Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru Member of Senedd for the Rhondda
Lives have been turned upside down by Storm Dennis.
In the middle of the night water began rushing into homes, cars were washed down the street, hundreds of people had to flee, lives were changed forever.
While some people had been flooded before, and some have been flooded since, more havoc was wreaked during that one weather event than had ever been seen in our communities.
When I and the local councillors went to see people in the Rhondda who had been affected, many were still in shock and trying to make sense of it all amid the muck and debris that had been brought down from the mountainside or swept up from the overflowing River Rhondda.
More than twelve months on, there are still cold and damp properties lying empty, waiting for renovation.
People are still trying to make sense of what caused this to happen and are obviously fearful that it might happen again.
When crisis strikes, people naturally look to the Government for answers to questions such as “how do I get my house and my life back?” and “what’s going to stop this happening again?”
A year on, and more extreme weather has hit, bringing more floods, yet these communities are no closer to the answers they so deserve and the justice they seek. What’s been confusing, is that many of these communities haven’t experienced flooding before, so they’ve been left with a sense of ‘something’ must have happened to cause this.
The multi-agency approach has not thrown up any satisfactory answers. We await the section 19 report, but in the early stages, it was clear that each organisation involved had their own different take on what happened.
This has created a scenario whereby lines of responsibility are blurred and people have little confidence that this process will give them the answers they deserve. That is why Plaid Cymru has emphasised the need for an independent inquiry.
While we recognise the hard work of the various agencies involved in cleaning up in the Rhondda, we do not think it is healthy to allow those responsible for flood prevention and mitigation to investigate their own conduct leading up to Storm Dennis.
We need to fully understand how increased rainfall and more extreme weather events will impact on our communities in the future. All the scientific evidence points to these so-called once-in-a-lifetime weather patterns occurring with much more frequency due to the climate crisis.
For people who have already suffered flooding at least once, the thought of it happening again sends chills down your spine. I know of people who are unable to sleep at night whenever it is raining for fear that water will once again enter their property.
An independent inquiry that forensically looks at the causes of the flooding and comes up with the most sustainable preventative measures can restore some of that peace of mind absent from the lives of so many.
People deserve to know what went wrong. It’s not enough to say there was excessive rain because we know, with climate change, that will come again. People not only deserve to know that what went wrong, but crucially they need to know how they can be protected in the future.
How can we ensure that water can be slowed and can run freely to the river and beyond? How does all of this interact with our disused mine works and coal tips? How can we ensure people are properly compensated?
When Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru candidate for Pontypridd, set up a petition calling for an independent inquiry into the Rhondda Cynon Taf flooding, it wasn’t long before thousands had signed. At the same time Plaid Cymru ran surveys to capture the experiences and evidence of the affected communities.
One finding shone through. People felt unsupported by the authorities. Some went as far to describe it as “negligence”. The perceived poor service and lack of effective communication has raised more questions than have been answered.
It’s not just the damage to property, the human cost has been immeasurable. Another overwhelming theme from the surveys we ran, is the psychological and emotional impact of the flooding.
People are living in fear of heavy rain, because they are not convinced what happened won’t happen again.
During the past year, we’ve seen the Labour Welsh Government resist calls for an independent inquiry into the floods, not just once, but numerous times. Meanwhile, at the other end of the M4, Labour in opposition in Westminster have been highly critical of the UK Government’s lack of inquiry into floods in England caused by Storm Dennis. Local MPs have voted for an inquiry there but oppose one here.
Communities in Rhondda Cynon Taf have watched their own government dismiss an inquiry as too expensive and listened to one Welsh Labour MP (one who voted for an inquiry into English floods) describe it as “the daftest idea I have heard”.
It’s no wonder that some people are turned off by politics in the face of such brazen hypocrisy.
Against this backdrop, our communities have had to rebuild lives and their homes under impossible circumstances with insufficient financial support. As we pass the one year mark, that thought weighs as heavily as the looming rainclouds that inevitably form at this time of year.
While a public inquiry won’t clear the clouds, it would help people to get their questions answered and it would point to solutions. The aim has to be to stop the floods happening again. An inquiry might just get the reassurance they need and the justice they seek.
We need to change the government’s mind and you can help us do that by signing up for an independent inquiry here: https://www.leannerhondda.wales/llifogydd_floods