|A close call near Caerleon, near Newport in the lower Usk Valley|
It’s been a bad winter for floods, with the north of England and southern Scotland getting particularly badly hit, along with parts of Wales, and we are only halfway through. As has been noted previously there can be no blank cheque for flood defences; we need to make rational and cost effective sustainable choices when it comes to coastal defence. We need to decide how we are going to deal with the weather related effects of a warming world with expanding and rising oceans.
Now I am not suggesting for a moment the wholesale abandoning of large tracts of our country to the ravages of the ocean, although unless climate change is taken on then we may end up facing that eventuality. Rather we need to make rational long-term sustainable choices about flood defence and the development of a comprehensive planning system for our country. At a time when several of our councils are considering building on known flood plains the issue of flooding remains important.
We need to actively build in flood prevention / flood avoidance into as the planning application process and make efforts to avoid building in those areas that are vulnerable (or will be vulnerable in the future) to flooding or at least build to take into account the possibilities of flooding. If we are going to build on flood plains or other areas that are vulnerable to flooding then we must use flood resistant or flood hardened modern intelligent design and building techniques to reduce potential future damage, loss and inconvenience as is done elsewhere.
The UK mainland has around 5,000 miles of coastline, not all of which is inhabited or at prime risk, but even so, going Dutch with wholesale widespread sea defences would be an expensive option for Wales, let alone the UK. Now those coastal roads and railways that are at regular risk of being damaged by a combination of bad weather and high tides may well need to be re-routed.
In Wales we do need to take a longer view and seriously consider the possibilities of relaying railway lines and building roads away from those more vulnerable coastal areas. Additionally we need to harden our power network and our communities to the effect of severe weather events. That said we are in a much better position to make more rational coastal defence choices than some countries in the developing world and to seriously consider just exactly where we put key infrastructure.
The quick fix (and short term gain) may be one of our biggest problems here in Wales along with the lack of sensible detailed all Wales development planning. Across the border, Westminster’s institutionalised short term view led to the cutting of £500 million pounds from the Environment Agency budget (between 2010 and 2013, and at the time (in 2014) anticipated another ‘saving £ 300 million pounds by 2015 and the cutting of some 1,500 jobs.
The Pacific island nations and Bangladesh will face the potentially catastrophic social, economic and political consequences of rising and expanding oceans before we will. Even the Dutch have after over 500 years of experience trying come to the conclusion that in some cases it is better to build in flood room, setting aside some coastal wetlands and other land as places that will be allowed to flood to take the pressure of other areas.
Coastal flooding and bad weather may hit some parts of our country hard, other areas may literally dodge the storm, but we may not be so lucky all the time. Westminster budget cuts mean (which are unlikely to be reversed) that in England (in in Wales) there will be less money, less resources and less people to work to prevent future floods. We in Wales cannot afford that short of dull short term thinking... we need to start the process of better flood prevention now before the next time.