I've just been into Aberystwyth to see the devastation on the seafront... It looks as if inland is getting hit as well as coastal communities http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25588796

As jobs are lost at the Environment Agency http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25587555 we need a flood forum for Wales more urgently than ever. But we also need to know exactly what we expect it to do and who we expect to do the rest: How would a flood forum work with the Environment Agency and other services?

Do we need a forum to lobby for increased spending on flood defences? Or do we need a forum that can help and advise on flood prevention and the painful process of recovery? Does it need to be independent of government? Should it be linked to other development efforts, such as building sustainable communities? (whatever that means
It’s Bank Holiday weekend and I have a bit of time to reflect on what I’ve learned about flooding in Wales so far, and the prospect of a national flood forum. So, this is a very informal ‘interim report’ as I get my thoughts together – and I welcome any and all comments (except abuse!). My main concerns, which have surfaced as I’ve read the official reports, kept an eye on the news and talked to people, are: (i) how flooded and at-risk communities will participate in the conception and running of a Wales flood forum; (ii) how these communities will be defined by the authorities and how they define themselves, especially how the most vulnerable and perhaps isolated people will be represented and cared for; (iii) how a Wales flood forum might engage with climate change; (iv) how a flood forum could fit with the other agencies active with respect to flooding, notably Natural Resources Wales (specifically the Flood Awareness team of the former Environment Agency Wales), the relevant departments and structures of the Local Authority, and the existent National Flood Forum, which nominally covers England and Wales at the moment: What should be the specific roles of a Wales Flood Forum? What are the agencies not doing or not able to do enough of? Should a Wales Flood Forum concentrate on recovery, for instance, and/or on lobbying or advocacy work on behalf of communities? Relatedly, I’ve become interested in how any flood forum for Wales would be funded and constituted (e.g. as an independent body, perhaps a consultancy service of sorts, or as a quasi non-government organisation, (quango)). And I’ve become increasingly interested in the role that the insurance industry plays and how different this could be, arguably to the benefit of all.

The first thing to say is that everyone I have communicated with is genuinely concerned to do the best for at-risk and flooded communities, including Local Authority Officers, NRW, the National Flood Forum, The Scottish Flood Forum, Assembly Members - even academics! Of course, I haven’t met anyone from the Insurance industry yet and the Minister for Natural Resources and Food in the Welsh Government was (perhaps understandably given he’s in anew job) too busy to talk to me. However, I have no doubt that no-one in government or the insurance industry wishes anything but the best for at-risk and flooded communities: the caveat in both cases will be ‘within financial reason’: The government has to balance the books and insurance companies want to make profits. Anyway, there is evidently tremendous goodwill ‘out-there’ with respect to flooding, and equally evidently a high degree of competence already exists – not least in community flood groups. Inevitably, I suppose, the key issue is that resources are stretched too thinly to adequately address the various types and aspects of flooding. Which means it is even more crucial to get a flood forum for Wales right: Its constitution, funding, role and interactions must be geared at getting the most of what we want from the service out of what we can afford to invest.

Another point to note is that the Welsh Government report on Flood Advocacy makes some good points about the constitution and role of what it dubs a ‘Flood Support Service’. I must admit that I haven’t yet been able to track down where this report is at in the government process nor talk to anyone in government about it. I am, though, going to meet one of the reports authors in the next couple of weeks. A criticism of the report, which I’ve noted from talking to people, is that it doesn’t seem to build on what we’ve already got, particularly the work of NRW and Local Authorities: It doesn’t detail how the flood support service would dovetail with these agencies. Perhaps is also fails to address potential problems with advocacy and lobbying when it places the ownership of the composite flood forum (the flood support service and National Framework for Flood Support) squarely in the hands of government?

Let me address some of my own concerns based on my very provisional finding. The experience of frontline communities, whether negative or positive, could make a vital contribution to the design and running of a Wales Flood Forum. I need to meet and talk with many more community flood groups, but already it’s evident that hands-on, situated knowledges of at-risk and flooded communities could be extremely valuable – and all, too easily missed in legislative processes. NRW report how effective a well functioning community flood group can be and how the agency’s problem is not having the resources to help more groups to set up. Meanwhile, competent people in cohesive communities show just how minimal this help need be. Community and individual household flood plans must surely be at the heart of a well functioning flood support service? There is a role for communities and community councils, in liaison with Local Authorities, to provide continuity and to look after vulnerable and isolated community members (respecting privacy, confidentiality and so on are potential problems here). A Wales Flood Forum might conceivably have a role to play in monitoring potential – perhaps inadvertent – exclusion in how communities constitute themselves, being aware too of any self-serving interests in community flood groups.

Thinking about how a Wales flood forum might engage with climate change seemed a tangential issue in many of my discussions... But NRW have tried to stimulate awareness in their work on flooding. And, perhaps most significantly, at least one community flood group has taken the initiative to inform itself about climate change, bringing in informed speakers to discuss the nature of the phenomena and its local and global impacts. Among all those I have talked with so far there is a consensus that climate change is implicated in the increased risk of flooding in Wales. Moreover, extreme and unpredictable weather has greatly increased the number of communities at-risk of flooding beyond ‘traditional’ coastal and flood-plane areas: Essentially, almost all communities are now at risk. In passing, I should note the debate on whether flooding in a unique phenomena, which merits a dedicated national service/forum, or whether it might be grouped with other extreme weather events (drought, heavy snowfalls, very hard frosts...). Or perhaps floods and fires fit more 'naturally' together? Maybe disaster or emergency is the right framework? The Flood Advocacy report suggests a ‘sustainability’ framework for flood services, but perhaps the ‘resilience’ frameworks with which Local Authorities are already engaged would be appropriate?

Considering how a flood forum/service would fit with other agencies, it’s clear we need to build on the knowledges and capabilities we already have in communities, Local Authorities, NRW and so on. What roles and responsibilities should these agencies retain, which should be enhanced, and which might pass on the flood forum? As I’ve already intimated, communities feel that they need an advocate after a flood event – an independent body able to represent them to all concerned levels of government and it agencies, to insurance companies and so on. There also seems to be a particular role for a flood forum/service in recovery – especially long-term support for communities: As many people have pointed out, a flood does not end when the water recedes; dealing with insurance, temporary accommodation, rebuilding etc can be very long processes. But is there a role for a flood forum in flood risk management or mitigation? Would it be better to fund NRW to extend its Flood Awareness service to more communities so as to get flood groups and plans in place? Should other ‘before the flood’ roles be left to NRW and Local Authorities?

Finally, for now, what about the insurance industry (Association of British Insurers), which is still in negotiation with government about a new deal on flooding? I’ve read that in France insurance premiums are equalised so that any extra individual risk (from flooding, say) is spread to every household in the nation. In the light of the unpredictability of contemporary flooding particularly – almost every community is at risk – this seems an eminently sensible way of doing things. So, why do I get the feeling that this option is not on the table in current negotiations? (I know, I do need to talk to representatives of ABI). One thing ABI should consider it that some – certainly not all - insurance companies are viewed by communities as part of the problem and not part of the solution. There are some key and seemingly easy to resolve issues such as changing a ‘like for like’ replacement principle to one which reduces the damage to the building and the insurer’s financial exposure in the event of a future flood. There also seems to be a role for a flood forum to inform communities of their rights, for instance with respect to choosing independent assessors and trusted – maybe local – builders. But how could  forum best engage with companies who make flood defence products and perhaps make independent  recommendations?

An extra £10m has been allocated to help protect communities in Wales at risk of flooding. The Welsh government has said it has put more than £160m into flood protection, reducing the risk for 7,000 properties. The additional £10m is part of a £76.5m capital investment programme outlined by Finance Minister Jane Hutt last week. Russel George AM, says it's not enough

The money will help fund flood and coastal risk management schemes, including:

  • £5m to help protect more than 215 homes and business in the Colwyn Bay community, and the A55 and North Wales mainline railway. The Welsh government says it will also boost tourism through improvements to the beach.
  • £2m to extend work on the proposed flood risk management scheme for Mold in Flintshire that will reduce the flooding risk for more than 90 properties.
  • £1m for another phase of work to reduce the risk of coastal erosion and flooding in Borth to protect more than 330 homes and businesses, the Cambrian coast railway and the Borth bog site,
  • £2m to support Natural Resources Wales' work improving flood and coastal defences including projects in Pendine, Llanfair Talhairn, Pontblyddyn, Ystrad Mynach, Severn Estuary, Ferryside, Bridgend and Talsarnau. The funding will also help with defence improvements to the Severn Estuary, Crindau in Newport and the River Rhymney in Cardiff.

Here's a summary of the latest Welsh Government Report on a Welsh Flood Forum. The report doesn't  seem to be available on the Welsh Government website yet. I got a copy from Scotland (thanks 'Ian')! Responding to the National Assembly for Wales’ Flood Inquiry’s call for a Welsh Flood Forum, the report recommends a Flood Support Service (FSS) and a National Framework for Flood Support (NFFS). The NFFS would be co-ordinated by the FSS and ‘owned’ by the Welsh Government. The report does not refer to the increased incidence of extreme weather or the relation between flooding and climate change. The unpredictable nature of flooding is referred to, however, an acknowledgement perhaps of recent pluvial flooding. The NFFS includes ‘an idealised set of tasks that can be mapped onto a flood cycle’’, and a set of cross-cutting themes. Tasks include identifying differential vulnerabilities, existing capacities and resilience. Community participation and building capacity and resilience are included in cross-cutting themes. The FSS would have central role in delivering the NFFS, be an advocate for communities affected by flooding, communicate with policy-makers and delivery agencies. It is suggested that flood awareness be embedded in wider community development work, highlighting communities who may be sceptical about flood awareness. Communities are noted as including individuals, businesses and community groups, presumably defined mainly by residence or presence in place (rather than, say, wider communities of interest). Measuring the success of the NFFS would include the point of view of affected communities and individuals.

AD Research & Analysis Ltd, Whitmarsh, L. & Butler, C. (2012) Flood Advocacy & Support Service for Communities in Wales. Welsh Government. Cardiff.
Heavy falls of rain over long periods can put almost any community at risk of pluvial flooding, that is flooding caused by surface run-off that is too much for the ground to absorb. Some work funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation links pluvial flooding to social deprivation and injustice in urban areas, here are the key findings:
1. Pluvial flood risk accounts for approximately one-third of flood risk in the UK. Approximately 2 million people in UK urban areas are exposed to an annual pluvial flood risk of 0.5 per cent or greater ('1-in-200 year' event).

2. An additional 1.2 million people in urban areas could be put at risk by 2050 due to a combination of climate change and population growth.

3. From a social justice perspective, it is important to know the characteristics of the population at risk, not just the number of properties in an affected area.

4. Settlements across the UK with higher rainfall tend to have greater levels of social deprivation, although the differences are small.

5. Changes to the cost and availability of insurance in the future have the potential to alter the socio-economic composition of flood risk areas and/or blight certain areas.

6. Pluvial flood risk can be heavily mitigated in new developments through a combination of avoiding the highest risk locations, investment in drainage systems, flood-proof building design and innovative surface water management schemes.

7. A key challenge remains for existing built-up areas at high risk, although surface water management can ameliorate risk when opportunities for redevelopment arise.

8. While recent flood management legislation around the UK has improved the priority given to pluvial flood risk, concerns still exist about partnership working, uncertainty about levels of risk (which can hinder planning), competing demands and capacity to respond.

Houston, D., Werritty, A., Bassett, D., Geddes, A., Hoolachan, A. and McMillan, M. 2010 Pluvial (rain-related) flooding in urban areas: the invisible hazard Joseph Rowntree Foundation York
'If your community suffers from flooding, or is at risk from future flood events, forming a community based flood resilience group to work on behalf of local residents and businesses is an effective way to minimise the effects of flooding. 61 community flood groups have been set up throughout Scotland by the Scottish Flood Forum and work closely with agencies such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), local authorities, water companies and the emergency planning agencies. Flood groups closely reflect the interests of local communities and differ from area to area, depending on the particular issues faced by those communities and it is our role to provide help and ongoing support to all flood resilience groups' http://www.scottishfloodforum.org/flood-groups/

Does we need a Wales Flood Forum? (I think SFF is a Quango) Or could we set up community flood groups working with existing agencies?

Academics McEwan and Jones conclude that experience of flooding in the UK in 2007 generated new understandings of the importance of local knowledges, which can challenge and contest ‘expert’ knowledge. The local knowledges of concern derive from self-interest and being ‘in place’ over time as well as ‘hobby’ knowledges such as natural history. The authors point out that local politics and power relations cannot be considered as separate from local knowledges. They claim that the experience of flooding has linked it to climate change in the public psyche. A combination of pluvial (rainwater related), fluvial (related to streams/rivers) and groundwater flooding, the cause was high intensity rainfall over a wide area and constituted ‘one of the greatest civil emergencies that the UK has faced’, according to the Cabinet Office (p.3). 

The Pitt Review suggests that communities be more involved in alleviating flood risks, including contributing to the cost themselves (p.3). Meanwhile, the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) invests local authorities with a leading role in flood risk management, along with the Environment Agency. McEwen and Jones identify a lacuna in knowledge of surface water (pluvial) mapping and modelling as well as regarding multiple flood events. Local knowledge becomes more valuable as exceptional conditions bring flooding to areas previously unaffected and so beyond the knowledge of experts and responsible agencies: local features (landscape) matter, down to and including pavement height, blocked drains, and recent cultivation. Participation in flood resilience is judged to be important, with the authors suggesting that community knowledge networks and pathways need identifying along with ‘bridge people’ who can liaise with experts and authorities. Local knowledge has been lost as local authorities contract out services such as street cleaning. Questions remain about how local knowledges can be connected to governance systems and whether institutional processes can accommodate such knowledges. It is may also prove interesting to enquire into whether awareness of climate change recedes along with fear as time passes since a flood.

McEwen, L. & O. Jones (2012) Building local/lay knowledges into community flood resilience planning after the July 2007 flood, Gloucestershire, UK Hydrology Research Vol 43 No 5 pp 675–688 

5 April 2013: The Guardian reports that 57 people have been killed and more than 250,000 left without power after torrential rain in Buenos Aires and La Plata. As often happens in disasters, it seems, the people affected and the authorities appear to have different agendas and there is a tension (read Rebecca Solnit A Paradise Built in Hell, for instance). The Guardian has the Minister responsible and the Governor of the area fleeing an angry crowd in their motorcade!http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/05/argentinian-rescuers-search-bodies-floods

The Pitt Review of lessons leaned from the 2007 floods in Britain put UK floods in the global context:  
‘There were over 200 major floods worldwide during 2007, affecting 180 million people. The human  cost was more than 8,000 deaths and over £40 billion worth of damage. But even against that dramatic back-drop, the floods that devastated England ranked as the most expensive in the world in 2007.... We are not sure whether last summer’s events were a direct result of climate change, but we do know that events of this kind are expected to become more frequent.’

Watch this space for further news and any appeals for help from Argentina
The Pitt Review
The Pitt Review of lessons learned from floods in 2007 made 92 recommendations. The Review was based on four core principles:

·         Start with the needs of those who have suffered flooding or are at risk
·         Change will only happen with effective leadership across the board
·         We must be willing to work together and share information
·         We must be much clearer about who does what

We have been through the Review to look closely at who it recommended shoud have responsibility for the various aspects of flood risk management, rescue and relief services. It’s interesting to consider whether Pitt’s recommendations have been implemented in your area because the key principles start with your needs and advocate good information flow and transparency.

Central government
Pitt recommends that the government and the insurance industry ‘work together to deliver a public education programme setting out the benefits of insurance in the context of flooding.’ Government is tasked with reviewing and updating Insurance for all: A good practice guide for providers of social housing, and with disseminating it effectively ‘to support the creation of insurance with rent schemes for low income households’ (Insurance for all appears rather to be defunct?). ‘Flood risk should be made part of the mandatory search requirements when people buy property, and should form part of Home Information Packs.’ Pitt recommends that developers and architects should be incorporating flood resilience into designs for the future. The Government aimed to incorporate appropriate measures as requirements in Building Regulations when they were revised in 2010 (But did this happen?). The Cabinet Office should provide advice to ensure that all Local Resilience Forums have effective and linked websites providing public information before, during and after an emergency. The Government should establish a programme to support and encourage individuals and communities to be better prepared and more self-reliant during emergencies, allowing the authorities to focus on those areas and people in greatest need.

Environment Agency
Pitt concludes that ‘government leadership should be supported by clear oversight of all flood risk management activity and the Environment Agency’s risk management responsibilities extended accordingly’ (What will that mean in Wales where the EA, The Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission have merged as Natural Resources Wales (NRW) from 1 April 2013?). Pitt suggests that the work carried out by the Environment Agency is not as transparent as it could be. Many responses stated that they never see the Environment Agency clearing rivers of vegetation or dredging, despite the fact that the work ahs been done. Pitt recommends that the EA publishes its schedules of work to ensure that the maintenance work that they perform is recognised. The EA is tasked to work with ‘local responders’ to raise awareness in flood risk areas, identifying ‘a range of mechanisms to warn the public, particularly the vulnerable, in response to flooding.’ The EA and the Met Office should urgently complete the production of a sliding scale of options for greater personalisation of public warning information, including costs, benefits and feasibility.

Local Authorities
A central theme of the Pitt Review is local leadership: ‘Direction and leadership from the centre needs to be matched at the community level.’ Local Authorities (LAs) bear the brunt of responsibility for implementing the recommendations: ‘The Review believes that the role of local authorities should be enhanced so that they take on responsibility for leading the coordination of flood risk management in their areas. LAs already have a substantial role because of their responsibilities for ordinary watercourses, drainage, highways and planning. Their place-shaping role and local democratic accountability will help to ensure that the right local action is taken.’ LAs were to extend eligibility for home improvement grants and loans to include flood resistance and resilience products for properties in high flood risk areas (Did this happen?). LAs were also tasked to compile ‘a local register of all the flood risk management and drainage assets (both underground and overland), including details of their condition and responsible owners’. LAs were to establish ‘mutual aid agreements in accordance with the guidance currently being prepared by the Local Government Association and the Cabinet Office.’ Meanwhile ‘upper tier’ LAs  ‘should be the lead responders in relation to multi-agency planning for severe weather emergencies at the local level and for triggering multi-agency arrangements in response to severe weather warnings and local impact assessments.’ Upper tier LAs should also establish Oversight and Scrutiny Committees to review work by public sector bodies and essential service providers in order to manage flood risk.

Stakeholders and communities

The Review recommends that ‘all stakeholders with responsibilities relating to flood risk to record and share relevant information and expertise’. Pitt acknowledges many local groups who want to take action to alleviate flood risk in their communities, remarking that this kind of scheme can end up being too low a priority for the Environment Agency. The onus is placed on central government to encourage ‘more local communities to promote innovative schemes, including contributing towards the costs themselves, with appropriate technical support from local authorities and the Environment Agency. Locally funded flood defences should become a bigger feature of this country’s flood risk management, not an exception brought about through unusual circumstances as they are now.’ Local authority contact centres should take the lead in dealing with general enquiries from the public during and after major flooding, redirecting calls to other organisations when appropriate.

Pitt suggests the setting up of a number of groups and committees. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council is to explore how the public can improve their understanding of community risks, including those associated with flooding (and the government should then implement its findings). Local Recovery Coordination Groups should make early recommendations to elected LA members about longer-term regeneration and economic development opportunities. Oversight and Scrutiny Committees should prepare annual summaries of actions taken locally to manage flood risk and implement the Pitt Review. These reports should be public and reviewed by Government Offices and the Environment Agency. Local Resilience Forums should continue to develop plans for door-knocking, coordinated by local authorities, to enhance flood warnings before flooding and to provide information and assess welfare needs once flooding has receded.


This set of films bring home the everyday effects of climate change on ordinary people. I wonder how people in Wales, especially those affected by flooding, relate to these stories?http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/faces-from-the-climate-frontline-environment