Progress on flooding

River in the foreground with trees around; in the background some buildings

NICW has written to Welsh Government to provide an update on our activity on flooding.

Julie James MS
Minister for Climate Change
Welsh Government

9 June 2023

Dear Minister

We are writing to you to update on the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales’ work on flooding and, in particular, the Co-operation Agreement commitment which asks us to conduct an assessment of how the nationwide likelihood of flooding of homes, businesses and infrastructure can be minimised by 2050.

As you will be aware, across Wales over 245,000 properties are currently at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea and surface water with almost 400 properties also at risk from coastal erosion. With further climate change and sea level rise now inevitable, we can expect these risks to increase, with more frequent and severe floods, rising sea levels and faster rates of erosion of the coast.Flood events such as those witnessed in 2020 will become more common in the future which means that across Wales we need to recognise and (work to) reduce the risk, manage the effects, and support our communities and infrastructure to adapt and build resilience in areas prone to flooding or coastal erosion to be prepared for severe weather events and rising sea levels. Action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a warming planet and increasing climate risks facing the UK.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment for Wales was updated in 2021. 26 risks from climate change in Wales have increased in urgency score in the last five year, 3 of these relate to flooding:

  • The risk of climate change impacts, especially more frequent flooding and coastal erosion, causing damage to our infrastructure services, including energy, transport, water and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT); 
  • Increased severity and frequency of flooding of homes, communities and businesses.
  • The impact on coastal businesses due to sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion

Flooding and climate change resilience is clearly a complex long-term issue that requires collaboration and multi-disciplinary thinking and solutions.

In order to fully understand the current situation and to identify any potential gaps in current thinking for NICW to investigate further, we commissioned Arup to undertake a scoping study to help us understand the current picture and suggest focus areas for study.

This work has been supported by members of our Project Advisory Group (PAG), established in December 2022. The PAG consists of a group of flooding technical experts from the public and private sectors who bring their knowledge to this project, acting as a sound board and ‘critical friend’ to this work. The PAG will continue to operate throughout the next phase of work and its membership will be reviewed to ensure that we have the most appropriate people to advise us on this. We would welcome any suggestions for additional members of this group.

We enclose a copy of the full Arup report for your information. The report outlines ‘gaps’ in current work and recommends potential work areas for NICW to focus on.

Taking into account the Arup report, as well as feedback received from PAG members and NICW Commissioners, we can confirm that we will be focusing on the following four areas in our work for the year ahead:

Workstream 1 – Visioning

We will work with stakeholders, politicians and the public on developing a Vision for Wales in 2050/2100 where homes, businesses and infrastructure are more resilient and adaptive to impacts from flooding and sea level rise. This combines the themes of Visioning, community resilience and political engagement and will include consideration of coastal, river and surface water flooding and relevant climate impacts.

We will carry out scenario-setting by using climate and flood data, and engaging stakeholders in creative ways to best understand future risks to communities and infrastructure in Wales. We will also try to project how the various organisations, stakeholders and the public will need to work together to develop greater community resilience and support longer-term adaptation. We know this will need societal challenge, requiring discussion, consultation and dialogue alongside bold and radical thinking.

As part of this process, we will also consider how we can achieve political engagement and understanding. We will also consider how to use educational resources to engage those in the political arena, at all levels, to highlight current and future issues.

Workstream 2 – Spatial / Strategic Responses

Current catchment scale flood risk, mitigation and adaptation planning across Wales is inconsistent. We will look to examine why these practices are not happening and make recommendations as to how this situation can change. This work will include carrying out a study of existing catchment planning and other spatial / strategic practices currently occurring across Wales (which will include nature-based solutions) to consider and address catchment scale solutions to flooding. We will explore structures and resources for enabling strategic, integrated partnership working at catchment / coastal zone scale, and also consider how current barriers may need to be overcome.

Our initial analysis suggests that the current approach is relatively uncoordinated with a relative lack of guidance or good practice. We will use the best relevant global examples to make recommendations for change.

Workstream 3 – Resources Review (Workforce & Funding)We recognise the challenging pressures on resources at the moment, both in terms of funding, but also in terms of having the dedicated workforce with the appropriate skills needed to face the future of the sector.

We will carry out a short review of the current arrangements for funding flood management and adaptation projects in Wales within the context of increased risk of impacts from flooding and sea level rise. This work will include examining potential new and innovative funding mechanisms drawing on good practice from elsewhere. This review may lead to recommendations on changes to current primary and secondary legislation to bring about change.

In addition, we will seek to identify the issues with workforce planning and skills facing the industry by undertaking a gap analysis which will consider existing and future needs and

associated responses, including opportunities to better share and utilise resources within the existing capacity constraints, develop training courses, improve staff retention and attract new people to the sector.

We will be liaising with the FCERM Committee to ensure that there is no duplication of work in this area.

Workstream 4 – Spatial / Land Use Planning

This final piece of work will involve a short qualitative and quantitative piece of research to understand the scale of the ‘planning problem’ associated with flooding. It will attempt to understand how many houses have been consented on flood plains since the introduction of TAN15 and why has this occurred. It will also examine the attitudes to flood risk amongst local authority planners and politicians and explore what this current picture means when looking at increased flood risk over the next 50-80 years, with a view to achieving greater adaptation and resilience in the long-term. We will also estimate the likely cost to the public purse for responding to flood events, now and in the future, in particular case study areas.

These four pieces of work will be completed by April next year and by the Autumn of 2024 we will present our report and recommendations for your consideration.

We have been working with Welsh Government officials to ensure that their views are informing our work. The scoping report identified a number of ‘gaps’ which NICW does not have the resources to investigate. We will be sharing these areas with Welsh Government officials and discuss how these issues may be addressed elsewhere.

We would be very happy to discuss our plans in more detail and answer any questions you may have. We would be grateful if you could share this information with your Co-operation Agreement partners.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,

Dr David Clubb (Chair)
Eurgain Powell
Eluned Parrott