Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been meeting for a Flooding Inquiry. The Summary and objective state “Recent events have brought the challenges of managing flood risk back to national attention, and climate change means these events are likely to become more frequent. Building on the previous Committee’s interim report on coastal flooding and adaptation to climate change, this inquiry would focus on the Government’s approach to managing the risk of inland flooding in England”.

Following the event the Secretary of the Burscough Flooding Group (Burscough’s FLAG) Gavin Rattray wrote to the Committee.

Ref: EFRAC Meeting 1st September 2020

Dear EFRAC Committee and Innes Thomson

Having heard Innes Thomson say (approximately fifteen minutes into the meeting), “Local politics was adding an effect on the content of S19 reports”, I thought it was very important to express my sincere thanks for raising the issue and let the committee know that it was exactly the experience Burscough’s FLAG (Burscough Flooding Group) experienced in 2016, when dealing with Lancashire County Council (LCC). However, local politics having an effect on S19 reports is the tip of a considerable iceberg.

Following the widespread Boxing Day flooding in 2015, LCC, the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) created an S19 report for its area, which painted a false picture of flooding in Burscough. The picture was false because our local authorities have been very *poor at collecting and keeping flooding information for a long time. In addition, LCC refused to accept flooding evidence provided by Burscough Flooding Group collected from local residents; and when that became a controversial public issue, LCC councillors voted in council to support that decision.

Our information was a table of flooding events, causes and photographs which showed extremely widespread flooding had occurred in Burscough, whereas their S19 report indicated very few localised flooding problems and completely failed to mention overwhelmed/surcharging sewers which were (and still are) common and widespread.

In addition, if the experiences in Burscough are normal for the country then the committee needs to consider that local politics also affects flooding/drainage reports provided to local authorities. For example LCC denied Burscough Flooding Group and the public, oversight of the scope and production of the 2020 Jacobs Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP) for Burscough. LCC is also currently keeping the changes that the Flood Risk Management Authorities (FRMA) made to the Jacobs SWMP secret by denying a local resident, John Crawford, his Freedom Of Information (FOI) rights. The FRMA set the scope for Jacobs and it inexplicably excluded the main downstream areas, with critical drainage problems, including Crabtree Lane in Burscough where homes have been flooded four times in the last ten years (including this summer) .

Another example of local politics affecting reports is, in 2015 we obtained a copy, through FOI to LCC, of a 2010 independent report on Burscough’s flooding problems produced for West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC). The report had been kept secret by WLBC, the Local Planning Authority (LPA), and our councillors had no knowledge of it for five years. Had the report been placed into the evidence base for the 2012 local plan, it could have changed the outcome.

Local politics means that, with the exception of the Environment Agency, the FRMA have all publicly refused to accept flooding information provided by Burscough Flooding Group.

Local politics means there is no public oversight of Making Space for Water Meetings. The FRMA meet in private without agendas, recordings or taking minutes to prevent the content of their discussions from being accessed using FOI legislation.

Local politics means drainage/flooding matters on anything but small sites in Burscough are reserved planning matters. The decision making process on reserved matters usually allows developments to proceed which increase downstream flood risk. In some cases the flood risk and drainage aspects of the planning applications conflict with NPPF, the Burscough Neighbourhood Plan, the Local Plan and (in the case of the strategic development site) the design significantly differs to the publicly agreed Masterplan, all again without explanation. The reserved decision is always publicly unscheduled and made in private without minutes or notes.

Local politics meant that from October 2017 until May 2019 myself, the FLAG and anyone, including MP Rosie Cooper, who asked WLBC about drainage or flooding in Burscough under FOI legislation, was classed as vexatious. This was unanimously overturned by a First Tier Tribunal (GRC) Information Rights on the 9th May Appeal Ref: EA/2018/0219 attached. Despite at least two requests from the local press to WLBC no explanation has ever been provided why our FOI rights were denied for 18 months.

Footnote: *Burscough’s FLAG consists of five Burscough residents who are nearly all flood victims. We were set up by Burscough Parish Council (now Burscough Town Council) to collect flooding data from all sources, because of perceived under-reporting by the authorities and United Utilities. Our work (as unpaid amateurs) culminated in Burscough Flood Records Report attached (first published in 2016).

I understand that you can’t help with a specific complaint because that would be impracticable. However, I have sent the same email to MP Rosie Cooper and will be publishing it locally on forums in order to raise public awareness of the issues.

Yours sincerely, Gavin Rattray – Secretary Burscough Flooding Group (Burscough’s FLAG)

 

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