Flooded row of houses and garages

Flooded row of houses and garages

Flood risk management in Wales: are changes needed?

Published 14/11/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Over 245,000 properties in Wales are currently at risk of flooding. Events in early 2020 emphasised the devastating impact flooding can have on communities and businesses. As the days get shorter and the weather wetter, Wales is once again experiencing the effects of flooding.

The Welsh Government said it’s committing “record levels” of funding for flood protection this Senedd term, aiming to provide additional protection for more than 45,000 homes. It has also committed to delivering nature-based interventions to manage flood risk and adapt to climate change.

However, the way flood and coastal erosion risk is managed has been the subject of several recent reviews, which all question whether changes are needed. This article looks at the findings of these reports.

How flood risk is managed

Our recently updated research briefing provides an overview of flooding and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) in Wales. Similarly, a 2022 report by Audit Wales looked at how flood risk management works, but it also set out some of the key issues facing the sector. These are:

  • significant long-term investment likely to be needed to tackle the increasing flood risks associated with climate change;
  • increasing workforce capacity is the most immediate priority for the flooding sector;
  • gaps in collective leadership and policy integration;
  • gaps in flood risk data and the risks themselves keep changing with climate change; and
  • building development in high flood risk areas could be exposing households and businesses to avoidable flood risk.

Is what we have fit for purpose?

The independent Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee, has taken forward two separate reviews, as prescribed by the Welsh Government’s National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management.

The first considered whether Wales has the resources and skills needed to deliver FCERM. It makes 20 proposals, some of which are of “significant breadth” and call for more detailed action plans in certain areas. The report recognises the proposals “will require a significant commitment of organisational capacity” and says this capacity should be created urgently.

The second review considered whether there is a need for wider legislative and policy change to deliver FCERM across Wales. It makes 10 proposals, and found ”multiple issues” with current legislation and policy, which it says are impacting on the ability of Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) to deliver FCERM responsibilities effectively.

The Welsh Government is yet to formally respond to either report.

Reviewing the 2020 flood reports

Flood waters in early 2020 impacted 3,130 properties across Wales. Natural Resources Wales reviewed its response, and local authorities undertook investigations in line with section 19 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (Section 19 reports). The most affected area, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, published a Storm Dennis – Overview Report in July 2021, and subsequently a number of area-based flood investigation reports.

These investigations help RMAs understand the full extent of impacts and can inform improvements to manage risk in a community, including new schemes to reduce the likelihood of further flooding.

In its updated Programme for Government, the Welsh Government committed to commission an independent review of these reports. The review report was published on 31 August 2023. In a written statement, the Minister explains:

This desk-based review highlights both strategic, policy and practical changes that could strengthen the flood investigation process whilst recognising the limitations within the current framework.

In a Plenary statement the Minister said the review “focused specifically on understanding the investigation process currently in place” and how it was applied in the context of the 2020 severe flooding events. The review identifies areas for improvement, and broadly finds a lack of clarity for local authorities to understand the purpose of a section 19 flood investigation, finding it subjective and open to interpretation.

The Minister says the findings and recommendations will be considered “in line with the broader reviews carried out by Audit Wales, the Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee and by the National Infrastructure Commission Wales and how these are taken forward”.

Looking ahead

The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales is assessing how the nationwide likelihood of flooding can be minimised by 2050. This is also part of the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru.

The Minister says this will look at the resilience of infrastructure, including social infrastructure. The Commission wrote to the Welsh Government outlining its initial approach, which will consists of four research workstreams:

  • 2050 Vision - developing a vision for flood risk management;
  • Strategic and Spatial Response - exploring the options for coordinated strategic and spatial responses to flood management;
  • Resourcing - the funding and workforce resources needed; and
  • Land use planning - quantifying and analysing the land use planning issues associated with flooding.

The work will result in a further report to the Welsh Government (due Autumn 2024), with recommendations on how improvements can be made to flood risk management systems and frameworks in Wales.

How the Welsh Government intends to take forward the recommendations and proposals of this suite of reviews remains to be seen, however there is an emerging consensus that changes to the status quo are needed.

Article by Lorna Scurlock, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament