


I am currently a Director of Lewes Community Land Trust. The Trust is a not for profit company that has an  interest in sustainable development of the town , including its river and floodplain.


[2]  - search 70




1)       [4] Dr Peter Stott, reported in Future of weather, Steve Connor, Independent 27 July 2007.

[5] FD 2321/TR1 Flood Risk to People. DEFRA/EA Research Report


[7] see for example search 122






[12] , search 48

[13] search 104


Original page 080328 - TC response to Pitt