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Response to NRW flood report

Written by on 22nd October 2020

Responding to the long-awaited flood report by Natural Resources Wales Mick Antoniw, Member of Senedd for Pontypridd and Alex Davies-Jones, Member of Parliament for Pontypridd said:

“We welcome this extensive report, which clearly illustrates that Rhondda Cynon Taf was disproportionately affected by the floods that hit Wales in February, and also provides valuable information in respect of why and how the flooding occurred. 

“We also welcome NRW’s recognition of the devastation the floods brought on our communities and importantly, their acknowledgement that the ‘industry standard’ to which flood defences are currently constructed may no longer be appropriate given the pace of climate change. 

“This report is a necessary first step, but the important work is yet to come, and it needs to come quickly.  Many of our constituents remain anxious about the coming winter months and the prospect of further flooding.  It is vital that we improve defences if we are to remove the fear of flooding that can be as debilitating as a flood event itself. 

“We’re calling on NRW to produce a supplementary report flowing the publication of the eight local section 19 reports for Taff Ely.   

“As a result of our ongoing meetings with local residents and with key agencies such as NRW, Local and Welsh Government we will shortly publish our own report, which will identify the key interventions needed to help keep Taff Ely communities safe.”   

Leanne Wood MS and Plaid Cymru councillors in RCT said: “We are disappointed but not surprised at the conclusions of this report. People who were flooded want answers and solutions and this report provides neither. Their voices have not been heard throughout the process so far and the people affected deserve to be heard.

“We never had high hopes of any of the organisations involved to investigate themselves thoroughly and to admit any responsibility or fault. That is why we have called for and will continue to push for an independent inquiry.

“People want some body or organisation to explain to them why their community has suddenly become flood prone and what can be done to mitigate future risk. They want the organisations involved to accept that things could have been done differently in order to have confidence that things will be put right in the future. This report doesn’t do that.

“We all understand that climate change means that extreme weather events will become more common in the future. People want to invest in flood protection measures on their properties – like robust flood-doors. If no one takes responsibility, who will pay for this protection? We welcome NRW’s admission that they are under-resourced and that more investment will be needed to upgrade structures, build new flood defences, improve standards and respond robustly to any repeat of the events of February. Their candour in accepting that the standards they rely on may no longer be acceptable is welcome also. We will be asking questions relating to this to the council and for the Labour Environment Minister in this Senedd. An independent inquiry would be able to gauge just how much change is needed.

“In relation to tree removal – we cannot accept that it makes sense to remove huge numbers of water-holding trees and expect no impact? It stands to reason that water that would previously been held by trees flowed off the hillsides and into the rivers, causing flooding to homes in the communities below the hills as well as those flooded down the valley – in Ynyshir, Porth and further down the river.

“The report is also short on outlining any practice changes. We are keen to know more about what could have been done differently regarding tree-felling operations above Pentre, Blaenllechau and elsewhere. Many people will have questions about this.

“Finally, the report fails to give voice to those who were impacted by flooding. An independent inquiry will enable people’s voices to be heard. The people affected deserve to be heard.”

Following the unprecedented flooding brought about by the exceptional storm events that impacted Rhondda Cynon Taf and other areas of Wales, the Leader of RCT Council has issued the following statement in response to the publication of the NRW report.

Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of RCT Council, said: “I welcome the publication of this report from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in their capacity as the lead Flood Risk Management body for main rivers in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

February 2020 was the wettest February on record with three named storms hitting our communities in the space of four weeks, including Storm Dennis, which lead to areas at the top of the Cynon and Rhondda valleys recording the highest levels of rainfall anywhere in Wales and also seeing our three rivers record their highest levels in over forty years.

Quite clearly, the weather instances were exceptional, with the Met Office issuing a rare Red Warning and with the subsequent confirmation that Storm Dennis was classed as a 1 in 290 year weather event that brought devastation to many communities across our County Borough with almost 1,500 homes and businesses flooded.

In the immediate aftermath, the Council’s focus was quite rightly on providing as much support as possible to those affected by internal flooding through measures such as the Community Flood Recovery Grant – Hardship Payment.  The wider flood recovery operation is still ongoing however, and all involved parties have co-operated and worked hard to respond and investigate the complex causes for the flooding.

NRW play a significant role in flood management in RCT, with 30% of the land in the County Borough under their responsibility.  This extends to both main rivers and the management of upland forests, including tree clearance and harvesting processes. Communities in particularly the southern areas of the County, including Pontypridd, Treforest and Taff’s Well all suffered from flooding after the River Taff burst its banks in multiple locations, and residents and businesses in these areas will certainly require reassurances where possible around mitigating the future risk of flooding. 

It should be noted that main river flood defences are designed to deal with 1 in 100 year events and it is important to acknowledge that the solution in many cases is not as simple as merely building flood walls higher.  Nevertheless, it is imperative that all options are explored in light of the continuing effects of climate change; whilst simultaneously seeking to resolve the issues with insurance relating to both the residential and commercial properties affected.

It is, however, absolutely imperative that the issues around the flood warning systems are resolved and I welcome the acknowledgement that new systems and processes are needed as a priority to ensure that we do not ever see a repeat of the failures during Storm Dennis, where its clear to me that the system was overwhelmed.  There was a clear risk to life during Storm Dennis and it is fortunate that there was no direct loss of life as a result of the system failure.

Similarly, residents in communities such as Pentre and in Mountain Ash will also require further reassurances following the flooding which stemmed from issues with land management processes, where clear photographic evidence showed that brash off the mountain above Pentre in particular was a significant contributing factor that impacted on the culverts in the locality, which subsequently blocked and contributed to significant flooding.

The Council will now use the content of these NRW reports to inform our own statutory reports into the flooding. We are currently working through our investigations across 28 areas of flooding and developing our Section 19 reports which will be published as soon as possible.  I am absolutely clear that all the agencies involved must continue to work closely together to ensure that we address the issues identified, but also that we work to ensure that robust systems are in place should we ever face such a major incident again. I will want further talks with the Welsh Government and NRW in particular about the flood events in Pentre and Mountain Ash where this emanated off their land.