JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well the Environment Minister,
Elliot Morley is in our Hull Studio. Good afternoon Mr. Morley.
ELLIOT MORLEY: Good afternoon John.
HUMPHRYS: You do accept obviously
the increased risk that there is a real problem here.
MORLEY: Oh we recognise there's
real problem, I mean, factored in, the projections for climate change,
increased rising in sea level, in all our engineering and the kind of investments
that we're making, and I should point out that some of the positives, despite
all these extremes of weather, we have a pretty good record in relation
to the performance of our defences, and also the response of our warning
systems and our emergency services.
HUMPHRYS: You wouldn't be very
impressed if you were living in Worcester though would you? And the trouble
is that, that Tony Blair talked about the various reports we've had amounting
to a 'wake up' call, what a lot of people say, is well we haven't yet woken
up, we've had loads of studies but we haven't really woken up to the real
MORLEY: But that's not true at
all John, and I'm very surprised on the River Severn that you didn't go
up to Shrewsbury, or Beauly where brand new defences are under construction
now and they'll be ready by this Autumn, or indeed other areas that were
very hard hit in the two-thousand floods, villages in Norton for example,
and Malton where again, huge engineering projects are being put in place,
and I spent the country the last two years going around opening both completed
defences and starting new ones. So there is a massive investment programme,
and not just engineering a hundred million pounds over the next ten years
for enhanced flood warning for example, investment on trying to understand
the impact of climate change, long term studies, these are very important,
but this is real tangible action taking place resulting in reduced risk
all over the country.
HUMPHRYS: But more is needed as
you have often acknowledged, and one of the problems is this extraordinary
complexity. Twenty-nine decision making bodies needed in some cases, I
mean, that's just crazy isn't it? You need one authority surely to look
at the, at the whole flood defence in a particular system for a particular
river, the catchment area of a particular river, that'd be the logical
way to do it, wouldn't it?
MORLEY: Oh that isn't, that is
logical, but of course most flood defence committees are based on catchment
areas and indeed we've funded some new powered studies for whole catchment
area studies because we think that's the way to go in terms of trying to
have a long term plan for flood and coastal defence, but we do accept that
there is a need to look at the structure of our flood defence funding,
and that's why we had the review, and there is a possibility of streamlining
it, and though I should say although it is complex, it has by and large
delivered a very quality of service around the country.
HUMPHRYS: Well again it depends
where you are and who you talk to doesn't it? But you do acknowledge it's
got to be simplified?
MORLEY: Yes I acknowledge there's
a case for simplification as indeed I acknowledge a case there, there's
a case for increased investment and funding, we already doing that, we're
increasing in funding by round about fifty million pounds over the next
year, from two-thousand-and-two to two-thousand-and-three, taking us up
to round about four-hundred-and-fifty million pounds from all revenue sources.
That's record amounts of funding on flood and coastal defence and that's
a recognition by the government of the need to reduce risk.
HUMPHRYS: May be a record amount
but it's still not enough is it?
MORLEY: Well you can always argue
about how much it should be spent, although I should point out, there is
actually almost a limit to what you can spend in any one year in relation
to the engineering projects which are often very complex, which you can't
just switch on and off, it can take quite a long time for planning permission,
for doing the catchment area studies, and then to put them into place,
so there's actually a limit in terms of capital spend that you can have
in any one year.
HUMPHRYS: But that is going to
increase isn't it? I mean as, as we, well as the situation gets worse,
and it's not going to stop raining for heaven's sake, so we are going ultimately,
we are going to need more money. Are you satisfied that the right way to
do is to take it from the taxpayer in general taxation?
MORLEY: The funding review did
say that the, bulk of the money should continue to come from the Exchequer
and we except that. What the funding review looked at was the potential
for raising additional sums of money, and connection charge for flood plain
development is one, the flood plain levy was another, although that wasn't
recommended by the committee I should point out, and of course at the moment,
the responsibility for flood defence is shared between central government
and local government, and local government raise a levy. One of the suggestions
within the report was to abolish the levy and replace that with a precept,
and of course...
HUMPHRYS: ...what's that mean?
Replace it with a precept, what do you mean?
MORLEY: Well at the present time,
the regional flood defence committees have a levy which is agreed by local
councils and that's just taken from the overall council tax take. If you
have a precept, then the suggestion is that the new customer, the customer
bodies, would have a separate precept, replacing the levy, and people would
then see that separately on their bills, in the same way as you have a
precept for the police or the fire brigade.
HUMPHRYS: You're not sympathetic
then to the idea that the developers themselves, other people would say
it would be entirely fair to tax the developers, because they're the people
who are going to make the money out of these developments, some of which
will add to the problem willy-nilly? You don't think they ought to pay
MORLEY: Oh I think there is a case
for the connection charge and we're looking at the response to our consultation
at the present time. If developers are building on flood plain areas, then
of course it's not unreasonable that they should pay towards either new
defences or indeed enhancing the defences that may be affected by that
development. There is already provision for that within the planning guidance,
PPG25, which restricts developments on flood plains so I think there is
certainly a case to consider there.
HUMPHRYS: We can't just stop them
building on these flood plains can we?
MORLEY: In some circumstances,
yes you can. And in some circumstances, the recommendation will be that
there should not be development in certain flood plain areas. But you,
you don't have to say that there should never be any kind of development
on flood plains, indeed you take a city like Hull for example, the whole
of Hull is on a flood plain, but it's very well defended, and indeed its
defences have recently been enhanced.
HUMPHRYS: But just to go back to
the question of the individual whose home is more at risk, should people
who are at greater risk pay more than those people who aren't because many
people would say, sure, if you bought a house knowing that you're on a
flood plain and you are well aware that you are going to be flooded every
year or every two years or something, then on your head be it. On the other
hand, you may not have known when you bought the house?
MORLEY: Well I think if you take
an extreme of someone buying a house right next to a river, then of course
they know very well that they are taking a risk when they buy that house.
But I do accept the point that you make about people may be living in a
flood risk area and not know that, that's why one of the targets which
I set for the Buy Report of nineteen-ninety-eight, was that the agency
should produce flood risk maps. Now they've done that, they are available
on the agency web-site, people can look at that, and it gives you an idea
of whether you live in a flood risk area or not. But I should caution,
these are a general indication, these maps are not one-hundred per cent
HUMPHRYS: So caveat emptor in that
MORLEY: That's right.
HUMPHRYS: As far as the way the
money is spent, again it seems grossly unfair that if you've got a house
in Worcester that's worth a hundred-thousand pounds, and somebody else
has a house in Henley that's worth half-a-million pounds, the Henley person
is going to be better protected than the Worcester person simply because
the cost/benefit analysis says it makes better sense to save those people.
That can't be right, can it?
MORLEY: No it can't and it's not
quite a simple as that. It is true that there is really a gigantic scheme
just being completed in Maidenhead, but that protects many hundreds and
thousands of properties, and of course, a great many lives. It is true
I think that the priorities should be the number of people you are protecting.
You can't get away completely from the fact that of course you've got to
take into account the cost of the defence and the value of whatever it
is that you're defending behind that. I do accept that. But people like
Mike Foster have made a very strong case that the priorities should be
the number of people, should be people first, rather than values of properties.
HUMPHRYS: ...and you accept that
MORLEY: ...I accept that argument.
BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER
MORLEY: I accept that argument,
and from next April we will be changing the criteria in the way that we
do the assessments to reflect that more.
HUMPHRYS: So in future, it will
be people, rather than price of property that counts.
MORLEY: You can't get away totally
from overall value of the property, but I think that the people element
is going to get much greater priority, we're going to bring that forward,
the number of people that you're defending.
HUMPHRYS: Elliot Morley, many thanks.