John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development
The recent wet weather and high winds have seen widespread flooding across the UK. The Environment Agency has confirmed reports of over 1,300 properties flooded, with over 400 of those in Wales.
We have also seen significant disruption to our transport network, particularly in North Wales where the A55, A5 and the main railway line have all been affected. Two Severe Flood Warnings for the River Elwy; the highest level of warning, which indicates a risk to life. More than 500 properties were evacuated in St Asaph because of flooding in the area and a rest centre was also opened in Ruthin where up to 100 properties have been flooded.
The water flowing into the rivers from the mountains means that the flood risk has not yet passed and people should not return to their homes until they are advised by the emergency services.
The consequences of flooding are something Wales is becoming more familiar with. This is the eleventh flooding incident in England and Wales since April. So far this year 700 properties in Wales have been flooded, with 7,300 flooded across the England and Wales. This summer was the wettest in Wales for 80 years and the third wettest on record.
Emergency response to flooding
The Emergency Services, the Environment Agency, our Trunk Road Agents, the local authorities and others have all been hard at work since last week preparing for and responding to this period of rainfall. Repair work to roads and railways has been undertaken to ensure transport links are working, and that repair work continues where the impacts have been greatest.
The clear up will take time in many of our communities and those affected will continue to receive the support of those agencies. The immediate aftermath of flooding has a tangible, physical impact on those affected and the wider community. It can take many months for a property to dry out, longer for the memories to subside.
Weather forecasts suggest that we can expect a drier few days, allowing time for water levels to subside and releasing some capacity within the system. This will also allow us to take stock of the situation and begin our evaluations.
We have instructed the Environment Agency to work with Welsh Government transport officials and their North Wales Trunk Road Agent to consider the resilience of the A55. Other issues such as highway drainage capacity, maintenance and inspection regimes, diversionary routes and communications will also be reviewed. We will also consider the evaluations prepared by those involved in the work across Wales.
Work is already underway to implement the lessons learned from the flooding experienced in the summer and we will expand that programme to include the recent events. In the meantime we should all consider our own preparations. Register with the floodline warning direct service, consider what you need to do to make your home more resilient and listen to the advice from the emergency services and the Environment Agency.
The UK Government has been leading the negotiations with the insurance industry on a replacement agreement. We are working with colleagues in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland to reach a mutually agreeable solution and the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development met with counterparts from each of the devolved nations last week to discuss the issue.
We are committed to ensuring that those at risk of flooding can continue to access insurance cover. However, right now our primary focus is to help those affected by the current flooding.
Protecting People and Property
In Wales, our defences reduce flood risk to over 70,000 properties. Over the last five years flood alleviation schemes have reduced risk for over 4,500 homes and businesses in Wales for areas such as Tywyn, Clwyd Estuary and Abergele. The Environment Agency’s Flood Awareness Wales programme has helped over 300 communities prepare their own flood plans, and 100,000 people in Wales are signed up for flood warnings.
The Welsh Government is investing over £150 million in flood and coastal erosion risk management over this Assembly, supported by almost £50 million from the European Regional Development Fund. This will improve protection for over 7,000 properties, including over 1,000 businesses, in line with the objectives set out within the National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management. Recent events demonstrate very clearly why this continued investment is needed in Wales.
Welsh Government planning policy is also very clear in providing a precautionary framework for avoiding new development in areas defined at risk of flooding. Our overall aim is to ensure new development is directed away from the floodplain.