Flood Risk Insurance – UK Government Consults

‘Flood Re’ aims to make flood risk insurance widely available and affordable

July 31st 2014

The UK Government has launched a consultation on proposals to introduce regulations which will enable the insurance industry to implement the government’s Flood Reinsurance Scheme, known as Flood Re, from next year.

Announcing the consultation, the government states that the Flood Re scheme is its preferred approach to addressing the availability and affordability of flood insurance: “Flood Re will ensure that domestic property insurance continues to be widely available and affordable in areas of flood risk without placing unsustainable costs on wider policy holders or the taxpayer. Flood Re will provide transitional support to households at flood risk over a 25 year period as part of a gradual transition towards more risk-reflective prices; this will provide time for choices to be made and risk management action to be taken.”

The broad scope of the regulations is set out in the Water Act 2014 and the proposals will cover the legal framework for the Flood Re scheme and its funding and administration. The government is advising those groups, individuals and businesses at risk of flooding, and those in the insurance, property and mortgage sectors, to respond to the consultation.

For details of the consultation, see the GOV.UK website at “Citizen Space – The Flood Reinsurance Scheme”.


Planning Inspectorate makes first decision under new planning measures

Developer by-passes Blaby District Council but planning consent is refused by Planning Inspectorate

July 30th 2014

The Planning Inspectorate has made its first decision under the new powers granted to it by the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. This amended the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to allow planning applications to be sent directly to the Secretary of State when they involve major development and the relevant Local Planning Authority has been designated as “under-performing” in its handling of major applications. There are currently two LPAs designated as under-performing: Blaby District Council (with effect from 13 November 2013) and Trafford Council (with effect from 30 May 2014 but with regard only to Minerals and Waste applications).

The new powers were tested with an outline planning application for the construction of up to 220 new homes on a greenfield site near Blaby, Leicestershire. The application was considered by the Planning Inspectorate, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, and the decision to refuse permission was made within the statutory thirteen-week period. In summary, the decision to refuse was made on the grounds that the development conflicted with the District Council’s Core Strategy.

The Planning Inspectorate took into account 650 written representations and oral evidence given at a public hearing, at which the developers and Blaby District Council both submitted representations. In weighing up the evidence, Planning Inspector Jonathan King concluded:

“To a very large extent, the benefits of the new market and affordable housing in social and economic terms would be negated by the lack of conformity with the broader locational strategy. The social and environmental benefits would be very considerably outweighed by the harm to the character and appearance of Bouskell Park; to the heritage assets and to the recreational value of the park, the Long Walk woodland and the statutory and permissive footpaths; and by the loss of high quality agricultural land. Taking all factors into account, I conclude on balance that the proposed development would be contrary to the development plan as a whole and would be unsustainable. Material considerations do not indicate that the decision should be other than to refuse permission in accordance with the guidance of the NPPF.”

The government announced the news in a press release issued last week. Blaby District Council has published all the evidence on its website – see “Hospital Lane application refused by Planning Inspectorate” for the details.

James Carpenter, Development Services Manager at Blaby District Council, said in the Council’s press release: “The reason that the District Council was put in ‘special measures’ was because it took the approach of working with applicants and our local communities when determining planning applications without regard to a retrospectively imposed government deadline of 13 weeks. Government appear to disagree that we should spend time making sure developments are the best they can be, and would seemingly prefer we just churned out decisions.”

Managing water abstraction – UK Government publishes results of consultation

Highest number of responses come from the farming sector, with East of England and the South-East producing most of the responses by region

July 29th 2014

The UK Government has published the results of its consultation on proposals for reforming the current system of managing water abstraction in England and Wales. The reforms are designed to make the current system more flexible as well as more resilient to future pressures and is a consequence of its commitment to tackling the problem of unsustainable abstraction – see a previous news item “Defra launches consultation on abstraction reform”.

The responses were handled by Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government. Out of the 318 responses received, 182 respondents were licence holders. The highest number of responses came from the farming sector, which accounted for 114 or 36% of the total. By region, most of the respondents came from the East of England (86 or 27% of the total) with the South-East the second highest at 48. Only 13 of the 318 responses came from Wales, whilst the North East had the smallest number of responses at 5.

In its summary, Defra says that a number of key themes emerged from the consultation across a number of different sectors. Those key themes included support for the principle of linking water abstraction to water availability, and support for a catchment specific approach when designing the rules for moving licences into a new system. There were also some key themes that emerged from specific sectors, such as a concern from landowners about the impact of reform on the capital value of land.

On the reforms themselves, the government sought views on two main options which it calls “Current System Plus” and “Water Shares”. The key difference between them, it says, is the proposed method for linking water abstraction to water availability in surface water, although both methods aim to increase the amount of water that can be used. Both options make it quicker and easier for abstractors to trade water with each other, though Water Shares allows for a greater range of trades to be pre-approved than in Current System Plus. Current System Plus would link abstraction to water availability using annual and daily volumetric constraints, as in the current system. These tools would be further refined, allowing more water to be abstracted when more is available and restricting abstraction at very low flows. The Water Shares option would give abstractors a share of the available water in a catchment, rather than an absolute amount, encouraging abstractors to take a shared responsibility for water resources in catchments.

In fact, only 85 of the 318 respondents expressed a preference for one or the other option, with 60 preferring Current System Plus and 25 preferring Water Shares.

For further details of the results, see the GOV.UK website at “Reforming the water abstraction management system”.


Photograph: Dry field of wheat, Bilsington, Kent © Copyright Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Waste water treatment plants “unwittingly helping to spread antibiotic resistance,” say scientists

Research shows “there are now reservoirs of highly resistant gut bacteria in the environment”

July 27th 2014

A team of scientists from Birmingham University, Warwick University, and the Health Protection Agency have been doing research into the presence of bacteria in water bodies near waste water treatment plants. The scientists analysed sediment samples from the upstream and the downstream of a sewage works and found the presence of bacteria that are resistant to a class of antibiotics widely used to treat a range of health problems, including meningitis and septicaemia. The disturbing aspect of the findings is that there were increased numbers of clinically-important antibiotic-resistant bacteria downstream of a large sewage plant compared to upstream. The scientists also discovered the presence of E. coli bacteria, the first time this has been discovered in the wild, and this was seven times more common downstream than upstream.

The scientists have concluded that waste water treatment plants “could be unwittingly helping to spread antibiotic resistance.” The research, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy [1], suggests that the processing of human, farm and industrial waste all together in one place might be making it easier for bacteria to become resistant to a wide range of even the most clinically-effective antibiotics. Professor Elizabeth Wellington of the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: “The way sewage plants mix up different types of waste means they’re hotspots, helping bacteria share genes that mean they can deactivate or disarm antibiotics that would normally kill them. It seems that with so many different types of bacteria coming together in sewage plants we could be giving them a perfect opportunity to swap genes that confer resistance, helping them live. This means antibiotic-resistant bacteria may be evolving much faster than they would in isolation.”

Earlier studies of bacteria in the environment have investigated farming practices and waste processing methods and concluded that these were contributing to reservoirs of resistant bacteria in the environment. However, few studies had investigated whether waste water effluent contributes to the problem.

Professor Wellington said: “A greater volume of antibiotics is used in farming than in anything else. Huge amounts are used globally, mainly for treating infections in food animals but also to promote growth.” Her research suggests that resistance is spreading because of a specific bacterial gene, which is the most common antibiotic-resistant gene to cause failures in the treatment of infections. “It’s the first time anyone has seen this gene in UK rivers,” said Wellington. “The problem is we’re using river water to irrigate crops, people swim or canoe in rivers, and both wildlife and food animals come into contact with river water. These bacteria also spread during flooding. And with more flooding and heavy rain, this could get worse.”

“We’re on the brink of Armageddon and this is just contributing to it,” she said. “Antibiotics could just stop working and we could all be colonised by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

For further information, see the article on the “Planet Earth” website at “Sewage treatment contributes to antibiotic resistance”.


[1] G. C. A. Amos, P. M. Hawkey, W. H. Gaze and E. M. Wellington, Waste water effluent contributes to the dissemination of CTX-M-15 in the natural environment, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 2014; 69: 1785 – 1791, published online 5th May 2014, doi:10.1093/jac/dku079.

Climate Change 2014 – CIWEM Conference

“Climate Change: Building the Age of Resilience” will be held in London on October 23

July 26th 2014

CIWEM (the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) is holding a one-day conference on climate change. This one-day event will be held at the University London SOAS building in Russell Square and is aimed at local government, regulators and decision makers, user groups, NGOs and communities at risk of flooding, together with infrastructure operators and consultants involved with the delivery of schemes.

CIWEM says that climate change “represents one of the greatest challenges for mankind in coming years. The scientific evidence base underpinning the case for action is extensive and clear. Not only is there a need to mitigate as far as possible the future extent of climate change, but there is an increasingly pressing requirement to ensure that infrastructure, economies and institutional frameworks are designed and modified to be resilient to the climate change that emissions to date have already committed us to and that further emissions will enhance.”

The conference is focused on climate resilience and will feature three sessions of presentations. The first, “The Climate Challenge”, will summarise the social and economic case for developing climate resilient systems and infrastructure and examine how to communicate the case most effectively. The second, “Making the Case for Climate Resilience”, will feature presentations that demonstrate how different sectors, agencies and operators are approaching resilience planning. The final session, “Building the Age of Resilience”, will showcase a range of approaches and technologies being developed and applied to deliver resilient infrastructure across a range of sectors.

For the latest information on the event, including how to book, see the CIWEM events calendar.

CEH establishes first UK network for measuring soil moisture

COSMOS-UK will deliver real-time weather monitoring and big data on soil moisture

July 25th 2014

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) is establishing the first large-area soil moisture network in the UK, with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Titled COSMOS-UK (Cosmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System), the new network will deliver data that shows how soil moisture varies across the country with soil type, climate and vegetation. The network will also deliver real-time weather monitoring and measure other environmental variables.

The CEH says that COSMOS-UK has great potential to transform hydro-meteorological modelling by providing real-time data for assimilation and model validation, using the new technology of cosmic-ray soil moisture sensing. The funding for the project is a result of the government’s “Big Data” initiative, which is designed to support UK business by providing easy access to extremely large data sets.

On the COSMOS-UK website, the CEH states that “publicly accessible real-time data will empower all kinds of applied environmental research.” It has the potential, the statement continues, to deliver more accurate meteorological models, better water resource information and future outlooks, and improved UK resilience to natural hazards – for example, by earlier flood warnings: “Soil moisture is a vital component of the natural environment. How much moisture is in the soil can be critical for flood forecasting; it can influence our weather; it controls soil chemistry, microbial activity and greenhouse gas exchange; and it is an important farming resource.”

Big data on soil moisture, says CEH, could also improve water use efficiency in crop production and give better crop yield forecasts. For further information on the soil moisture network, see the COSMOS-UK website at “COSMOS-UK”.

CIEH warns of moves to relax standards for contaminated land remediation

Defra’s new screening levels represent higher levels of risk than those which local authorities currently use as guidelines, says CIEH

July 24th 2014

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has issued a position statement which expresses its concerns over the use of Category 4 Screening Levels (C4SLs) for contaminated land. CIEH says that the purpose of the levels, according to Defra’s pronouncements on the subject earlier this year, was to help local authorities with the identification of contaminated land under the Part 2A regime. However, it is now clear, says CIEH, that they are intended for use in the redevelopment of contaminated sites.

CIEH Principal Policy Officer Howard Price said that the difference is significant. “Instead of merely providing a step in a process of investigation,” he said, “the new contaminant soil concentrations tell developers how far, in Defra’s opinion, they need to remediate sites to make them suitable for use.” He pointed out that remediation is a matter for the local planning authority, not Defra, and gave a warning that local planning authorities are facing pressure to relax standards.

Local authorities currently use Generic Assessment Criteria (GAC) and Soil Guideline Values (SGVs) to assess the risk to human health posed by contaminated land. The GAC have been developed by CIEH in collaboration with Land Quality Management Ltd (LQM) and the two organisations held a workshop in Nottingham recently to update the GAC to reflect changes in health criteria values – see Brownfield Briefing for a report on the workshop.

CIEH and LQM intend to replace the GAC and soil guideline values with new “suitable for use levels” (S4ULs) for use in the planning system. The S4ULs cover 85 substances and have been developed for standard land uses as defined by CLEA (Contaminated Land Exposure Assessment) and two open space scenarios as defined by Defra. However, Defra’s new screening levels are more flexible than the new S4ULs proposed by CIEH and LQM, and Howard Price said that the levels represent higher levels of risk than those which local authorities currently use as guidelines: “In the case of at least one widespread contaminant,” he said, “ten times as much. That is just not acceptable.”

The CIEH said that underlying Defra’s recommendations is the promise made three years ago to support the Government’s growth agenda by removing excessive cost burdens on the house building sector to the tune of up to £132 million per annum – see our news item “Defra publishes report – Reforming Environmental Guidance”. Short-term savings are being sought at the expense of long-term risks, said Howard Price, and CIEH is calling on its members, their planning colleagues and responsible developers to maintain standards for the sake of public health.

The CIEH position statement is available as a PDF from the CIEH website at www.cieh.org/WorkArea/showcontent.aspx?id=53476 and for further information see the CIEH website at “Standards of protection for housing on contaminated land at risk”.


1. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It is a leading provider of regulated qualifications in health and safety, food safety, environmental management, fire safety and first aid and operates in over 50 countries.

2. For news of the “suitable for use levels” proposed by CIEH and Land Quality Management Ltd, see the Land Quality Management website.