Alison Alexander, Liberal Democrat Senedd candidate for Montgomeryshire
Throughout January Wales saw multiple instances of flooding, including most notably the battering provided by Storm Christoph which resulted in 58 flood warnings throughout the country.
Disruption was widespread across the whole of Wales, with homes evacuated from Ruthin in the North to Neath in the South.
In response to the flooding, the Welsh Government promised financial help to those affected by serious flooding stating it would work with councils to deliver £500-£1,000 payments to affected households. This was a much-welcomed move that caused a degree of envy in border communities such as those in Shropshire, England, also affected by flooding but not offered the same support by Westminster.
While these payments are to be applauded, some families have now been flooded for the third or fourth time in the last five years, suggesting this ever more recurrent pattern is a sign of accelerating climate change. That is why we need to invest much more in long-term solutions to tackling flooding rather than increasingly relying on making repeated financial aid payments for those affected each year.
Beyond the material damage caused by flooding to houses, commercial property and roads and rail, the shutting of local transport infrastructure also costs our local economy by causing delays in deliveries and travel time. This is particularly true of rail services that can sometimes be shut for days, weeks and, in some cases, months after bad flooding. The current flood defences in Wales are both inadequate and only a short-term solution.
To truly tackle flooding problems, we need landscape-scale natural flood management to protect us long-term. The Welsh Government pledged £2m for this last year but we need more investment and much faster. Crucial to this fight will be the use of nature-based solutions.
We need the large-scale restoration of peatlands, heathland, native woodlands, salt marshes, wetlands and coastal waters to help absorb the water upon impact, especially upstream. In Mid Wales, we already have seen a great example of how this can be done with the bog restoration at Cefn Croes last November.
For too long we’ve seen too little, too late. Inadequate provision has been made in areas where flooding is known to happen, and local residents and businesses are left to pay the price and clean up the mess.
These latest floods need to act as a wake-up call. As agricultural subsidy schemes change, now is the perfect time to support sustainable land management on farms that will benefit everyone living downstream. In this task it is vital farmers are treated as allies and not obstructions in the process. We must work together with farmers. New funding mechanisms must be reliable and free from excessive red tape. We will all benefit from less severe flooding.
Both the Welsh Government and UK Parliament have declared climate emergencies, but we now need action rather than just words. My own party, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have pledged to raise at least £1 billion per annum from both public and private sources to be used on measures to stop the climate breakdown and decline in biodiversity, create new green jobs, and cut household bills.
This will include subsidies for effective land management, new flood and coastal defence schemes and the flood risk responsibilities of Natural Resources Wales.