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Delay to new flood policy a ‘cock up’ by Welsh Government says Swansea Councillor

07 Dec 2021 4 minutes Read
Excerpt from the new flood maps for Wales showing Swansea city centre and parts of Swansea Marina and SA1 in a flood zone

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

The last-minute deferral of new flood maps and flood guidance by the Welsh Government which were meant to be in force by now in Wales was a “cock-up”, a Swansea councillor said.

Cllr Des Thomas said if he owned a property in an area designated at risk of flooding by the maps, which were published in September, he would now be keen to sell it – and he would also think twice about buying one.

He said the maps were going to have “dire consequences” for the at-risk areas.

“I mean, this is a cock-up, excuse the expression,” he said at a council planning committee meeting. “The cat is out of the bag, isn’t it.”

The Natural Resources Wales (NRW) maps show in detail areas at risk of coastal and river flooding. They identify four types of flood zone – and include areas considered likely to be at risk of flooding in the future due to climate change.

With sea levels rising and more intense periods of rainfall projected in the future, the flood maps incorporate larger areas in Wales than previous ones. Projections show 11.3% of land in Wales will be at risk from flooding from rivers or the sea, up from the 9.86% previously predicted.

The accompanying planning guidance would require future developments to take account of these risks and effectively direct them away from flood risk areas.

The guidance said new homes, schools and hospitals must not be located in areas of high flood risk without strong flood defences.

The maps and guidance were supposed to come into force on December 1, and last month Swansea’s planning committee approved two large student accommodation schemes which officers said might not be acceptable from that date because of their low-lying location.

The developments were a new block on The Strand featuring 312 studios, and the extension of planning consent for a 287-bed scheme off Trawler Road, Swansea Marina.

‘Massive headache’

But, following complaints from councils, the Welsh Government decided to defer the new guidance and maps until June 2023, a week before they were supposed to be introduced.

Climate change Minister Julie James said the suspension was to allow local authorities more time to fully consider the impact of the climate change projections.
She said the maps showed “some significant increases in the extent of the highest-risk flood zones including in some of our city and town centres”.

One such area covers a swathe of Swansea city centre, either side of the River Tawe. The westward side extends into Sandfields. The area includes land off East Burrows Road, near the SA1 Sail Bridge, which the council has appointed a private company to redevelop in due course.

Speaking at the planning meeting, Cllr Peter Black asked officers which housing sites earmarked for development in Swansea would be affected by the flood maps and guidance.

Cllr Phil Downing said the deferral wasn’t bad news, given the short amount of time between the publishing of the new material and its proposed implementation last week.

“It would have been a massive headache for developers, council, and individuals,” he said.

Cllr Downing wanted to know if developers would now be required to contribute to flood defence measures as part of any planning consent.

Cllr Mike Lewis said this was all conjecture. He said there were inaccuracies in the flood maps and that NRW was revising them.

Tom Evans, the council’s strategic planning team leader, said what councillors had expressed about uncertainty and conjecture was fair.

Planning officers, he said, were “in a bit of a state of uncertainty” themselves until further advice came from the Welsh Government.

It was, said Mr Evans, “an unfortunate situation to put it mildly”.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has approached the Welsh Government for comment.


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