The impact of flooding on bridges and other transport infrastructure in Cumbria (HC 473-i)
Transport Committee 17 Mar 2010
Evidence given by
2.45 pm Cumbria County Council Andrew Moss, Head of Service, Highways and Transportation Kenneth Brooks, Business Manager, Cumbria Highways
ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport) Michael Winter, ADEPT Bridges Group Chairman and Head of Engineering, Dorset County Council Graham Cole, ADEPT Bridges Group Secretary and Structures Group Manager, Surrey County Council Institution of Civil Engineers Amrit Ghose, Chair of Structures & Buildings Board
3.30pm UK Roads Liaison Group Matthew Lugg, Chairman, UK Roads Board Greg Perks, Chairman, UK Bridges Board
Network Rail John Dora, Principal Engineer (Climate Change)
Environment Agency David Rooke, Head of Strategy and Engagement
4.15 pm Department for Transport Rt Hon Sadiq Khan, Minister of State for Transport, Mostaque Ahmed, Divisional Manager, Regional and Local Major Projects and Roads Maintenance
Highways Agency Neil Loudon, Group Manager, Structures Policy and Pavements
Q13 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What you are saying is that there was a need for repairs after the inspection in 2000-2001. Were they done?
Mr Moss: Yes; yes.
Q14 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am a bit surprised that you do not know the age of the bridge. I would have thought that the archivist could have told you that quite easily. You think it is "about 100 years old". I would have thought you would have been able to find out by now.
Mr Moss: That is partly due to my recent arrival in the county.
Q15 Chair: Mr Brooks, can you tell us the age of the bridge?
Mr Brooks: I do not know the date of its construction but I understand it was about 1860.
Q16 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It looked a good 100 years old. Our inquiry is not about finding fault for what has gone on in Cumbria but learning the lessons from what has gone on in Cumbria. If I may turn to the railways for a little moment, if you remember, there was a very serious accident on the East Coast Mainline where a car went off the motorway onto the line and the train crashed into it. After that a lot of alterations were made to the bridges and barriers were put up to stop vehicles doing that. Is there anything we could do which would stop debris hitting the bridges now? Could we put some sort of reinforcement in front of these Victorian bridges?
Mr Winter: Since writing our evidence I have given some thought, with colleagues, to a process to risk assess the structures for flood damage. Could I maybe take you through that? I have submitted a process map to the Committee as part of supplementary evidence and if I might briefly explain, it might be useful. What we need to do is to identify on a risk basis the catchments which have the characteristics which will lend themselves most to high velocity impact of water at bridge sites. Some long, wide open catchments are unlikely to have the sort of characteristics we saw in Cumbria; there they are more likely to have inundations rather than high velocity floods. Working with the Environment Agency, we should be able to do that and to some degree that process overlaps with the flood risk regulations which came out in December and the emerging Flood and Water Management Bill which is going through at the moment. For these high risk catchments we need to simulate a flood event - I mentioned 1:200, perhaps enhanced for climate change - and actually get some figures at bridge sites of the forces that we need to check the bridge out for to see whether it will withstand those forces. Then we need to look in three areas. I said at the outset that there were three mechanisms for bridge failure and we need to look at the stability of the structure to withstand the hydrodynamic forces, whether or not the bridge is going to tip over because the forces are so great on it, we need to look at the scour, we need to look at the damage to the fabric of the structure. There are actually already standards for the first two of those which would help us in developing guidance for this process. The HA has an advice note on assessing bridges for scour and there is already a design standard for new structures which gives indications of forces. The gentleman here referred to debris impact. There is guidance on loadings for debris impact and that is quite basic. It is the force of a three-tonne log hitting a structure at the velocity of the river flow. So we do have standards already set out; it is a case of knitting them together to look in the same way that we looked at the risk of vehicles' incursions onto the railway. It is a case of knitting them together and getting some sort of priority ranking for our bridge stock. If we were to go through that, we could then see where our highest vulnerability was and based on that look at what measures could be taken to improve the resilience of the bridges to withstand these floods. There are things that we can do to protect foundations with sheet piling or rock or gabions. Having done that, we can then move on and actually prioritise that work by looking at the cost of the measures and balancing them with the enhancement to the resilience we get of the structure but also looking at the socio-economic benefits of doing the work because any work would have to be prioritised against the wider maintenance programme.
Q17 Chair: That is very helpful to us and we will read the detail of what has been submitted. Mr Ghose, could I ask you from your experience whether you would say there was a danger of collapse of this type of bridge over waterways in other parts of the country?
Mr Ghose: I would say there is. I would not be able to identify exactly where. As Mr Winter said, you need to identify the types of flow, the types of rainfall, working with the Environment Agency and to look at the risk and vulnerability of structures. One thing I would say is that there are different types of bridges, so in Cumbria I believe we are looking at multi-span arched bridges which are an older type of bridge which would not have been designed for lateral forces due to water. They are very reliant on the mass of the structure to keep them stable and also they have fairly shallow foundations. Again, different parts of the country may have different types of infrastructure. You referred to railway bridges and in general terms, when bridges are newer bridges, they have had a programme of looking at scour on railway structures because of their vulnerability and there were incidents quite a number of years ago. The railways authorities have undertaken some work in this area to try to identify some of the risks on a regular basis. On the Highways Agency side, the Highways Agency network stems from the motorway network in general so it stems from the 1960s onwards but again we are generally looking at more modern types of structures which are more robust.
Q18 Mr Clelland: It is one thing assessing the likely damage made through volumes of water and debris but there is also the question of avoidance, is there not? What could be done, for instance, to avoid the likelihood of large amounts of debris, tree trunks, et cetera being caught up in the flood? Should something be done about managing the river and the general environment to avoid that sort of thing in future?
Mr Winter: Yes. It is probably a matter for the Environment Agency to talk along those lines rather than us but certainly anything we can do to avoid tree trunks and so on hitting the bridges would be very beneficial.
Mr Brooks: I would just like to go back to the very beginning and try to emphasise the extraordinary nature of this event. We had significant amounts of rainfall and it was very focused and only happened in discrete areas of our county. That is why it affected the bridge stock that we are seeing has been damaged. It did not come across any Highways Agency structures as such; it only came across one railway bridge and all the other bridges which have been affected have been masonry structures. The scale of the flooding was unprecedented, so the land management structure upstream of those bridges would not have anticipated rubbish and debris being picked up and the figures you have quoted talked about design standards of 1:200-year return; everybody else in Cumbria is talking about a 1:1,000-year event. It is of a much greater scale and beyond anything anticipated or expected.
Q19 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am afraid you lost me a little because it is a very technical issue. When you were answering the question, what you were really saying was that you can identify which bridges are most at risk.
Mr Winter: I think we could.
Q20 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Could that be done reasonably quickly? Secondly, could you do something about preventing collapses?
Mr Winter: Yes, that is the first point. We would need to prepare some guidance and with DfT support we could fairly readily build on the work that was suggested by Network Rail on assessing scour, particularly as they have done some very good work following a rail incident in the late 1980s when there was a failure due to scour in South Wales. They have done some excellent work. If we can use that and work by the Highways Agency, I think we can actually produce some guidance quite readily. That would identify bridges at risk and there is a series of engineering measures which can be done to mitigate the risk of flood damage for some structures; not all. For some it will just be cost prohibitive but there will be some structures where we can probably do things to make them more resilient.
Q21 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Usually when we have a disaster like this some eminent professor comes out and says "We told you so". Was there any warning within the profession, amongst the experts, that this sort of thing could happen?
Mr Winter: We have had incidents in Boscastle where a bridge was lost and we had the Gloucestershire floods. Certainly Boscastle was not dissimilar but Gloucestershire was more about inundation rather than a high velocity. Parapets were damaged and I think one bridge was damaged. With hindsight maybe we should have been more focused on flood risk and I would certainly be suggesting that we put some improved guidance in our code of practice on highway structures to recommend that authorities do consider flood risk and carry out some sort of assessment.
Q22 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): But nobody was actually flagging up that this could happen?
Mr Winter: No, not particularly.
Q27 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To go on from the bridge collapse, we were very impressed with the fact that you had a new railway station there and you had the footbridge up and the work was underway on the temporary bridge. However, there is deep frustration amongst my friends in the Workington area. If you look at the cost benefit, it has split the town in two creating all sorts of problems. Do you think that the lessons learned from this collapse, with regard to getting new replacement bridges, will be learned? Has there been any frustration on this?
Mr Moss: There are many lessons to be learned, some of which we have begun to refer to in this discussion this afternoon regarding bridge risk assessment, for instance at a national level. In terms of lessons learned in getting replacements, we are in discussions with our colleagues in DfT, Department for Transport, regarding how we can accommodate future transport objectives, sustainable transport objectives for instance, where a bridge replacement is concerned where we can build in capacity for other modes of transport, cycling, pedestrian activity and so on. We are trying to accommodate that within the design. Some of the frustration emerges where constraints emerge from the guidelines for funding for recovery work after a flood event or any emergency event of this nature such that your start point is to put back what you lost. It is my view that is not necessarily the best for the locality which is affected, in this case by a flood.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am perhaps not explaining myself too well. Firstly, the impression we got when we were there was that, to be honest, the Government had been very generous and there had been no financial constraints, but the frustration felt by the people of Workington and elsewhere is the time it takes to build the temporary bridge and then the permanent one. Are there any lessons to be learned on that?
Q28 Chair: Do you agree that the Government have been generous? Are you satisfied with the help that has been given?
Mr Moss: Cumbrian County Council has welcomed and recognises the support we have received from Government, from the Department for Transport and other government departments which have been present in the county. As we discussed during the Committee's visit to the county on Monday, an awful lot of work has been done and the situation would be very different for the county authority as a highway authority in respect of its future work programme had we not received that support. We very much recognise that aspect of the government assistance. More broadly, both government officers and county officers worked towards the guidelines for funding provision and in this case emergency Flood Recovery Grant from the Department for Transport and a discussion takes place about the value of the funding initially and that took place in Cumbria. Following the securing of a funding route for the recovery work we then have to go through European procurement standards and such like procurement routes to deliver the projects we have in hand.
Q29 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): May I stop you on that? This is an emergency, is it not?
Mr Moss: Yes.
Q30 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It appears that the EU procurement procedures would have taken some time. If it happens in the future, would you suggest there is a way of getting round that?
Mr Moss: I understand the question. I suppose there are two parts to the answer. One is that procurement inevitably puts on us requirements to comply with certain standards in order to be fair and open and transparent, which we fully sign up to. It is my view that we did the procurement for flood recovery project work as quickly as could possibly be done in the environment in which we all work. For instance, for the temporary road bridge, we went through an emergency negotiated procedure process which procurement officers identified as the quickest route and that is the fastest I have ever seen anything bought of this value. However, it still took a number of weeks. While we reassured the communities in West Cumbria that we were doing all that we could, I think they felt that in their view we could have done something quicker.
Q31 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): This bridge is ahead of schedule though, is it not?
Mr Moss: The bridge is on schedule; our objective date is end of May to deliver and we committed at the outset of the award of contract to work with our construction partner to shorten that where at all possible. At the moment we are in a positive place in respect of shortening that date.
Q32 Chair: What are the key steps that the Government should take to protect bridges from flooding events in the future, looking at the position nationally?
Mr Winter: First and foremost, some sort of assessment process in support of the development of that would be very helpful.
Q33 Chair: In support of the development?
Mr Winter: Of the assessment process that I outlined, some support in actually providing the guidance to authorities to carry out that prioritisation process for people then to go to highlight the structures which potentially need to be improved by damage mitigation measures. However, those measures would be at a cost and unless extra money is provided over and above the existing maintenance budgets there would be difficulties. The problem we have at the moment is that whilst the Department for Transport provide within their local transport plan settlements indicative allocations for the spend on bridge works by local authorities, local authorities tend - and this is part anecdotally and part through sounding out neighbouring authorities - to spend less than their allocations from the DfT. They do that because the need for highway maintenance spend on carriageways and roads is a much higher public profile than the spend on bridges. Most of the public, when they travel across bridges, do not know they are travelling across bridges. They might just see a parapet and not really think about the fact that below them might be a poorly maintained structure. As a consequence, certainly local politicians tend to direct maintenance moneys towards the road network rather than the bridge network, so we do tend to find on average an authority is spending 50% to 60% of their allocations and that is one of the reasons why we have the maintenance backlog we have.
Q34 Chair: What lesson would you draw from that? Do you think there should be more government guidance to local authorities?
Mr Winter: I guess it will not happen but the ideal thing from a bridge maintenance point of view would be to ring-fence that indicative allocation but since highway maintenance funding in its own right is not ring-fenced, I guess that is not going to happen.
Q35 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I was a bit shocked there. You say that X amount of money is provided for bridge maintenance and they only spend about 60% of that.
Mr Winter: There is X amount of money for highways maintenance and there is a recommendation from the Department for Transport that a proportion of that, maybe about 20% or 30%, it depends on each authority, should be spent on bridges.
Q36 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So the Department are recommending you spend a certain percentage on highway maintenance and you are saying that some of the local authorities are not spending 50% of that?
Mr Winter: I am saying that authorities are often spending less than that. It varies. I know some unitaries are spending the full allocation. As you know, at the moment we have been hearing stories about potholes after the winter events; we have had two harsh winters and our carriageways are in a poor state because of that, and there is some pressure to deal with the higher profile needs of highway maintenance on the road network and, as a consequence, the bridge spend is reduced.
Q37 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What percentage in Cumbria, Mr Moss?
Mr Moss: Funnily enough, in four out of the last five years we have spent more than our allocated grant from Government. The last time we under spent was in 2004-2005. I do not yet know, because this is recent data presented to me ---
Q38 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So that has not been a problem for you.
Mr Moss: I do not think so in this case. The point which was made just now by ADEPT is a valid one and we need to look at road infrastructure maintenance across the board but that is my professional view and I am sure it is the view of ADEPT as well. In Cumbria we have actually spent our allocation in all but one of the last five years.
Q61 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We heard earlier that there had been an incident of scouring on one of Network Rail's bridges in the 1980s.
Mr Dora: Yes.
Q62 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I presume that you found that out by inspection or what?
Mr Dora: We had an incident in 1987 in Wales where a railway bridge collapsed under a train and tragically four people were killed in that incident. The railway is an organisation that investigates such incidents and learns from them. After the Glanrhyd collapse in South Wales we commissioned some hydraulic consultants to look at the hydraulics of scour. They came up with a risk assessment process for the railway industry to assess its structures over water. There was a national risk assessment which was carried out in the late 1980s/early 1990s on all railway bridges over water.
Q63 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Perhaps what I am getting at is that this was an incident which happened on the railways; you carried out the research and came up with various conclusions.
Mr Dora: Yes.
Q64 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Could that information have been used on highway bridges? Did we not learn the lessons in spite of the fact that a train was going over this and not a bus?
Mr Dora: My personal view is that a bridge over water has certain risks attached.
Q65 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Whether it carries a railway or a road?
Mr Dora: Whether it is a highway bridge or a railway bridge similar consequences might arise.
Q66 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What happened? We could well have been in the middle of the fiasco with Railtrack at the time; I am not quite sure. Was that just carried out on railway bridges?
Mr Dora: Correct.
Q67 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Was there was no transfer of the information to the local authorities or the government department responsible for roads or what?
Mr Dora: There have been various fora where railway scour risk assessment has been broadcast to the engineering community at large. I attended conferences and talked about our risk assessment process and there is a document which was published in 2002 by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association that encompasses different types of risk assessment for scour at bridges generally and the railway system features in that.
Q68 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Were any lessons learned?
Mr Perks: Yes. Various organisations have over the years developed standards or guidance, primarily of course for the use of their own organisation. Since the establishment of the Roads Liaison Group and its boards in 2001, we are all particularly keen to share best practice amongst all factors dealing with the public highway network. As Mr Winter mentioned earlier in his evidence, we are keen to see a development of assessment of flood vulnerability which includes scour assessment and we would be looking there to investigate and combine work done by others.
Q69 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I hear what you say but the question was: did anybody learn the lessons from what happened to the rail bridge in Wales?
Mr Perks: I think the events which happened recently were so severe that that might not have prevented them.
Q70 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is not the question. What I am trying to get at is that the railways looked at it, found the solution to their problem and it does not seem to have been an alarm call for road reviews. Is that the case?
Mr Perks: There are other standards there for roads but something we need to do in future is look at everything that is out there and get the best combined evidence that we can all use.
Q71 Chair: Network Rail have been praised for building the temporary station very quickly at Workington. What lessons have you learned from that?
Mr Dora: One of the main lessons we have learned from building the temporary station at Workington was mainly that in the Railways Act 1993 there is provision for introducing stations, but if it is a temporary station, there is no provision there for decommissioning the station. There is a sort of process which has to be looked at once you have built the station in order to close it and take it away. Apart from that, everything worked quite well; the co-operation with the train companies and the local authority to build the station, find the site and get the thing working was quite good.
Q72 Chair: Who has paid for it?
Mr Dora: Network Rail paid for the station, as I understand.
Q73 Chair: From their existing resources?
Mr Dora: From existing resources.
Q74 Chair: And they have not reduced something else to do that?
Mr Dora: Not to the best of my knowledge.
Q75 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The station was a great success. Being quite local I understand and appreciate what you have done. What you have done though is to create a demand and I suspect the locals will not be too keen to see that station closed. Obviously it would have to be a permanent structure, but is there a possibility that could be looked at?
Mr Dora: I am sure there is a possibility that could be looked at.
Q79 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): We heard earlier evidence that the Government recommends a certain percentage of your maintenance be spent on bridges. I used to be a local councillor so I understand the pressures, but basically your local councils have been taking the decisions to provide new tarmac and have actually been underfunding bridge maintenance. Can that be excused?
Mr Lugg: It is very difficult when you do not necessarily get enough funding in the first place to try to prioritise. We are investing in techniques around asset management to get a much better handle on how we make best use of the funding we get in terms of investment decisions and I do think part of the asset management approach will help in prioritising funding for structures, recognising some of the vulnerability issues we have discussed today, making sure more investment does go in. In the light of the experience we have had, trying to get more priority and demonstrate the risk issues around investment structures will make a difference to help ensure more funding does go into maintaining our bridges.
Q84 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): As you have Environment in your title I am going to ask you this question. There was criticism from some people and we did visit the farm where there were hundreds of tonnes if not thousands of tonnes of gravel placed over the fields and obviously they have been responsible for the scouring of some of the bridges. The argument was that they used to dredge the rivers and they had been stopped from doing that and basically it would help the environment, the fish and the wildlife on the river. Is that a sensible policy? Where should the priority be?
Mr Rooke: We do dredging where it is cost beneficial to do it. We can only do works on what are called main rivers, which are rivers which are marked on a map which has been approved by the Secretary of State; we can only do work on rivers marked on that map. Elsewhere it is for local authorities or if there are internal drainage boards for those to do the work. Obviously we balance the needs to reduce flood risk but also combined with environmental regulation and we are under a duty to further conservation when we carry out works. So the Environment Agency is best placed to take all those technical issues into account. Our fisheries colleagues, our conservation colleagues, our engineers all work together to provide the best solution for a particular community. Sometimes we will dredge and other times we will not dredge, we will do other works.
Q85 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can we come back to the Workington situation? I presume that the Cocker and the Derwent are main rivers.
Mr Rooke: They are, yes.
Q86 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Have you reduced the dredging over the years on those two rivers?
Mr Rooke: I know that the local team have looked at the dredging. Some work was done in the Cockermouth area because a shoal had developed just upstream of the community but there has not been widespread dredging because it was not considered appropriate and would not have provided the necessary reduction in flood risk.
Q87 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): In view of the floods, will you be going back to re-look at that particular decision?
Mr Rooke: My colleagues are talking with the community and with those farmers in terms of what is most appropriate for going forward because, as you are aware, the course of the river has actually changed in places such was the flow and the amount of debris that was moved. Those discussions are going on with farmers in that area.
Q88 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The final issue may be to do with you or may not be. There was an argument that the damage which was caused to the bridges was basically from fallen trees in the river hitting against the buttresses. Would you be in favour of clearing the sides of these rivers to see that these trees do not fall in?
Mr Rooke: We do undertake maintenance on water courses that can involve removing debris; large trees, et cetera. We do do that on an ad hoc basis and we are inspecting our defences on a regular basis on a risk-based approach. If we do pick up areas where there are large obstructions, then we do go in and remove those.
Q89 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is when the trees have fallen in the rivers.
Mr Rooke: Yes.
Q90 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It is the trees at the side of the river which are likely to be washed away. Do you have any involvement with that?
Mr Rooke: Yes, we do. If they are on the banks of the river and they look as though they are in danger of falling in and causing an obstruction, then we do carry out works to remove those trees.
Q91 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Was any of that work done on the Derwent and the Cocker in recent times?
Mr Rooke: I am sorry; I do not know that detail.
Q92 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can you write to us with the information?
Mr Rooke: We can.
Q102 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): First may I thank you for the personal commitment you gave to Cumbria; I know that Tony Cunningham appreciated your visits and the actual effort and money which have gone in. I was slightly worried about the way your comments were taking us. You said that no bridge would have withstood that particular river flow on that day. There was the Papcastle Bridge which was further up which was a modern construction which actually did not suffer greatly and we saw that. The one that did withstand it was the one which was further down, which was the rail bridge and it was the Victorian, probably mid-nineteenth century bridges, one of which collapsed and the other one nearly collapsed. Surely there must be a lesson there, that those types of bridges are more vulnerable and therefore we should be looking at ways of protecting them, not just in Cumbria but in areas where we could have a similar situation with every rainfall coming out into an estuary.
Mr Khan: May I firstly correct, if I have misled you. The question asked was: could anything have been done to prevent that bridge collapsing, for example, had there been a failure to inspect, had there been a failure to maintain? There was no evidence of either of those things. What the Highways Agency do for the bridges we are responsible for is very thorough inspections once every six years, including going under water to see whether there are issues with foundations and every two years there are further targeted inspections. I will let Neil explain some of the technical issues around why some bridges collapsed and some did not.
Mr Loudon: One has to be careful about making presumptions about types of bridges. I would say I do agree that a modern bridge with deep piled foundations is probably less vulnerable to the effects of high water flows and scour than some of the older bridges. In looking at the risks from scour and hydraulic loading on structures, one really has to look at the location of those structures as well. It is not just a case of looking at the particular form of structure. One of the bits of work we are doing and we have instigated post Cumbria is a pilot study in area two, which is in the Gloucestershire area. We are looking at compiling the data sources which are already available, so that is climate change data, flood risk data and we will work very closely with the Environment Agency on both of those and also looking at the thorough databases of our assets, not just structures, but the roads as well and looking at the vulnerability of the assets. What we are doing as well is looking at the feasibility of extending that through to look at local authority bridges in that Gloucestershire area. We are looking to identify specific areas and specific vulnerabilities on the network rather than just looking at types of structures.
Q103 Chair: Are you saying then that you are not looking specifically at masonry arch bridges?
Mr Loudon: I have to be careful because the Highways Agency's stock of structures tends to be of more modern construction and we have fewer masonry structures than other bridge owners. It would depend on the span of the structure and the location of the supports of the structure. It is not simply saying that it is a masonry arch versus a modern concrete and steel bridge.
Q104 Chair: So you are not looking at that category.
Mr Loudon: We would look at all structures from the Highways Agency's perspective, look at the vulnerabilities on the network, putting together this flood data, the climate change data together with our asset data to see which bridges are more vulnerable. That would entail looking at the types of structure which are on that part of the network.
Q105 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Nobody is saying for one moment that there was any warning that the bridges at Workington were not safe. What happened happened and there was no expert saying that if you do not do this the bridge will collapse. But it has happened, has it not? Mr Loudon is worrying me a little because he keeps going on about the Highways Agency, and I understand why he is doing that, but the reality is that most of the vulnerable bridges will be local authority bridges. Unless Government take action, we have already seen that they only spend 50% or 60% of the money that they should be spending on maintaining bridges anyhow, so it needs guidance from the Minister.
Mr Khan: Sure.
Q106 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): May I go back to an earlier issue where we had the train crash on the East Coast where the Land Rover went over the motorway bridge onto the mainline and there was a major loss of life. Following that, a decision was taken to strengthen the barriers on rail bridges. Do you think we may be coming to a conclusion that some of the bridges need strengthening following this accident?
Mr Khan: Let me answer your question this way. In 1998 a decision was taken that all the evidence suggested that there was huge underinvestment in our highways including our bridges and our structures and a conscious decision was taken to increase by huge amounts the amount of funding local authorities get for their highways, which obviously includes bridges and other structures. Over the last ten years that has been about £6.5 billion; this year alone it is £750 million under the local transport plan. The problem is - I say "problem" but it depends how you see it - that this money is not ring-fenced. It is for local authorities to decide how they spend this money and they should decide to spend it bearing in mind what assessment they make of their highways, their structures. What we are encouraging local authorities to do is what the Highways Agency does, which is to carry out an assessment of those infrastructures for which they are responsible; what is called a transport assessment management plan. The idea is that a local authority looks at the structures for which they are responsible, have an inventory of the things under their control, look at the condition of those things, ask themselves the question "What sort of service level do we expect from these?" and then ask "How much would it cost to bring these up to the service we expect?" If you do this as a local authority, we believe it will save you money because you will plan your expenditure more sensibly; also it will mean that there is a structure using the guidance from the UK Roads Liaison Group or using the guidance from the Highways Agency. You will then bring them to the front of the queue to be repaired, resurfaced or fixed rather than being neglected. The point is a serious point.
Q107 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I appreciate what you are saying but the problem with that is that when something goes drastically wrong, as it has in Workington, it is the Government who will have to pick up the bill, is it not, for the new bridge, for the temporary bridge or whatever? In a way, unless you give guidance and very strong guidance, if this happens again, the Government will have to pick up the bill.
Mr Khan: Firstly, nobody is suggesting anything went wrong in Workington.
Q108 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): No, the Workington one was not a problem.
Mr Khan: As far as our responsibility is concerned, what I think would be unhelpful would be if we had some sort of Doomsday Book of all the bridges in the country with a coding and we were responsible for that. Local authorities should be responsible. It is one of the upsides or downsides of devolution. We devolved down to them the budgets and the responsibility to maintain their roads. The point I was making about the transport assessment management plan was that in 2004 when the transport plans first occurred, only 9% of local authorities were even thinking about having this sort of register of local assets. In 2007-2008 when we looked at it, about 78% was work in progress. We are going to survey again after the purdah period ends to see what assessment there is. I would be disappointed if local authorities were saying to me that they still have not carried out an assessment of what structures they have in their authority. If they have not carried out that assessment, how can they then make a risk assessment and invest in those parts of their highways, the bridges, that need the investment.
Mr Ahmed: We provided £32 million of funding to local authorities to help them with developing the transport asset management plans.
Q114 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I presume from what has been said that there is no policy of bridge renewal, no rolling programme of bridge renewal?
Mr Khan: From the centre?
Q115 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Yes.
Mr Khan: No, there is not from the centre in relation to the Government.
Q116 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So what we are going to have is 300-year-old bridges in 100 years' time, are we not?
Mr Khan: Do not forget that there are three owners of bridges: Network Rail, Highways Agency and local authorities. It is not for me to tell a local authority when to renew their bridge. Just to come back to a point that is worth mentioning, one of the lessons we have learned from Cumbria is that clearly there are some bridges which are of huge strategic importance, for example the bridge which collapsed in Workington cut off communities. If you are the council for that area that may be more of a priority for you when you carry out your asset management than a bridge which may be in need of maintenance but is used by three people every week, for argument's sake. That is one of the things which you as local councillors would be better placed to do rather than us in Whitehall.
Q117 Chair: Would you say that we need a survey to identify bridges which are at particular risk of flood damage in extreme weather?
Mr Khan: That is one of the things I would expect local councils to do, local authorities to do, when they carry out their transport asset management plan.
Q118 Chair: Do you think it should be done?
Mr Khan: I think they should do that, yes..
Q119 Chair: Would there be Government guidance that that should happen?
Mr Khan: It is worth Neil just reminding the Committee of what the Highways Agency does for their bridges.
Mr Loudon: As the Minister has indicated, we have a regular regime of inspection of the bridges and part of that is identifying bridges that are susceptible to scour. There are 2,500 bridges which cross water courses for the Highways Agency. Just over 1,000 have been identified as at potential risk from scour; that is they could be in certain circumstances. Those are the bridges that we concentrate on in terms of our inspections. At the six-yearly detailed inspections we would look at underwater inspections and after events of flooding and heavy rainfall we would also go and look at those bridges and examine the underwater condition of the foundations.
Q120 Chair: Outside the Highways Agency, would you have guidance that that sort of survey should be done?
Mr Ahmed: The UKRLG do have an existing code of practice for the management of highway structures which builds on some of the guidance for the Highways Agency but more generally for local highway authorities. That includes instructions on inspections as well and that could be something that, going forward, with UKRLG, we could look to update.
Q121 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Nobody could have predicted that one of the Workington bridges was going to collapse and one become very dangerous and probably have to be knocked down and cost a fortune to repair. Having said that, if something like this happens again in the foreseeable future, people will say the Government were aware that there was a problem and they did not do anything. What is your answer to that?
Mr Khan: It is a very good question. The answer is in three parts. Firstly, the new permanent bridges which are going to be built are going to be adapted to take account of some of the challenges we face with climate change. Secondly, the Highways Agency offered and we have given to Cumbria and the councils the offer of the engineers and experts and to the teams who are out helping local authorities wherever they need help to inspect the bridges - and they have carried out a survey of nearly all the bridges and there are thousands of bridges in that part of the world you know better than I do - from the centre we offered our experts to help you as local authorities to do that. The third point I would make to local authorities is please speak to us about the potential areas of problem you foresee, let us know and we will do what we can to assist you. We are here to help. Something like 98% of the roads in our country are not the responsibility of the Highways Agency or Network Rail. We could easily wash our hands of those but we think that is not sensible. Any expertise or guidance we have centrally we are happy to pass down. We work with and fund research from UKRLG and any lessons which can be learned from Cumbria will be learned, not simply in the recovery but trying to make sure that things like this do not happen in the first place. All the evidence I have from the experts in Cumbria is that actually they are one of the few councils who, as part of their LAA, have as national indicators areas around maintenance. They are not one of these councils with their head in the sand.
Q122 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): They have spent 100% of the money on the bridges that they should have done.
Mr Khan: Absolutely.
Q123 Mr Clelland: We have talked a lot about bridges but there is also a question of the highways which were also flooded and the A66, which in that part of its length is a trunk road and is managed by the Highways Agency, was flooded and blocked for some time.
Mr Loudon: Flooded for 45 hours.
Q124 Mr Clelland: Indeed a viaduct, maybe 200 feet from the valley floor, had two feet of water in it because the gullies were not capable of taking the water away. Obviously this is a 1:200-year event but we do not know how often these things might or might not happen again in future. Were any lessons learned there, any alterations to be made to those sections of the road or anywhere else in the country because of the likelihood of severe storms like that?
Mr Loudon: I can only comment again from the Highways Agency perspective. There was fairly limited damage to the other infrastructure. There was a river adjacent to the trunk road which had some minor damage and is being repaired. There was some localised damage to some of the drainage and some of the carriageway surfacing but again it was relatively minor considering the nature and extent of the rainfall and the flooding. To pick up on your point, yes, of course when we do our survey and look at the vulnerability of our assets, I do not just talk in terms of structures, I talk in terms of the geotechnical, the earthworks, the drainage and the pavements themselves. We have to look at the whole infrastructure.
Mr Khan: One of the lessons we learned is in relation to drainage. We are now working much more closely with Defra in the Flood and Water Management Bill to have sustainable drainage rather than the presumption, when you build a highway or property, that you connect automatically to the sewerage system. It is that sort of foresight which was not there even ten years ago and we are trying to build in now and trying to make sure we do not have the problems in 10 or 20 years' time that we have now in relation to where the water runoff goes.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The people from Cumbria have been very fulsome in their praise of the help they have had from the Department but you get the feeling that there is a bit of frustration because there is a conflict between putting things back as they were and actually improving things while you have the opportunity. Obviously at the moment the Government are saying that they will fund for replacement. How do we get over that conflict between this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve things but we do not have the money and the Government saying they are very happy to fund, all right using new technologies, but what you had before? How do we get over that problem?
Q125 Chair: When we say "improve" that could mean learning lessons of something that did not quite prove to be adequate. Is it possible for improvements to be made within reason?
Mr Khan: Absolutely. One of the best conversations I have had with people involved with this natural catastrophe was with some of the technical people in Cumbria who made the point that this could be an opportunity to rethink completely the way we do things in transport in the area. One of the key challenges we have is to balance getting back the town's connectivity - Workington was cut off - and at the same time start the process of rebuilding a new bridge, for argument's sake, without considering whether there are other things we can think about, like having a permanent railway connection, where the station is and all the rest of it. What we have done is this: we have sent in a specialist person to advise the council how they want to go about doing the recovery part of it. The important thing was to get the communities reconnected, so having the free shuttle service was very important. That is only a temporary arrangement. The footbridge is very important because children could not reach school and they could not get to their exams; that was very important. Getting the temporary road bridge in is very important for obvious reasons. That is the "temporary" stuff. It is for the council now to come to us with ideas about the permanent side of things. For example, I mentioned a permanent bridge which will take two and a half years to build. The council and local stakeholders may think we ought to think about some other innovative ways. The challenge will be that most of the road networks connect in a certain way because they have been there literally for centuries, so it will take some innovative work from the engineers and councillors to think about solutions for the future. We are very happy, may I say on the record and I have said this to council leaders, both district and county and to the engineers, to work with them. I do not think there is a chief executive I have spoken to more than the chief executive in the area. She was appointed the day before the floods and she has had a fantastic probation period. I am really happy to work with them and it is their decision. We cannot impose from HQ what happens to that community.
Q126 Chair: But you will work with them with the aim of making things as good as they can be?
Mr Khan: My task is to fulfil the promise the Prime Minister made which is to do whatever the people of Cumbria need to put this community back on its feet. We have started a process with the footbridge, the temporary road bridge and that process goes on. The key point the Prime Minister made and the people made was "Don't stop coming, don't stop helping us once the cameras go away". We still are helping Cumbria and the cameras have gone.
Chair: So help is continuing. That is a very good point on which to conclude. Thank you very much for coming.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read here.
|On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB|