- Meeting of Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday 9 February 2022 6.00 pm (Item 6.)
Chris Whyte (Operational Director, Environmental and Employment Services) opened the item. The Committee were asked to note that this report was an extension of the item heard at the November meeting of the Committee, and related to the responsibilities that the Council and its partners held in regard to managing flood risk in the borough. The update was presented in conjunction with Thames Water, as per the request of the Committee at a previous meeting. The Chair invited Alex Nickson (Thames Water Lead- Live Flooding) to provide an update. It was noted that Thames Water as a body were responsible for the effects of sewer flooding, with the Council responsible for the effects of surface water flooding. It was clarified that the Environment Agency was responsible for larger rivers.
Moving on to the impact of the July flooding on the borough, it was explained that on the 12th July London experienced a convective storm, which was a large amount of rainfall in a short period of time. This led to water overwhelming sewers as well as flooding homes overnight. As a result, an Independent Review had been commissioned in order to establish what happened, as well as to what degree, if any, systems failed to provide the expected level of protection. This review would produce a set of recommendations about how flood risk could be better managed in the future. These recommendations would be provided to other agencies, such as the Highways Agency and the London Fire Brigade. When these recommendations were published, it was explained that Thames Water would work with Local Authorities to ensure that the recommendations were actioned. This would result in properties being better equipped to deal with sewer flooding in future.
The Committee was then invited to raise questions on the information provided, which focussed on a number of key areas, as highlighted below:
· Clarification was sought by the Committee as to what changes had been made since last year in terms of flooding, it was answered that tangible changes would be able to be made once the Independent Review had been published, though work was currently underway to prevent sewer flooding in the most high risk properties. It was also updated that resources had been increased in the call centre and more staff were trained to respond in a crisis in order to reduce waiting times.
· With regards to the drainage programme statement, it was asked when this would be extended to Kilburn, an area which had previously been flooded, as well as the wider Brent area. It was updated that a major drainage upgrade had been implemented in 2015 in the Maida Vale intersection, however it was acknowledged that Thames Water would have to work with the borough, as sewers did not have an unlimited capacity. It was explained that the Independent Review would provide information on which areas required more resilience and how to better protect properties.
· In regards to new properties being built in the borough, the Committee asked how Thames Water would work with the Local Authority to ensure that these homes had effective drainage systems. It was clarified that Thames Water was not a statutory consultee, however there was a free application process where developers could liaise with Thames Water to discuss how buildings could be more sustainable.
· Regarding the response to the July flooding, it was asked what training had been undertaken to ensure this would not happen again and to ensure that support was effective for residents. It was heard that due to the impact of the flooding in July there were thousands of people attempting to contact for assistance. Lessons had been learned from this, with the Committee told that six areas for improvement had been highlighted, as well as fourteen actions, with nine of the fourteen actions already implemented. This response would be collaborative, including with Local Authorities, as well as with services such as Fire and the Police. It was noted that the systems had been successfully tested thus far, with few issues resulting out of storms in August and October 2021.
· Following on from this, timescales were requested for when the full fourteen actions were likely to be completed, to which it was answered that some included third party participation, such as working with utility companies to establish a list of vulnerable customers in the result of flooding.
· It was queried how the Independent Review was set up and of whom it comprised, to which it was answered that it comprised of three independent experts, working alongside consultants who would implement the suggested recommendations. The review was funded by Thames Water, though the review acted as an impartial and independent assessment. It was clarified that residents could engage in this process, through londonreview.co.uk, where they were able to submit evidence and recommendations. The Chair of the Committee had also met with Councillors and MPs in affected boroughs, with a focus on the Maida Vale area.
· The Committee requested further detail on the Council’s multi-agency flood plan, as well as what work was being done with neighbouring councils, to which it was answered that scoping was currently underway, as well as identifying areas to work with other boroughs, particularly in relation to green spaces. It was also noted that Committee members would be able to contribute to this plan later in 2022.
· When asked whether Brent was regarded as a priority for sewer infrastructure upgrades, it was answered that it was thought that Brent was covered by the business as usual work, though if there were specific areas that Thames Water be informed. In terms of wider funding, it was answered that there was not a proportional funding formula by borough. It was noted that this could be investigated to see if it were possible.
· It was asked whether Thames Water could provide more information on the release of sewage into the River Brent, to which it was clarified that this was outside of the remit of Thames Water. However, Thames Water were of the opinion that this was unacceptable, so work was ongoing with the Government and the Environmental Agency to ensure that this practice was stopped.
· A query was raised around if there were a list of complaints prior to the 12th July flooding, to which it was responded that a flooding questionnaire was provided to residents who had been affected by flooding to establish the causes and solutions. The customer contact centre also tracked and formally recorded all complaints about flooding, which formed the evidence base for creating the solutions to flooding. It was clarified that after July this questionnaire was available online, though paper copies could be mailed to residents where required.
· A question was raised regarding burst pipes and the impact this had on local homes and traffic, and whether plans were in place to upgrade the pipe work in the borough. It was answered that funding had been provided to upgrade older pipes across London due to ageing infrastructure. It was noted that this work was being done on a priority basis, where there was the highest level of need, alongside reactive maintenance programmes.
· It was asked if there were lines of communication in place with organisations such as the police to stop traffic going down flooded roads, to which it was clarified that this would be communicated with Transport for London (TFL) as well as the fire service.
It was RESOLVED:
(1) That the following areas for improvement be noted:
· For the Council’s Planning Department to work more closely with Thames Water on drainage issues arising from planning applications
(2) The Committee made the following information requests:
· To receive a copy of the independent review into the events of and response to the floods experienced across London in July when published and Thames Water’s response to the review
· To receive information on the level of funding for drainage repairs in Brent compared to other London boroughs
· To receive an update report on the development of the Council’s multi-agency flood plan in the next municipal year