A report by the Welsh Audit Office says that 208,000 properties across Wales are at risk of flooding from the sea or rivers.
Over 60 per cent of the population in Wales live near to the coast. The severe coastal flooding in the winter of 2013-14 was the latest incident to dramatically highlight the vulnerability to flooding and erosion of some coastal communities, business and infrastructure.
In 2011, the Welsh Government published its ‘National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management’ and four Shoreline Management Plans now provide greater insight into the risks of coastal flooding and erosion, together with suggested approaches to manage these risks.
This latest report, “Coastal Flood and Erosion Risk Management in Wales”, published on 21 July 2016, considers the progress made by the Welsh Government and its partners on flood and coastal erosion risk management, finding that recent investment has improved coastal protection and delivered some wider benefits.
The report claims that the Welsh Government has been making progress to manage increasing coastal flood and erosion risks, although pace of change has been slower than planned.
Further improvements are needed to address capacity issues, plan for the long term and to ensure that spending is prioritised to the areas of greatest need. Although the pace of change has been slower than planned, there is fresh impetus since the Coastal Flooding Review following the winter storms in 2013-14.
Huw Vaughan Thomas the Auditor General, said:
“Coastal flood and erosion risk management is a serious concern for many in Wales and the Welsh Government has taken some positive steps to improve safety. However, with climate changes the scale of the challenge ahead is considerable, and needs both significant investment over the long-term and for the Welsh Government and its partners to provide more support and leadership to communities that are already directly threatened by these risks. The Welsh Government’s planned review of its National Strategy in 2017-18 is an opportunity to reflect and build on progress to date and some of the issues highlighted in my report”
£120 million Investment
The Welsh Government has maintained investment in flood and coastal erosion risk management during the current period of austerity. Since 2010-11, the Welsh Government has allocated £120 million, including £25 million from European Union funds, on capital projects along the Welsh coastline. Estimates indicate that to implement the projects in the Shoreline Management Plans, would require £20 million rising to £30 million of investment each year to the end of this century.
Question of Funding Beyond 2020
The Welsh Government has made a commitment that, from 2018-19 to 2020-21, a new £150 million Coastal Risk Management Programme will support councils to deliver further projects in line with their Shoreline Management Plans. However, the Welsh Government’s core funding for other activities is allocated annually through the Flood and Coastal Investment Programme and there are currently no firm funding plans for capital investment beyond 2020-21 when the Coastal Risk Management Programme ends.
No Strategy for Managed Retreat
Since 2009, Shoreline Management Plans in Wales have clearly identified the coastal communities threatened by climate change, and highlight where managed retreat is the recommended approach within the next 50 years.
Some previous coastal adaptation schemes, including sea defences, should mitigate and potentially delay the need for managed retreat, and there are plans for more schemes offering increased protection for some threatened communities.
The report say that the Welsh Government has still not set out the options and support that could help councils work with communities that need to be ready to relocate as climate changes make the risks of coastal flooding or erosion unsustainable.
The Welsh Government is pursuing a risk-based approach but has not yet set out what aspects of its strategy mean in practice, especially in areas facing managed retreat.
The report calls for a clear national strategic lead on managed retreat and for the Welsh Government to set out some options so that councils can work with these communities and improve their safety.