Alan Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food
Last week saw some of the worst storm conditions the Welsh coastline has experienced in over 20 years with impacts around our coast continuing for more than four days. These unusual events were the result of a combination of factors. Deep low pressure systems generated a series of surges of between 0.5m to 1m and brought gale force south-westerly winds and waves of over five metres to our coastline. The surge and high winds coincided with the highest tide of the spring tide period with the combination of wind, tide and storm surge giving rise to an exceptional event. The significantly raised sea levels, in many cases above the defences in place, brought overtopping, flooding to properties and coastal damage in many different locations. Tide levels recorded in Milford Haven, Newport and Barmouth were the highest since detailed records began in 1997.
The emergency services and other responders acted swiftly in their response which undoubtedly saved lives. Accurate forecasting also meant that affected communities were better prepared before the flooding hit. I would like to pay thanks to Natural Resources Wales, Local Authorities, the Fire and Rescue Services, the Police, the RNLI and other agencies for their efforts in warning and evacuating those at risk as well as their continued hard work through urgent repairs and recovery.
During this event, Natural Resources Wales issued over 23,000 alerts to residents through Flood Warnings Direct informing potentially affected areas and evacuations where necessary. Six severe flood warnings and 54 flood warnings were issued in Wales on the 3rd January.
The entire coastline of Wales felt the impacts of this exceptional event with an estimated 140 properties and 80 caravans flooded. Aberystwyth suffered some of the worst effects with evacuations from properties along the sea front at several high tides and extensive damage to the sea wall and buildings along the sea front. I saw this damage first hand when I visited Aberystwyth on Sunday 5th January and met with some of those directly affected. It is possible that this is the worst coastal storm to hit the town since 1938 when limited defences meant damage was far more significant.
There is every possibility that these storms are linked to changes in our climate. This means that extreme weather events such as this are not going to go away and may start to happen more frequently. We are planning for the future and our Shoreline Management Plans, which take account of the increasing risks from sea level rise and storminess, set out policies for the long term management of coastal risks.
In looking at next steps following the events of the last few days, we are now moving into the recovery phase. We have been in discussion with all affected local authorities and Natural Resources Wales and a fuller picture will emerge over the next few weeks as engineers conclude their assessments. The main impacts were felt along the West coast of Wales with some key events set out below:
- Aberystwyth - extensive damage to sea wall and promenade, evacuations and 20 properties flooded;
- Borth - evacuation and around 35 properties flooded through overtopping of defences;
- Barmouth - 15 properties flooded through overtopping of the defences;
- Caernarfon - 10 properties flooded;
- Cardigan - 10 properties flooded and 30 properties evacuated;
- Amroth - 30m of the sea wall and adjoining road collapsed;
- Newgale - shingle bank overtopped causing flooding and rolled-back to block the road;
- Llanbedr - damage to sea defence and flooding of agricultural property and loss of livestock;
- Newport - evacuation procedures initiated at Lighthouse Park, St Brides and Crindau, 5 properties flooded at Crindau;
- There were further incidents of flooding and damage around the whole of the coastline, including disruption to transport and utility infrastructure and coastal impacts in locations such as Deganwy and Porthcawl.
The storms have severely tested our coastal defences but this is an event that could have been much worse. Our continued investment in flood risk management has prevented thousands of properties from serious flooding. We are already receiving positive reports from local authorities and Natural Resources Wales regarding the performance of coastal defences across Wales. I am in no doubt that recent defence improvements in Newport, Borth, Aberaeron, Tywyn and Colwyn Bay has helped prevent or lessen the effects felt.
Over the term of this Government, I am investing over £240 million in flood and coastal defences and, despite cuts in funding from the UK Government, the Welsh Government is maintaining its flood and coastal erosion budgets. Funding for further defence improvements is programmed and the second phase of the Borth scheme is scheduled to start early this year and will complete the defence improvements for the village, while investigations and feasibility studies are ongoing for Aberystwyth and Barmouth.
Following the flooding of the North Wales coast on 5th December 2013, I asked Natural Resources Wales to lead on a joint investigation with local authorities and infrastructure operators into the incident. I have now asked Natural Resources Wales to expand this review to cover the January event across the whole of Wales. As both of these are coastal reviews and naturally cover similar issues, one combined review, incorporating all coastal authorities is preferred. This review will take a two-phased approach:
- Phase one will be a swift review of the impacts across the whole of the country from both coastal flooding events and will look at the state of the coastal defences following the storm event. This will be produced by the end of January 2014.
- Phase two will look into the wider lessons learnt from both of these coastal flooding incidents and flood risk management in affected areas and include:
- Details of the flood event, its modelling and forecasting
- Operational response from flood risk management authorities
- How defences performed, properties affected and estimates of those protected
- Impacts on infrastructure and resilience to future flood events
- Lessons learnt, so that we can be better prepared for future events.
Phase two of the review will require agreement between all partners but the intention is to produce a report by April 2014, subject to further flooding incidents. However, in the short term the immediate focus for those authorities affected remains on clean-up and recovery.
My officials are working closely with local authorities and Natural Resources Wales to look at how we can assist them. Discussions are ongoing to understand the damage sustained, the immediate short term needs in the recovery process and what assistance is required.
I encourage local authorities to contact my officials regarding grant funding for emergency works required to restore damaged defences.
If appropriate, Local Authorities are also able to make applications for financial support under the Welsh Government’s Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme (EFAS) to assist with the financial burden of providing relief and carrying out immediate work to manage the impact of the emergency situation. We are also in daily contact with the UK Government about an application to the EU Emergency Solidarity Fund, which was originally set up to provide assistance to those affected by the 2002 floods in Eastern Europe.
We are looking at how we can prioritise future investment in flood defences so we can not only protect homes and businesses but also maximise opportunities for economic regeneration and growth in the longer term. It is impossible to totally prevent flooding but as a Government fully committed to prioritising flooding, we are working to build resilience around our coasts in Wales.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.