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Written - Flood Risk Management in Wales
Over the summer period we have seen extensive flooding across England and some localised flooding in Wales which has graphically demonstrated the consequences of living with flood risk.
Thousands of properties were directly affected with extensive disruption to business and transport systems and many parts of England were left without essential services such as power, water and sewerage. It will take many months for these areas to return to normality.
During the same period, Wales experienced serious local flooding but was fortunate to escape the brunt of the severe weather. However, we are equally vulnerable to extreme events and such events are predicted to become more common in the future as our climate changes.
What we have seen over the last few weeks is what happens when extreme rainfall produces conditions which exceed the capacity of existing defence and drainage systems. Such events are rare, but they will happen and, while we can never eliminate them, we can prepare for them.
Detailed reviews of the events of this summer are planned and I will ensure that their findings are used to inform our approach in Wales. However, some clear messages have already emerged:
- Defended areas and areas served by drainage systems will flood as a result of extreme events irrespective of how good our defence and drainage systems may be.
- The consequences of flooding for communities are always unpleasant but we must strive to avoid unacceptable consequences such as loss of essential services.
- Communities are often left shocked at the speed and impact of the event and confused as to the role of the public bodies and the services which different bodies provide.
- Such extreme events will become more common with climate change.
I am determined to take urgent action to address these issues and to improve our preparedness for such extreme events.
During the summer many of those affected were left facing the direct impacts of flooding without essential services such as electricity, water supply and sewerage. We must learn the lessons from this experience and find ways to anticipate and avoid such impacts in the future.
The Assembly Government is working with service providers to establish the vulnerability of critical assets in Wales to flooding and I will also be seeking assurances from service providers about the contingency plans in place to respond to extreme events like those experienced this summer.
While we were fortunate to have escaped the brunt of the severe weather, nonetheless 100 houses in communities across Wales were affected. In many cases these areas are served by complex defence and drainage systems with different bodies managing different parts of the system.
I have asked my officials to work closely with those operating authorities dealing with the areas that were affected to explore ways to minimise the risk of similar problems in future. Work will be commissioned to develop a comprehensive risk management plan for the urban drainage area, understood by both the system operators and the public it serves.
Public engagement is an essential part of this exercise and I have asked that the public be encouraged to participate fully in this exercise. The Assembly Government is directly funding pilot studies in Prestatyn and Barry from our local authority Flood and Coastal Risk Management grant scheme. The result of these pilot studies will assist in the development of future policy guidance and will support the spread of best practice for urban flood risk management to sites across Wales.
The recent floods have highlighted our vulnerability to flooding and the unavoidable impacts of climate change. If we continue with our present approach then flood and coastal risk is forecast to increase to unacceptable levels by the end of the century. For this reason I announced at the Royal Welsh Show in July the launch of our New Approaches Programme to flood and coastal risk management.
This three-year programme aims to move us from our traditional defence dominated approach to a risk management approach and will help us to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. It will place a greater emphasis on consequence management with the aim of managing consequences for our at risk communities to tolerable levels.
The programme, while recognising that traditional defence will continue to play an important part in our future management, will encourage working with nature rather than against it. This means a greater use of land management measures to control runoff, the use of flexible natural barriers such as moveable boulders on beaches, making the most of natural flood protection such as wetlands and the use of sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) which use natural systems such as reed beds to reduce the flow into the sewer and drainage system.
The programme will also focus greater attention on awareness raising and emergency support, recovery and resilience.
The needs of people at risk of flood will be at the heart of the programme and our whole approach in future. It will require greater partnership working amongst our public service delivery bodies and greater engagement with the public.
The programme builds on the actions that are already underway.
The planning system plays a key role in helping to manage flood risk. Technical Advice Note 15 – Development and Flood Risk (TAN 15), provides a precautionary framework which guides development away from the floodplain where this is possible and ensures that decisions that allow development on the floodplain must take into account the consequences of flooding over the lifetime of that development. It aims to ensure that for new development, we enter into it with our eyes open, aware of the risk and its consequences.
It is important that the advice in TAN15 is up to date and to that end I will be issuing updated TAN15 development advice maps in the New Year.
The responses received to our recent Planning for Climate Change consultation supported our view that there is more that the planning system can do to help manage flood risk.
I am currently finalising amendments to Planning Policy Wales in response to that consultation. The revised planning policy will encourage additional flood resilience being built into new properties, including housing. This will facilitate more rapid recovery from extreme events and encourage the use of sustainable drainage systems to help offset the impacts of an increase in intense rainfall.
Operating authorities are currently preparing flood risk management plans and reviewing existing shoreline management plans. These plans, which will determine local management policies across Wales, provide the detailed local picture of the risks we are seeking to manage and will be reflect our new approach.
To assist this work, the Assembly Government is funding the establishment of a coastal monitoring centre which will provide a focal point for coastal data collection and will specifically support our coastal management functions. The centre will provide an important national resource and will be hosted by Gwynedd Council where it will take advantage of their environmental expertise and the expertise of academic institutions in the North Wales.
I have asked my officials to ensure that increasing flood and coastal erosion risks and their implications are highlighted in the strategy I am developing on Climate Change and in the work on the Spatial Plan. It is also essential that these issues are picked up at local level and reflected in Local Development Plans and community strategies. I have asked officials to explore how we can support community strategies partnerships to ensure that this is achieved.
Funding will be an important factor in determining future service levels and as part of the New Approaches Programme a project has been set up to explore funding issues. Since 1999 funding for flood and coastal defence works has increased, with budgets more than doubling to £33m for the current year.
The funding project will consider future funding needs in the light of existing need, increasing risks and the new approach to managing these risks. In the meantime officials are working with operating authorities to prepare a bid for European funding which, if successful, could supplement our capital investment on flood and coastal defence works over the coming five-year period by up to 35%.
Managing flood risk and protecting vulnerable communities is vital. The impact of climate change renders it an even greater imperative. The events of the summer have served as a warning and it is one that we have a responsibility to heed.