Jane Davidson, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing
Our climate is changing. In the coming years we will experience hotter drier summers and warmer wetter winters. Forecasts suggest that we will see higher sea levels, increases in the intensity of rainfall and more frequent flooding.
More of us will experience flooding, the consequences of that flooding will be greater and the risks to life, the economy and the environment will increase.
The increasing risk of flooding as a result of climate change was highlighted in 2004 by the publication of the Foresight Future Flooding Study.
In light of the evidence of increasing risks shown in this report and others the Assembly Government began to change its approach to flooding and coastal erosion in Wales, moving from a defence dominated approach to one based on the principles of risk management.
This change in approach was something I hoped to see mirrored in the actions of our partners, and in 2007 I launched the New Approaches Programme to facilitate this move.
The programme had a number of initial successes, and I was pleased to see our partners taking the risk management approach forward quickly. However, shortly after the launch of the New Approaches Programme, Wales and England experienced some of the worst flooding in a generation; now collectively referred to as the floods of summer 2007.
Those floods highlighted the risks that Wales faces and the issues we needed to address.
I welcomed the UK government’s decision to commission a review of the floods and the response to them from Sir Michael Pitt. I considered many of the recommendations to be as appropriate to Wales and committed to implement them.
In June 2008 I met with Sir Michael Pitt where we discussed both his report and the approach being taken to flood and coastal erosion risk. After that meeting I reported to Assembly Members that Sir Michael believed that the approach being adopted in Wales reflected the recommendations in his report.
Since then we have delivered significant change in the sector.
We have refreshed the legislation underpinning flood and coastal erosion risk management, with the enactment of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and the transposition of the EU Flood Directive via the Flood Risk Regulations 2009.
We have consulted on the Welsh Assembly Government’s policies for flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales as part of the work on developing a National Strategy for Wales.
We have reviewed and refreshed our emergency response and resilience arrangements and tested them with our key partners as part of the national event, Exercise Watermark.
We have trebled investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales, delivering defence schemes across the country that improve the quality of life of communities and individuals.
We have secured over £50 million in European Structural Funds towards flood and coastal erosion risk management projects in Wales.
These are significant achievements and put Wales in a strong position going forwards.
Changes in Legislation
The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 represents a significant achievement. The changes it contains provide the Welsh Ministers and the risk management authorities in Wales with the power needed to ensure we take a holistic response to the challenges of flooding and coastal erosion across Wales.
The new legislation set out in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 clarifies the roles and responsibilities of those engaged in flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales. It provides the Environment Agency with a strategic oversight for all flood and coastal erosion risks in Wales, and increases their role in support of the Welsh Assembly Government.
The inclusion of coastal erosion within their remit is particularly important, recognising the relationship between coastal erosion and coastal flooding.
In addition to this the Environment Agency will lead on flooding from main rivers and the sea, with local authorities leading on local flood risks, such as flooding from smaller rivers, ground water and surface water. Water and sewerage undertakers remain responsible for sewer flooding and Internal Drainage Boards continue to play their role in relation to land drainage.
The Act requires risk management authorities to work together in tackling flood and coastal erosion risks and provides them with enhanced powers to request and share information. This will be invaluable in gaining the information risk management authorities need to adequately understand and plan for risks in their area.
One of the things that I am proudest of having put in place over the last four years has been placing sustainable development at the heart of government in Wales and making it the central organising principle of the Welsh Assembly Government. I am delighted that the Flood and Water Management Act includes a specific requirement for risk management authorities to contribute towards the achievement of sustainable development for the first time.
Taking sustainable approaches, such as the use of sustainable drainage systems, will become increasingly important as the effects of climate change increase in the future and it is important that the flood risk management sector plays its part to the full.
The Act also requires risk management authorities to work together in tackling flood and coastal erosion risks and provides them with enhanced powers to request and share information. This will be invaluable in gaining the information risk management authorities need to adequately understand and plan for risks in their area.
This is supported by the work to deliver against the EU Flood Directive, which will see the production of preliminary flood risk assessments by all local authorities in Wales and the identification of areas of particular flood risk for which we will be undertaking more mapping of the risks.
For those areas, the Directive also requires the preparation of flood risk management plans. These will further enhance the understanding of the risks and the actions required to manage those risks building on what we have learnt from our Catchment Flood Management Plans and Shoreline Management Plans.
Catchment Flood Risk Management Plans and Shoreline Management Plans identify sustainable local policies that will direct how we intend to manage risks over the long term. Catchment Flood Management Plans were published in 2009 and Shoreline Management Plans will be available later this year.
They are further supported by the new Flood Map for Surface Water produced by the Environment Agency in 2010 which shows the effects of surface water flooding across Wales and England.
In producing this map the Environment Agency drew on the data on surface water flooding collected by my Integrated Surface Water Management Group, which brought together expertise from the Welsh Assembly Government, the Environment Agency, local authorities and Dŵr Cymru to consider the increasing risks of surface water flooding across Wales.
The Group worked together to share information on incidents and risks across Wales, compiling them to form a comprehensive record of all surface water flood incidents across Wales. This pre-dates the work done on Surface Water Mapping in England and provides a further source of information for preliminary flood risk assessments.
Local authorities across Wales are working on their preliminary flood risk assessments now.
I expect those areas that fall outside the definitions within the EU Flood Directive to be addressed in local flood risk management strategies.
National & Local Strategies
In July last year I issued my consultation on the development of a National Strategy for flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in Wales launched, some four months before the same consultation in England.
The consultation was well received with a number of positive comments made about the tone and timing of the document, and support for the four overarching principles set out within the consultation which were:
- Reducing the impacts on individuals, communities and businesses from flooding and coastal erosion;
- Raising awareness of and engaging people in the response to flood and coastal erosion risk;
- Providing an effective and sustained response to flood and erosion events;
- Prioritising investment in the most at risk communities.
It is our intention to embed these principles within the National Strategy itself and the Summary of Consultation Responses, and the Welsh Assembly Government Response to the Consultation will both be available on the Assembly Government website at the end of March.
The National Strategy will establish a framework for the development of a holistic flood and coastal erosion risk management system in Wales. A system that embraces the actions of the risk management authorities as well as the actions of individuals and communities, and which focuses as much on raising awareness of the risk we face as on taking specific actions.
To ensure that the National Strategy takes full account of the impacts on our environment and the biodiversity of Wales, the Environment Agency has been commissioned to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment and Habitats Regulations Assessment of the National Strategy.
The National Strategy will be published in the summer of 2011. Once it has been published local authorities can then begin work on their local flood risk management strategies, which will ensure the public can see clearly the approach being taken nationally and the approach being taken in their areas.
Land Use Planning
Land use planning also has an important role to play in managing flood risk.
In February our consultation on proposed changes to householder permitted development rights closed. The consultation addressed concerns in relation to hard surfacing of garden areas and its potential impact on increasing the risk of flooding due to accelerated surface water run-off.
The changes that I am proposing provide permitted development rights for the provision of new or replacement hard surfaces within any part of the curtilage of a house, on the condition that porous materials are used, or provision is made to direct any water run-off to a surface or area that allows the water to drain naturally.
No ‘area of allowance’ for the laying of non porous traditional hard surfacing is provided, as I think we need a firm commitment for householders to use porous materials when creating hard surfacing in their gardens. This does go further than the controls introduced in England.
We are currently considering the consultation responses received to inform the changes to householder permitted development rights. Of course, any revisions to legislation will be a matter for the new Assembly Government, but it is possible that a revised Order could be introduced during the autumn.
I am happy to announce that the Welsh Assembly Government is making the Development Advice Maps accompanying TAN15 available online from April this year.
These maps, previously only available upon request, will enable developers and the general public alike to easily view those areas within the flood plain and plan appropriately.
In making these maps easier to access, we are promoting the transparency that is important for such planning matters, speeding up the application process and helping everyone to understand the precautionary approach that must be taken when it comes to development and flood risk.
I am also issuing a consultation package this week about the system of directions we currently have in place. These require certain development to be referred to the Welsh Ministers to consider whether they wish to determine the applications, rather than the local planning authority.
The consultation proposes a number of changes to the existing system including, a new direction. This will require planning applications for certain development within the C2 flood zone to be referred to the Welsh Ministers.
I believe that introducing such a requirement will reinforce the precautionary approach advocated by TAN15 of directing new development towards sites which are at little, or at no risk of flooding.
Again, the responses to this consultation will be a matter for the new Assembly Government to consider.
In addition to planning for and managing the risks of flooding and coastal erosion it is important that we and our partners are prepared to respond to all flooding effectively from local to major flooding events.
The emergency services and other responder agencies continue to demonstrate their professionalism and expertise in responding to flooding events. However, where significant flooding is expected or occurs in Wales it is also important that the Assembly Government can provide support to the multi-agency response wherever possible; particularly in respect of facilitating mutual aid and playing a central role in consequence management and recovery. It is therefore important that the Assembly Government’s own crisis machinery is activated effectively and engages partner agencies.
In the week of 7 March we took part in Exercise Watermark; a national emergency exercise designed to test the response capability to a major flooding event. The exercise was developed in partnership with the UK Government and the Environment Agency and tested our response to river flooding in mid Wales.
The exercise in Wales involved the Environment Agency, local authorities, the emergency services, the National Health Service, Dŵr Cymru and the Military and provided all partners with an opportunity to test their response plans and arrangements.
The Welsh Assembly Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre (Wales) opened and all levels of the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government were involved, with COBR meetings held as would happen with a real life situation.
Events on the day went well, and we will be completing a review of the actions taken to learn from them. It is important that we take the opportunity to further improve our arrangements and make sure that should we have to react to a flooding event we could do so quickly and effectively.
We will also need to consider what we can take from this to further improve the sustained response to an event, after the emergency services have left and when the recovery phase begins.
I believe that raising public awareness of the risks of flooding and coastal erosion is important if we are to ensure that communities and individuals can prepare for events and recover from them faster and we are doing a lot of work on this.
Earlier this month I launched the pilot of a single point of contact. This pilot sees the Environment Agency, Dwr Cymru, three local authorities and an internal drainage board work together by providing the public with a single contact number to deal with all flooding queries from all sources of flooding.
This partnership has been set to help reduce the confusion often associated with flooding. The pilot is being hosted by the Environment Agency as part of their floodline service and more local authorities will be invited to join this year.
As well as hosting the single point of contact for queries relating to flooding and flood risk, the Environment Agency has run an awareness raising programme across Wales over the last 12 months. Their innovative programme has toured across Wales, visiting towns and communities the length and breadth of the country. As well as running a central information point in each community visited Environment Agency staff have made door to door visits, advising people about the risk they face and offering advice on what steps they can take to prepare for flooding.
This is an important service and a valuable way of getting messages to people who have not necessarily experienced a flood themselves, or are not aware of the risks they face. Raising awareness and engaging communities and individuals is a critical part of managing the risks across Wales and something we need to invest in on a continuous basis.
Funding for Flood Risk Management
Since 1999 the Welsh Assembly Government has trebled investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales, culminating in an investment of £39 million in 2010/11.
This has been split between Grant in Aid funding for the Environment Agency and grant funding available for local authority led projects and was supplemented by £5 million in funding from the Strategic Capital Investment Fund and an anticipated drawdown of £9m in European Structural Funding, subject to eligibility against criteria.
But we also need to recognise that the risks will change over time.
At present 220,000 properties in Wales, or around 11% of all properties, are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea. Of those 65,000 are at significant likelihood of flooding.
Flooding from rivers and the sea already costs expected annual damages of £200 million to properties in Wales. Predictive modelling suggests that if we maintain investment in flood risk management at current levels, allowing for inflation, then by 2035 the number of properties at significant likelihood of flooding would increase to 115,000, with a consequent increase in expected annual damages.
To maintain the numbers of properties at risk in 2035 at levels comparable to now may require trebling investment levels.
This is something the Welsh Assembly Government takes very seriously. We have made provision to invest more than £109 million in flood and coastal risk management over the next three years. This is supplemented by almost £50 Million in European Regional Development Funding.
Since 2008 we have successfully bid for £30 million in Convergence Funding and £6 million in Competitiveness Funding. This has been supplemented in 2010/11 with a successful bid for a further £6.07 million in additional Convergence Funding and allocation of £7.77 million in retrospective funding towards projects that we have already completed.
This additional funding will support our existing Strategic European Programme, which will enable the construction of 28 defence schemes including the £6.6 million Riverside scheme near St Julians in Newport, the £11.5 million scheme in Borth and the £7.6 million scheme in Tywyn. As well as this the funding will take forward a range of activities to promote awareness and resilience to flooding within local communities.
In these challenging times of public sector spending constraints maintaining this level of investment underlines the Assembly Government’s commitment to protecting our communities and managing the risks they face.
We have made significant progress in reducing and managing the risks of flooding and coastal erosion risk management.
Our communities have access to better information and more people are now registered for flood warnings.
Investment has increased and we now have the legislative framework we need to deliver the changes required to manage the wider risks we face.