I am grateful in many ways to my hon. Friend for his exceptionally important intervention. He is absolutely right that the drainage boards do tremendous work and are vital. We are lucky to have them. One of the important things about the Bill is that it will facilitate other places’ setting them up—something which they are unable to do at the moment.
In total there are 112 internal drainage boards across England, which cover some 1.2 million hectares—around 10% of the land. The work they do protects 600,000 people and nearly 900,000 properties. They operate and maintain over 500 pumping stations and 22,000 km of watercourse, which is slightly further than from this room to New Zealand. Those are incredible numbers, but there is scope to increase that local support and allow more of the country to benefit. However, to enable this support to be available where it is wanted and where it is appropriate, the Land Drainage Act 1991 needs to change.
Internal drainage boards are funded by the areas they serve. Drainage rates are paid by agricultural landowners, and the special levy is paid by local district or unitary councils, which in turn recoup these costs. Under the Land Drainage Act 1991, the proportion of IDBs’ expenses raised by drainage rates is equal to the agricultural proportion of land values in an internal drainage district. In turn, the proportion of expenses raised by the special levy is proportionate to the value of all other land in the internal drainage district.
The calculations that IDBs are required to carry out, in order to apportion the payment of their expenses between the drainage rate and the special levy, depend on an assessment by each IDB of the relative value of agricultural land and buildings, and the value of other land. However, the assessment of the value of other land in internal drainage districts currently depends on data from 1990, which, unfortunately, in many instances is missing or incomplete. This prevents the creation of new IDBs or the expansion of existing ones.
This part of the Bill amends the Land Drainage Act 1991, to enable new data to be used by internal drainage boards when calculating the value of other lands, if they elect to do so, thereby addressing the current barrier to creating or expanding IDBs. Clause 2 amends section 37 of the Land Drainage Act 1991 to enable the Secretary of State to make regulations that provide an alternative methodology for calculating the value of other land. The regulations will be made subject to the affirmative procedure. In the new regulations, the Secretary of State will be able to provide a methodology for calculating the value of other land by making use of data that is not only available and complete, but more up to date.
Among other things, proposed new subsection (5ZB) of the 1991 Act will allow the regulations to make provision about methods to be applied or factors to be taken into account in valuing other land. This proposed subsection allows the regulations to provide for internal drainage boards to elect to have the regulations apply to them and to specify a procedure for making such an election. The IDBs would not have to adopt the new methodology; the Bill provides them with the ability to adopt it if they wish. That benefits those that do not wish to change their procedures; if they do nothing, nothing will change.
IDBs will need access to information from the Valuation Office Agency—the executive agency of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs—to calculate the value of other land using a new methodology set out in regulations. Clause 3 provides a power enabling the VOA to share revenue and customs information with IDBs—