National Planning Policy Framework Consultation
The National Flood Forum is a national charity dedicated to supporting and representing communities and individuals at risk of flooding. We do this by:
1. Supporting people to prepare for flooding
2. Helping people to recover their lives if they have been flooded
3. Working with government and agencies to ensure that they develop a community perspective when addressing flooding issues
As part of the flooded community, the National Flood Forum is a charity that supports communities to tackle the things that matter to them; creating hope and reducing the fear of flooding; helping people to work together to reduce flood exposure and its impacts, both physical and emotional. Over 300 flood groups are affiliated to the National Flood Forum and this response has been developed from their many comments.
The National Flood Forum regularly deals with a range of scenarios:
1. New developments that have flooded or which are likely to flood because, for example, SuDS measures are at capacity under normal weather conditions, or sites have been built on areas that are waterlogged
2. Developments which have apparently caused flooding elsewhere, or are likely to
3. Planning applications and decisions that do not make use of local knowledge of flood risk issues
4. Development planning that does not make use of local knowledge
The result is that people become extremely fearful of the future, distrustful of those in authority. This can appear as either apathy or combative behaviour.
“We had a housing estate built up in Eyam and they concreted over a large natural drainage point. And that’s in the Peak Park which is supposedly highly regulated. It’s a shambles. If you have a lot of money you can do what you want.”
Caterham Flood Action Group are also angry:
Hey “To briefly explain, our community has been blighted by surface water flooding for over twenty years, development has continued, responsibilities have been fractured, affecting maintenance (tantamount to neglect) of the delicate drainage infrastructure leaving residents in fear of precipitation.
On the 7th June 2016, after campaigning and complaining for almost two decades, the great storm wreaked havoc, destroying homes, devastating families, trapping our vulnerable and elderly neighbours for hours without power, as rivers of raw sewage flowed into our homes, through the streets of Surrey across the administrative border into a London Borough (contrary to the draft London plan, Policy Si12 B, which states ‘Boroughs should co-operate and jointly address cross-boundary flood risk issues including with authorities outside London’).
The CFAG must question if measures really are in place to guarantee that councils on the edge of the London Basin are considering the quality and capacity of the infrastructure ‘downstream’.
Paragraphs 154 – 163 of the Draft NPPF are an improvement on previous versions. But Caterham Flood Action Group, and others, do not believe that the Draft NPPF addresses their concerns that people will be put at risk of flooding. In particular, policies and guidelines need to be much more ambitious if we are to create places that people will want to live in, that are adaptive to the future (such as being able to absorb more development) and where people feel safe.
Policies need to be translated in to action and many of the concerns from Flood Action Groups are that even the existing policies are being ridden over roughshod, with no recourse for affected communities.
The National Flood Forum strongly refutes the notion that flood risk can be outweighed by the economic benefits to the community and does not reflect the absolute misery flooding problems can cause to those involved. The current wording in the draft NPPF virtually establishes that flooding is acceptable and provides opportunities for those who wish to find loopholes to do so. If development impacts even on a handful of households/properties, then it’s not a benefit to the community. For example, words such as “safe” in paragraph 154 are ambiguous. Whilst no one can ever be without flood risk, the wording here and in wider guidance needs to reflect community perspectives on safety, risk and what it means to feel resilient.
Data from the Association of British Insurers shows that 50% of insurance claims for properties flooded during the winter of 2015/16 were from areas that had not been identified by the public or private sectors as being at risk of flooding. In previous years the figure was sometimes higher (80% in 2007) and never lower, indicating that our understanding of flood risk and the flood risk maps available only cover a proportion of the risk. Surface water, groundwater and combined risks in particular are poorly understood.
For these two reasons greater stress should be placed in the NPPF on the rigour that is required to assess flood risk through all forms of Food Risk Assessments.
The biggest complaint from Flood Action Groups across England is that people’s local knowledge about their area is ignored, resulting in poor decisions about their future. People frequently have knowledge about their local area that professionals do not; details about previous flooding incidents, underground drainage, old drainage systems, etc. Modellers will frequently say that their modelling work simply produces useful tools and does not represent the real world exactly. It will often lack local information to put in to the model and the parameters through which the model works will have limitations on the accuracy of what results. However, in the planning system models are often regarded as the absolute truth in the decision-making process and other evidence ignored. Communities regularly complain that this is the case. This can include information about local drainage patterns and historic flooding incidents through to the routes of major flow channels, groundwater levels and sea level rise. Therefore, development plans and planning applications should demonstrate how they have listened to local voices and how those views have been taken in to account in developing proposals. In particular they should demonstrate how triangulation has occurred between modelling, local knowledge and other forms of evidence to arrive at the most reasonable answers.
156) demonstrates an improved level of ambition, but not significant enough if we are to tackle flood risk seriously. The example from Shipston in Warwickshre below illustrates the point:
“The NPPF requires new developments to achieve ‘flood neutrality’ as a minimum i.e. that water run off post development should be no worse than the pre-developed site.
We work with our Town Council and the developers in negotiating better than flood neutrality at or before the planning stage and have had some success in getting their drainage strategies to achieve betterment – in most cases within the range of 25/40%.
With modern SUDS systems, their creative application and a willingness to meet improved objectives this is perfectly achievable at relatively low, if any, ‘on cost’ and of course the whole concept of betterment is essential with the increasing pressures brought about by adverse climate change trends and as a community support programme by developers.
We are concerned that the present policy is simply not ambitious enough and consider that a policy of betterment should replace the current ’neutrality’ policy.
Further, whatever the policy, specific local ground and geological conditions should be taken account of when determining the adequacy of drainage strategies by the LPA’s.
In our area Warwickshire clay is the predominant soil type and is almost completely impermeable so a literal ‘greenfield’ site in this area will already have a pre-existing high level of surface water runoff.
Further, should such ‘greenfield’ site have been used for grazing it will be highly compacted making the situation even worse.
Even further, should the site be sloping down to other developed areas great care needs to be taken to design a drainage strategy that absolutely reduces run off compared with the pre-existing situation.
Finally, the requirement that developments of less than 10 dwellings do not need LLFA oversight in giving guidance to the LPA (if different) should be reduced as it seems clear that developments of 9 or less are deliberately introduced perhaps to circumvent properly qualified scrutiny.
At present, it appears that the LPA’s simply have to check that a drainage strategy meets the NPPF guidelines which, in the circumstances described above, would likely be completely inadequate.
Once new developments are built to inadequate drainage standards in their specific local context there is no going back so this consultation is a once off opportunity to address the issue and build better resilience for the future into such developments.”
158 a) contains an assertion that where there is no other option it is acceptable for a development to take precedence over people’s lives, however traumatic the outcomes might be. This is simply not acceptable and should be deleted. Developments that put people or their neighbours at a significant risk of them being flooded should not be built, whatever the pressure for new housing. Areas in Flood Zone 3, where there is significant groundwater (such as permanently within 150 cm of the surface) or significant drainage limitations should not be built on.
Where there are wider societal benefits identified, the risks of any new development should be transparent, so that businesses, infrastructure providers can make judgements about the level of risk that they are prepared to accept.
160 – footnote 41. The site-specific flood risk assessment should triangulate modelling, local knowledge and other evidence. The assessment should proactively seek out local knowledge and demonstrate how this is used to develop an overall assessment. Guidance should be updated.
A common failing of current developments is that drainage plans are developed after the site layout has been determined. Retrofitting a drainage plan to a site can be difficult and lead to inferior results. Drainage plans should be submitted for all outline planning applications and should detail measures to manage water during the construction phase. The example from Charlton Flood Action Group, Worcestershire below illustrates the point.
“The Plan [South Worcestershire Development Plan] does not make any reference to the Environment Agency designated “Rapid Response Catchments” of which the Merry Brook is a very High risk one.
To minimise future flood risk in these particular vulnerable catchments we believe the plan should make reference to these Catchments and further that when any development/planning application is being agreed in these catchments that the conditions of planning should require that:
• Any flood prevention schemes should be put in place prior to the development of houses and other infrastructure being commenced. (During the last few years the development of the housing estate at Hampton, Evesham was commenced with top soil being stripped off the land. Those living in Charlton noticed that the water levels in the Merry brook increased far more quickly due to water running draining off the site. It was only when we started complaining that thought was given to installing the retention ponds and there was then a further delay until weather conditions were suitable).
• That in these catchment areas the water run off levels should be half the normal levels allowed. This should be achieved either by reducing water run-off levels or where this is not possible by the developers installing recommended schemes suggested by the Environment Agency – such as ponding on water courses.
• That all suggestions recommended by the Environment Agency should be installed. (At the Hampton development the Environment Agency had suggested that some ponding take place on the Merry Brook to help reduce water flows. This suggestion was totally ignored).
• That on small / single developments where planning consent is being sought that water run-off be considered and reduced to a minimum. Should there be a small water course running through the site then ponding/other means to reduce the flow should be installed.
• That any work on Highways in Rapid response catchment areas should also involve the installation of measures to reduce the flow of water into water courses.”
161 a) It is difficult to imagine situations where “overriding interest” applies. This clause should be removed, otherwise it will be used to push through inappropriate developments. The overriding concern must be for the wellbeing of people.
161 e) There is some confusion amongst Risk Management Authorities as to which organisation should comment on this aspect of planning applications. This needs clarification
Note 42 does not adequately cover the risks posed by surface water, ground water and combined sources. With at least 50% of flooding incidents involving surface water, this aspect needs particular attention to ensure that people are kept safe, whereas the focus of attention in the guidance is on fluvial flooding because that is where the better evidence base is. Surface and groundwater risks are often highly localised, but the trauma that is caused can be significant because often there is no scheme available that meets benefit cost criteria for investment. Rapid response catchments pose a particular risk. The result is that people continue to suffer without the prospect of ever escaping from the threat. In addition, the National Flood Forum’s experience is that people are increasingly finding it difficult to sell their home, restricting their ability to change employment, move closer to family, etc. Therefore Note 42 should explicitly refer to areas of high surface water and ground water risk, combined sources of flooding and rapid response catchments. The quote from the Food Action Group in South Woodford Ferrer, Essex, illustrates the point:
“We are currently doing our best as a voluntary group to try to alleviate a recurring fluvial/sewage flood in our local area. We are now in 2018 and still do not appear to be able to assist the residents of our town to have a better quality of life. Funding issues and OFWAT regulations leave local residents baffled as to what they can do to resolve this horrendous flood and sewage discharge situation. These flooding events appear to be occurring every 2 years (2012-2014-2016) ….surely this can’t be right? We do understand that funding is a problem but by working together we should be able to come up with a solution for these poor people living with the prospect of a significant flood every time there is a heavy rain fall.”
An area may be in Flood Risk zone 1 but at very high risk from surface water. However, reference to Flood Zone 1 will frequently allow developers to push through schemes in very high surface water risk. The point is well made by Caterham Flood Action Group:
“The Draft NPPF supports small sites being identified, essentially promoting ‘garden grabbing’, to reiterate we’re aware of the need for homes BUT in a surface water flood risk areas, we can confirm this has had devastating results over the decades, hence the need for SuDs in ALL development and retrofitting (refer to 1.2). YET 71) resists ‘inappropriate development in residential gardens, where development would cause harm’… But as we’re technically in a ‘flood zone 1’, on paper there’s NO risk, therefore development is be permitted (refer to 3.3), hence the desperate need to ensure policy guidance is ‘joined up’”
163 Minimal operational standards for Sustainable Urban Drainage systems should go beyond normal and projected normal rainfall events, with or without taking account of climate change projections. Whilst systems are unlikely to cater for every eventuality, they should be designed to cater for abnormal events, occasions where soil moisture levels are full and a series of events over a short period of time.
In some areas SuDS schemes will be inappropriate due to high water tables or permanently waterlogged soils. It may be possible to pump dry sites, but this has carbon emission issues and pumps failure does happen. In these cases, it is especially important to have a full and detailed drainage plan.
Developments currently have a right to connect to sewerage and drainage infrastructure. The National Flood Forum experience is that this may place other people at higher risk of flooding and we deal with people whose homes may not have flooded for 40-50 years, but who suddenly find that they flood every couple of years or more frequently with sewage once a development takes place. Sewerage and drainage undertakings must have the ability to refuse to connect to new developments where appropriate infrastructure is not currently in place.
Many of the issues and concerns that people in communities have relate to the skillsets and resources in drainage and flood risk management in local authorities, particularly planning authorities. These are hugely variable. It is important that Lead Local Flood Authority and Planning authorities have a qualified flood risk managers and drainage engineers to support the planning development and control process. In many cases the lack of the skills to critically examine proposals and applications has led to a failure to spot problems or allowed poor design. Whilst not a consideration for the NPPF, it is a major component of the many failures to see it applied appropriately.
Enforcement is a concern for many communities. Where there is unauthorised development or where there are planning conditions, it is a common experience that these are not enforced effectively, leading to increased flood risk for occupants and/or neighbours. The quote below from a flood group in Essex illustrates the problem:
“As regards, unauthorised development, the local authority (XXX District Council) does not seem to have adequate staff to deal with this by planning enforcement.”
Communities have sometimes worked with developers to bring forward better designs, using their local knowledge. The willingness of developers to engage meaningfully with communities has been very variable, with markedly different approaches even within the same settlement. There should be an expectation in the NPPF for developers to work with communities meaningfully to develop better designs delivering multiple benefits, rather than just running a consultation.