Two years on from devastating floods here in Wales, has enough been achieved?

In short, no!

As residents from Caerphilly to Conwy will recall, February 2020 had a devastating and long-lasting impact on our communities.

There was widespread flooding during Storm Ciara (February 8 – 9 2020), Storm Dennis (February 15 – 17 2020) and Storm Jorge (February 28 to March 1 2020).

The National Wales: Flooding in Llanfair Talhaiarn, Conwy, during Storm Ciara in February 2020Flooding in Llanfair Talhaiarn, Conwy, during Storm Ciara in February 2020

3,130 properties across Wales were hit during the most significant series of flooding incidents in our country since the floods of December 1979.

Here in Aberconwy, 60 properties were flooded in Llanrwst, 10 in Betws-y-Coed, and many others in outlying areas.

Locally, I have been pleased to help secure some changes for Llanrwst such as grant funding to upsize the capacity of a culvert and emergency works for two estates. However, the Welsh Government are failing to provide the necessary leadership at a national level.

As I have said on numerous times the Conwy Valley and Rhondda Cynon Taf should have independent flood inquiries.

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Plaid Cymru have betrayed our communities by not securing a commitment from the Welsh Government to undertake such inquiries.

What the nationalists have delivered in the co-operation agreement is a pledge to commission an independent review of the local government section 19 and Natural Resources Wales reports into extreme flooding in winter 2020-21.

This is not what the around six thousand people who signed a petition urging the Welsh Government to initiate a full, independent, open and public inquiry into the 2020 flooding of homes and businesses across Rhondda Cynon Taf wanted.

Our communities deserve better.

I have made it clear in the Senedd that it is unjust to rely on section 19 reports. Residents of Pentre had to wait until July 2021 to see a report in relation to storm events that occurred in February 2020 — 17 months!

Similarly, residents of Llanrwst had to wait 8 months to see the section 19 report.

Delays in compilation and publication should be addressed by imposing statutory time limits.

Local authorities have a key role to play in tackling flooding, and if we want to reduce the risk of serious incidents across Wales, it is essential that the Welsh Government listen to them and act on concerns.

Whilst I welcome the increase in revenue funding for risk management authorities in 2022-23, Welsh Government need to clarify whether they have taken into account current and projected future flood risk in local authority areas.

I was a member of the inquiry into the Welsh Government’s response to the February 2020 flooding, and our report published in 2020 highlighted then that the level of revenue funding meant that authorities were a long way away from being fully prepared and resilient, and that authorities received the same level of revenue funding regardless of the flood risk within their area.

The National Wales: The flooded Afon Towy between Llandeilo and Ffairfach during Storm Dennis. Photo: Mark DaviesThe flooded Afon Towy between Llandeilo and Ffairfach during Storm Dennis. Photo: Mark Davies

For example, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council received 4.54% of the national revenue funding despite having an estimated 21% of the national surface water flood risk to manage!

I backed a clear recommendation that the Welsh Government’s approach to revenue allocation for flooding should take account of current and projected future flood risk in local authority areas.

Over a year later, it is shocking that clarity has not been provided as to whether revenue allocation takes account of flood risk.

Revenue funding is extremely important, because if there isn’t enough, as has happened in the past, authorities’ ability to inspect, investigate and manage existing assets, deliver more capital schemes, and employ additional staff, is hindered.

Staff shortages was also a problem identified at Natural Resources Wales.

It has been estimated that up to 70 additional staff are needed to sustain the overall service at the levels described by the actions and improvements in the 'February 2020 Floods in Wales' report. However, the additional £1.25million NRW received in revenue funding for 2020-21 was only used to employ 36 full-time equivalents: half what is needed.

I genuinely believe that NRW tries it best, but ask yourselves, is it in the best interest of Wales for an organisation that has such diverse responsibilities, such as regulating industries, responding to 9,000 planning applications annually, and managing 7% of Wales's land area, to also have such a major role in managing floods?

I think not, and have long argued that we should have a separate National Flood Agency. 

With an estimated 148,000 Welsh residents living in areas of significant flood risk from rivers, the sea and surface water, we need officers and an agency who are 100% focussed on this issue.

The backing of a dedicated agency, independent inquiries, statutory time limits on section 19 reports, and revenue allocation which takes into account flood risk, are some of the many steps we should be taking to ensure that major change is achieved following the February floods.

At present, I fear that the suffering caused by extensive flooding as captured in the moving poem published by Taylor Edmonds and the people and children of the Conwy Valley, will continue:

“In our flood plain town there are things we’ve had to accept

We’ll be dragged out of our beds at 3am to fill sandbags

We’ll build barricades, a ring of wet faces under torch light

Boys will stand guard on each estate, texting updates as fields transform to open water, gathering waves

We’ll become isolated

Our roads grow currents, dislodged train tracks hang from trees like rope bridges

We’ll pull together as we have before

A valley of people constructing defences, writing letters, checking on neighbours, calling our leaders to act”

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