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Flood Control

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government is taking to improve the resilience to flooding of drainage and sewer systems in (a) the West Midlands and (b) England. (309674)

In June 2009 the Government published their response to Sir Michael Pitt’s independent review of the summer 2007 floods. The Government supported all of the 92 Pitt recommendations, including those that suggested better ways of managing surface water flooding caused by excessive rainfall.

The Flood and Water Management Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009. The Bill implements the Pitt recommendations that require urgent legislation, and strengthens the legislative framework to reduce impacts of future floods. It gives local authorities lead responsibility for managing local flood risk, with the support of the relevant organisations.

It also contains proposals on unitary and county local authorities being responsible for approving sustainable drainage systems (SUDS) for all new builds and redevelopments, and for adopting and maintaining SUDS serving more than one property. SUDS can significantly reduce localised flash-flooding, reduce flooding downstream and slow down the rate at which areas begin to flood. They can also improve water quality. The Bill proposes to amend the automatic right to connect the surface water drainage systems of any new developments to the sewerage system, making it conditional on SUDS National Standards having been applied. For back gardens, local authorities already have powers to prevent the laying of impermeable surfaces where it poses a local problem, via Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995.

On 15 December 2008, the Government announced that the transfer of all private sewers and lateral drains linked to the public sewerage system would take place from 2011. Around 180,000 km of private sewers and lateral drains connect into the public network, but benefit from no effective operational regime. This will remove the burden of maintenance and repair from householders and will ensure better planning and more integrated management of the wider sewerage network.

In the West Midlands, the Environment Agency has supplied its Medium Term Plan for flood risk management to Severn Trent Water. This will allow an early assessment of potential impacts on the sewerage system to be made. It will also create opportunities to identify potential sites for combined schemes, where both river and sewer flooding occur. The Environment Agency and Severn Trent are currently co-operating on planning schemes at Alcester, Broom and Pershore in the West Midlands. These are all locations which were affected by the 2007 summer floods. These schemes are planned to reduce flood risk to 193 properties (100 at Alcester, 61 at Pershore and 32 at Broom).

Water companies are investing considerable sums in capital works to minimise the risk of sewer flooding. For the Periodic Review 2009, the Environment Agency commented on and contributed to the funding bid by Severn Trent to improve the resilience of its assets. In both the East and West Midlands, Severn Trent has been working with the Environment Agency to assist lead local authorities in establishing successful partnerships to manage local flood risk.