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Climate change flooding rules headache for Swansea council

07 Sep 2022 4 minute read

Richard Youle, Local Democracy Reporter

NEW planning rules to protect developments from climate change-related flooding are causing a headache for Swansea Council, even though their implementation has been delayed.

The council is working with flood risk consultants to better understand the potential impacts of flooding from the River Tawe, particularly around the Sainsbury’s store and Sail Bridge area.

The authority was one of a number of Welsh councils which expressed concerns to the Welsh Government about new planning guidance it proposed to bring into force in December last year.

The guidance, known as Tan 15, required developers and planning authorities to consider the risk of floods and coastal erosion caused by a warming planet. Accompanying maps showed a growing proportion of Wales being at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, including areas of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.

A week before the guidance came into force, Climate Change Minister Julie James announced it would be delayed until June, 2023. She instructed every council to review their own flood consequence assessment within 12 months and consider ways to adapt to increased risks.

The Swansea West MS said predictions showed that peak river flows in Wales could rise by 20% to 30% by 2120 due to more intense periods of rainfall, and that sea levels could rise by approximately 1.1m. A business-as-usual approach, said Ms James, was “no longer a viable option”.

Swansea Council is keen to see new developments along the Tawe, including one on land between the Sail Bridge and Sainsbury’s. It is also backing proposals for Blue Eden – a large energy and infrastructure project featuring a tidal lagoon – on the waterfront in SA1.

Addressing a council scrutiny meeting, Swansea property development manager Huw Mowbray said: “The big issue for Swansea is the river – it’s not the sea.”

The Sainsbury’s and Sail Bridge stretch of the Tawe, he said, “is the point of potential inundation”.

Flood risk experts

Mr Mowbray said the council was working with flood risk experts, JBA Consulting, on this risk and how to mitigate it. But he said the authority wasn’t clear on the scale of the potential flooding at this riverside location.

“Is it an inch, is it six inches, is it 20 feet?,” he said. “We don’t know, is the honest answer.”

Several acres of riverside land at Swansea Vale, Llansamlet, were set aside as a flood spillover area as part of a £7 million flood defence project by Natural Resources Wales and the council eight years ago.

As well as reducing the risk of flooding to homes and businesses, it was said to have enhanced the Tawe’s ecological status and attracted new wildlife and plants.

Cllr Chris Holley, who chaired the scrutiny meeting, said he had “real issues” about Tan 15. Referring to the Swansea Vale flood defence project, he said: “We gave up a substantial amount of land as sacrificial. We have a lot of investment around the river.”

He said he would like to receive “concrete information” about what the latest Tan 15 thinking was.

Mr Mowbray said officials from councils and the Welsh Government attended a meeting on this subject around a month ago. The Welsh Government officials, he said, “seemed to accept lots of the issues” that were raised and were due to report back to ministers.

All-Wales issue

Council leader Rob Stewart, who attended the scrutiny meeting, said the implications of the new flood risk guidance was an all-Wales issue. “I was grateful to the Welsh Government for stepping back and taking another look,” he said.

Cllr Stewart said when Tan 15 neared the December implementation stage “it became clear that what had been proposed may have had a different impact”.

He added: “Economically it could have placed a real brake on opportunities, not just to improve the economic options in Wales but also prevent some of the things the Welsh Government wanted to do in terms of climate change and some of the work to decarbonise the Welsh economy.”

The Labour leader said he was “relatively confident” that there had been a fresh look at Tan 15, and “a realisation that where it potentially could have caused issues there needs to be some re-drafting of some of the wording”.

The Welsh Government said its position remained as set out by Ms James last November.

A spokesman said it had received recommendations from the Planning Officers’ Society for Wales about possibly amending Tan 15. Officials, he said, were considering the details of this.

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