Response to TAN 15 consultation

Front cover of the Welsh Government TAN 15 document, featuring a wave crashing against a breakwater with a small lighthouse on it

Ein cyf/Our ref: NICW/23/TAN15

TAN 15 Consultation,
Planning Policy Branch,
Welsh Government,
Cathays Park,
Cardiff CF10 3NQ


17 April 2023

Dear Sir / Madam

Technical Advice Note (TAN)15: Development, flooding and coastal erosion – further amendments consultation

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the latest TAN15 consultation.

NICW’s role is to provide advice to the Welsh Government on the long term infrastructure needs of Wales. We aim to provide radical, challenging and evidence-informed advice and guidance to inform and future-proof decisions on infrastructure deployment from 2030 to 2100.

As the Minister sets out in her letter to local Planning Authorities in November 2021, flooding will increase in both severity and frequency over coming years and decades as a direct result of a changing climate in Wales.

Models predict a sea level rise of approximately 1.11 metres and an increase in rainfall intensity causing increased peak river flows of between 20% and 30% by 2120. New UK Climate Projections data shows that, under a high emission scenario, the frequency of days exceeding flash flooding scenarios will double by 2070, and could be four times as frequent in some areas of the UK by 2080 compared to the 1980s.

The Welsh Government and many local authorities have declared climate change emergencies in response, with the understanding that “a ‘business as usual’ approach to delivering for our communities and economy is no longer a viable option. Taking meaningful action to address climate change will mean taking difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions”. The Minister goes on to state that “decisions local planning authorities make today will have a profound effect on how we adapt to climate change now and in the future” hence the need to update TAN15 in 2021 to take into account the latest evidence on flood risk and updated flood map modelling for Wales.

The consultation issued in March 2023 allows for “increased flexibility to allow for appropriate regeneration and redevelopment in flood risk areas” including vulnerable (zone 3) areas, as long as they are able to demonstrate flood risk resilience.

NICW understands there are challenges between allowing planning authorities to proceed with appropriate developments whilst recognising climate risk and protecting communities at risk. We welcome the requirement to produce Community Adaptation and Resilience Plans (CARPs) for strategic regeneration schemes to consider and identify an appropriate pipeline of flood defence measures.

However NICW is concerned that local planning authorities will not have the capacity, expertise or funding to develop these plans to the extent that will enable developments to be resilient to floods by 2100. We believe that this ‘increased flexibility’ may allow developments to proceed in flood-risk areas with insufficient mitigation measures, increasing the long-term risks to people and communities.

We have concerns that the current approach is being ‘watered down’ and the result of the consultation will permit ‘inappropriate developments’ to continue in highly vulnerable areas such as Barry Docks – a development already under water at high tide with no flood defence measures in place. Is the Welsh Government confident that sufficient investment is available for new flood defence measures to be put in place for all vulnerable developments in Wales?

Audit Wales’s 2022 report highlighted that (according to Welsh Government data) the number of planning consents for developments in high-risk flood areas increased dramatically from fewer than 50 in 2015-16 to over 3,000 in 2016-17. Although the number of consents had reduced to just over 1,600 in 2018-19, this was still significantly higher than the 2015-16 figure. Data collection was suspended during the pandemic, which means there is no up-to-date national data since 2018-19, making it difficult to gauge current levels of development and risk.

Any continuation of this trend of allowing thousands of new consents in vulnerable areas is likely to exacerbate future demands on the public sector to safeguard people, property and infrastructure. This directly contradicts the Future Generations approach which requires long-term thinking; an understanding of the impacts of decisions by public bodies on the ability of other public bodies to achieve their own goals; and also a requirement to support a more resilient Wales. Communities such as Fairbourne in north Wales are already having to consider the long-term future viability of their village and this trend is likely to continue with increased coastal erosion and sea level rise.

The impact on inequalities also needs to be considered, as those who are most vulnerable in society often have less capacity to prepare, respond and recover from flooding leading to “flood disadvantage” as well as significant impacts to mental health.

If developments are to go ahead in vulnerable areas NICW recommends that we either need to consider how infrastructure is developed in a radically different way to ensure it is resilient in the long-term; or that we develop innovative approaches to how these areas can become more resilient to flood risk over coming decades such as focussing on catchment approaches to flood management, with an emphasis on restoration of nature to support water management. As a minimum the Welsh Government should not only recommend that Community Adaptation and Resilience Plans (CARPs) are developed but require that these are in place before developments can go ahead.

We also believe that the planning system needs to implement a ‘sunset’ clause, whereby consents can be withdrawn after a specified time period if planning requirements change. Incentivising through an easier consenting process for developments that meet future flood risks could also be considered. This would help the sector become more responsive to updated flood risk data and modelling, and also reduce the number of properties being built to lower building standards that then require retrofit to meet householder expectations.

As stated in the 2021 Co-operation Agreement NICW has been asked to “conduct an assessment of how the nationwide likelihood of flooding of homes, businesses and infrastructure can be minimised by 2050”. Our work will commence shortly; we aim to report our findings to Welsh Ministers in Summer 2024.

Once again, thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposals. Should you wish to receive any clarification on the above, please let us know. We look forward to viewing the revised policy document in due course.

Yours sincerely,

David Clubb
National Infrastructure Commission for Wales