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Rural Watercourses

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) how much his Department has spent on the maintenance of rural watercourses in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement; (89662)

(2)what steps he is taking to ensure proper maintenance of rural watercourses; and if he will make a statement:

(3) what assessment his Department has made of the economic and social significance to rural communities of watercourses; and if he will make a statement.

The primary responsibility for maintenance of all watercourses rests with the relevant riparian owner (a landowner with a frontage along a watercourse).

In England, the Environment Agency (EA) is the principal flood risk management operating authority with permissive powers for the maintenance of watercourses designated as ‘main river’. The EA has assumed responsibility for some 1,800 additional watercourse lengths transferred from other operating authorities over the last three years.

DEFRA is providing £413 million in grant in aid this year to fund the EA's flood risk management activities, which includes capital improvement projects, maintenance and operation of existing infrastructure, and associated activities such as flood warning and public awareness campaigns. The EA will also spend £53.7 million received from local levy, Internal Drainage Board charges, General Drainage Charges and other income. This figure includes £8.7 million planned use of balances. The total funding for 2006-07 is £466.7 million. This is targeted according to flood risk, rather than whether a watercourse is in an urban or rural area.

The EA uses the National Flood and Coastal Defence Database (NFCDD) to monitor the condition of assets, and reviews progress on a quarterly basis. A nationally consistent method of classifying asset condition has been shared with other operating authorities. These other operating authorities are required to use NFCDD to record details of the assets that they manage.

Expenditure on the maintenance of watercourses is not held centrally and we could not seek to gather this information without incurring disproportionate cost. It is also the case that maintenance and capital works are not generally classified by rural or urban location and often the distinction will not be clear.

Economic considerations are integral to the implementation of the Water Framework directive, for which the EA is the competent authority in England and Wales. This explicitly requires economic considerations and social issues to be considered and taken into account when setting water management objectives. The Collaborative Research Programme is developing methodologies for ensuring a balance between the environmental, social and economic concerns during river basin planning decisions which are part of the Framework.

‘Making Space for Water’, our new cross-Government strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management, presents an approach that embeds the three pillars of sustainable development, and extends our risk management tools by expanding our flood warning and flood awareness activities. The strategy encourages measures to improve resistance and resilience to flooding, including scoping work on the development and delivery of a pilot on direct aid to individuals. The document is available on the DEFRA website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environ/fcd/policy/strategv.htm.