Natural Resources Wales accused of ‘passing the buck’ on flood defences
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has been accused of “passing the buck” on flood defences for Carmarthen.
Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz has taken aim at body which has responsibility for new flood defence projects in Wales after it said it was unable to develop one for flood-prone area, despite concerns from businesses.
NRW has reviewed its options and modelling and said “nothing has fundamentally changed”.
Businesses on The Quay, by the River Towy, have been repeatedly flooded in recent years. Two public meetings have been held on the matter.
Flood protection policy in Wales generally prioritises residential properties over businesses, which in turn informs the type of schemes NRW puts forward for Welsh Government approval and funding.
According to the Welsh Government, businesses may also benefit from schemes where homes were also being protected, or where NRW was able to justify a scheme which only protected businesses.
Kurtz, MS for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, has called for a strategy which put homes and businesses on an equal footing.
He said: “We’re now in a situation whereby NRW and the Welsh Government appear to be passing the buck as to who is responsible for progressing a flood prevention strategy for Carmarthen – this simply isn’t good enough and it’s not what local business owners deserve.
“Looking ahead, we need a clear and targeted flood protection strategy that’s going to protect local businesses and keep properties safe.”
Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, said he detected more flexibility in the current arrangements than at first glance and has asked NRW to propose a defence scheme for Carmarthen.
In response, NRW’s flood and water management manager Tim England said Carmarthen “brings its own unique challenges” because much of the lower part of the town was built on a flood plain.
He said while the areas around Pensarn were protected by existing flood defences, extending or constructing flood protection elsewhere was not straightforward for a number of reasons, including how schemes were prioritised, possible adverse impacts and historic infrastructure.
“The Quay was deliberately built lower than other parts of the area to maximise access to the tidal reach of the river, a legacy of its industrial background,” said Mr England.
“History tells us there are no easy solutions for the Quay. The scale and challenge of climate change is substantial and increasing, and we will have to manage expectations on how much flooding can realistically be prevented or managed.”
He said dialogue was ongoing with Carmarthenshire Council and politicians, but added: “We have reviewed past proposals for the area and nothing has fundamentally changed, which means we are still unable to take forward a flood scheme for the area.”
Dexters restaurant is one of the businesses on The Quay which has been repeatedly flooded.
Front of house manager Ceri Wallace said it received phone calls from NRW when flood warnings were issued.
“It’s all hands on deck – panic stations,” she said.
“But there is nothing we can do. The water comes through the walls and floors. We can’t stop that.”
Miss Wallace said the lower part of the premises was used just for storage and admin, with the restaurant higher up.
She added: “Every time flooding happens there is a massive media campaign, things are said, and then nothing happens, which is unfortunate. Customers often ask us what the situation is.”
Carmarthen Town South councillor Gareth John, who is also the town’s mayor, attended the two meetings this year, as did Mr Hart.
Cllr John said the fundamental issue that came across was that a flood protection scheme for The Quay, should NRW propose one, would not pass muster at Welsh Government level because of the focus on residential properties.
Cllr John said he suggested a temporary barrier to protect the bottom part of The Quay during flood events.
But he said NRW did not have the resources to buy it or the staff needed to erect and dismantle it when the need arose.
“The bottom line, for a number of reasons, is that resources are being targeted towards defending domestic properties, which means a scheme for Carmarthen would not be approved,” he said.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said NRW was best placed to select locations, including the River Towy, which might be appropriate for flood defences.
She said: “We then assess all proposals to ensure viability and value for money for the taxpayer.”
She said the Welsh Government was awarding NRW and councils £65 million this financial year to address flooding issues.
Carmarthen Town councillor Alun Lenny said he felt a temporary barrier at The Quay should not be off the table.
“I still believe if the political will and financial resources were made available it would be worth looking at again,” he said.
Cllr Lenny also said businesses needed support to cope and live with flooding.
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