Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

25/02/2020

The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Mohammad Asghar.

The Welfare of Farm Animals

Thank you, Madam Presiding Officer. Good afternoon, First Minister.

1. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve the welfare of farm animals in Wales? OAQ55109

Llywydd, I thank the Member for that question. Maintaining high levels of farm animal health and welfare has always been a key priority for successive Welsh Governments. Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union, we are determined to ensure that we retain these high standards in Wales.

Thank you very much, First Minister, for the reply. CCTV has been mandatory in every abattoir in all areas in England where live animals are kept for slaughtering since 2018. Scotland announced plans for similar new laws last year. However, in Wales, 14 out of 24 slaughterhouses do not have cameras, although the Welsh Government has made money available for their installation. RSPCA Cymru and Animal Aid both support mandatory CCTV to deter abuse and to help vets with regulation and monitoring. First Minister, when will your Government make CCTV in abattoirs mandatory in Wales, please?

I thank the Member for that follow-up question. He makes a number of important points there. The Member will be aware, I am sure, of the £1.1 million food business investment scheme that we run as a Welsh Government. The latest round of applications to that fund are currently being assessed. They include a series of applications from abattoirs in Wales to install, upgrade or improve CCTV facilities at those abattoirs. When those applications have been assessed, the Minister will make a judgement as to whether or not we have sufficient coverage of CCTVs in Welsh slaughterhouses, to avoid the need for a mandatory scheme. But, if she concludes that we've not made the progress that we wanted to see on the voluntary basis, where the taxpayer is paying for CCTV to be installed, then she will think about whether mandation is the right way ahead. 

Anyone who watched Ffermio on S4C last night will know that the lambing season is upon us now, and it's an issue I've raised regularly in this Chamber, of course, namely this concern about dog attacks on sheep and lambs at this time of the year. Now, I've previously raised the need to tackle this, and the response I've heard is that the Government is doing more in order to promote awareness among dog owners on what needs to be done. Can you therefore give us an update, as we are coming to a key period now, where many newborn lambs will face the risk of dog attacks, on what exactly is the Government doing to raise that awareness among dog owners on their responsibilities in this area?

I thank Llyr for that question. Of course, the legal responsibility remains with the dog owner. That is what the 1953 legislation makes clear.

As a Government, we work closely with local authorities, with the RSPCA and others to make sure that owners of dogs are in no doubt about the responsibility that they have to ensure that they remain in control of animals if they take them into the countryside. It is a crime to allow dogs to worry farm animals in that way. Owning a dog is a privilege and not a right, and we work with others to make sure that the codes of practice that we have provided, in partnership with the industry, remind owners of their obligations to control their pets in those circumstances. 

First Minister, we're all concerned about animal welfare, and I've raised this question in the Chamber before about my concerns about live animal exports. Now that the UK Government have said that they will be stopping live animal exports, and we are now finally leaving the EU, will the Welsh Government commit today that they will be doing the same?

We supported the UK Government's call for evidence on a UK-wide ban in relation to the export of live animals for overseas slaughter. So, I think the Member can take it from that—that we supported the UK Government in that call for evidence on a UK-wide ban—that we would continue to support it in that way. We're working with DEFRA and the Scottish Government to determine the next steps now that that consultation has been concluded. In the meantime, the Welsh Government goes on enforcing the rules that govern the transportation of live animals on long journeys: rest periods, adequate access to feed and to water. But if there is to be a ban, and if it is to be a UK-wide ban, then we will support that.

13:35
Flooding

2. How is the Welsh Government responding to the effects of recent flooding on protected areas of the natural environment in South Wales West? OAQ55121

I thank the Member for that. While some localised flooding has been reported, Natural Resources Wales do not believe that the ecology of protected areas has been affected by recent flooding events. However, inspection and monitoring of land and assets continues, so new information may come to light as this work progresses. At this point, NRW's priority remains the recovery and assistance it is affording to flooded communities.

Thank you for that answer. I've raised the issue of Kenfig nature reserve and its dunes with you before, and that has been hit by weather and flooding, not just in the past two weeks, but since Christmas. And you're right, all eyes are on homes and businesses at the moment, and I certainly don't want to detract from that, but I'm rather surprised to hear that NRW has taken the line it has. Have they not approached you, or the owners of that site approached Welsh Government, for any assistance towards mitigating the effects of that flooding?

I'm not aware of any direct approach, and I did ask for a check to be made directly with NRW yesterday, and there was no report in the information I saw back of an approach in that way either. Of course, I will ask for a further check to be made, to see whether any request has come in. The note that I received from NRW did confirm that there had been some localised flooding within the Kenfig nature reserve, and while the flooding may have obstructed public access to the site for a time, NRW did not believe at that point that the ecology of the site had been damaged. Indeed, their advice to me was that, as a wetlands site, it's not unusual to see some inundation of water during severe weather, and that these areas are inherently resilient to the effects of bad weather, and that, at this point in their ability to assess the position, NRW don't believe that any further protection from flooding, from an ecological point of view, will be needed at the Kenfig nature reserve.FootnoteLink

Unfortunately, in some areas, the flooding has either been caused or has been exacerbated by blocked or broken culverts. In Ystalyfera, in the Swansea valley, I understand a capital bid has already been put to Welsh Government by Neath Port Talbot Council, so that remedial works can be undertaken to a broken culvert on land being purchased by the local authority for this purpose. Can you give an assurance that these types of capital funding bids will now be expedited to try and minimise future risks, and will you give an update in terms of discussions that you are having with Neath Port Talbot Council with regards to its overall capital funding requirement?

And in a neighbouring authority, in Gorseinon in the city and county of Swansea, I'm informed that householders who have been flooded have been told that they will be charged by the council to collect household items that were ruined by the flood. Surely, you will agree that this seems extremely unfair, and will you look to ensure that no council is charging householders in this situation?

Llywydd, there are questions on the order paper to me today about the general impact of flooding. I'll try and answer a couple of the points that Dr Lloyd has raised, but I don't think any of them refer to protected areas of the natural environment, as the question asked by Suzy Davies posed.

But in answering Dr Lloyd's specific question about capital for culvert repairs, that is covered by announcements the Welsh Government has already made about emergency help for local authorities, and I'm aware of other local authorities in Wales who have taken very direct and, I think, positive action to make sure that, where households have been flooded, they have as easy access as possible to skips, for example, without charge, without the need for permits to be provided, so that people who are in that dreadful position of having to clear homes of rubbish don't face another difficulty in their path. 

13:40
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the opposition, Paul Davies. 

Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, the last few weeks have seen communities across Wales devastated by storm Ciara and storm Dennis, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank the emergency services and the communities up and down Wales who have worked tirelessly to support those affected. 

Now, I appreciate that the Minister will be making a statement on this matter later today, but are you confident that the Welsh Government has done, and is doing, all that it can to protect and support those affected by flooding across the whole of Wales? 

I thank the Member for that question. Can I echo what he said? Everywhere I went last week, Llywydd, meeting people in the most difficult of circumstances, the first thing they wanted to say to me was just how much they appreciated the efforts made by emergency services, sometimes to rescue them directly from life-threatening situations. So, even when they themselves were in awful predicaments, the first thing they wanted to do was to pay tribute to others, and I'm keen to echo his sentiments in that regard.

And he's absolutely right in what he said about community activity as well. I spent quite a part of one evening in Taff's Well rugby club just outside Cardiff and, the whole time that I was there, there was a procession of people coming to the club bringing goods, asking what more they could do, volunteering to be part of the effort that that centre was making to respond to the needs of people in those very difficult circumstances. And that sense of community effort in a crisis, I think, has been very characteristic of responses across Wales over the last two weeks. 

The Welsh Government is focused, at this point, on the services that we can provide to help individuals and households, businesses and local authorities in dealing with the immediate aftermath of the crisis, and we've put a series of measures in place to assist them in doing that. There will be a much longer haul for many householders and businesses, and indeed for local authorities in repairing bridges, making good roads that have been damaged, checking flood defences to make sure that they can be made resilient for the next time an event of this sort happens; and, in that, we will be seeking the assistance of the UK Government, because the costs of that are well beyond what the Welsh Government itself could, in an emergency of this sort, be expected to bear. 

First Minister, whilst some steps have rightly been taken and considerable progress has been made, I know first-hand from the conversations that I've had with some of those affected as well that they feel more could and should have been done sooner, and so it's clear that there are still lessons to be learnt and questions to answer.

Now, rightly or wrongly, some have expressed concerns around the co-ordination of the responses to some of these events, and I believe that that takes governments at all levels working together and collaborating more effectively than we've actually seen before. 

Now, you may be aware of concerns raised by Mari Arthur, chair of Welsh Water's independent advisory panel, who said that:

'We're missing that leadership, I feel, at the top to bring that together. That's why things aren't happening.'

Now, in addition to that, I understand that it's also been 10 years since the publication of the last flood risk management strategy and, whilst the Government has consulted, we are yet to see an updated strategy, which surely will help in making sure that responses are better co-ordinated in the future. 

First Minister, do you accept that the delay in publishing an updated specific Welsh flood risk management strategy has made some communities feel that flooding is simply not a priority? And how do you respond to the views of some in the sector that, moving forward, it's time that more effective leadership is shown on this matter?

I'll begin by agreeing with the point that the Member has made about there being lessons to learn. There are bound to be lessons to learn, aren't there? And it's really important that, when the immediate crisis is over, all of those who've had a part to play in responding to it take the time to see whether everything that was there in the plan was delivered on the ground in the way that was intended.

I think there were very real efforts made to co-ordinate response across Wales. The emergency co-ordination centre that the Welsh Government runs was open throughout the weekend of storm Dennis. The emergency services command structure was in operation throughout that weekend and had been doing storm Ciara in north Wales as well. It was an important test of that command structure, and when I met one of the chief constables in Wales, he told me that he felt that the rehearsals that we had held here in Wales over recent months in preparing for a 'no deal' exit from the European Union and in relation to coronavirus had stood them in good stead in being able to put those arrangements into practice. That is not to say that there aren't lessons that we can draw on when we stand back from all of this, but I do think that there were real efforts made to co-ordinate and to use the structures that had been put in place to respond to emergency circumstances. 

As far as the strategy is concerned, then yes, the strategy was out for consultation earlier last year. It closed in the autumn, and the Minister intends to publish the updated strategy in the months ahead. I doubt very much myself, Llywydd, that communities that found themselves on the sharp end of flooding events were concerned about the publication of a strategy at the point that they were dealing with the emergency, but that strategy is well in preparation. It will be published shortly and it will help build resilience and prioritise future investment in most at-risk communities.

13:45

Well, I do say to the First Minister, it is important to have an updated strategy so that we can avoid, perhaps, some of these events in the future. And perhaps we need to rethink as well how we address flooding in the future, especially given the warning signs received at the start of this Assembly. In 2016, for example, the Wales Audit Office reported that lack of capacity within the Welsh Government and councils had delayed progress and threatened to undermine the long-term approach to managing the risks of coastal flooding and erosion.

Well, perhaps we're feeling the effects of that now, First Minister, and with no updated risk management strategy, it's hard to see how we can make sufficient and appropriate progress in the short term. Therefore, in light of the impact that the recent storms have had across Wales, what lessons has your Government learned about the way in which flooding is prioritised by your Government? And will you also commit to providing a full breakdown of how the Welsh Government will be allocating its resources on flood risk management so that communities right across Wales can see the level of investment that the Welsh Government is making in their areas?

I thank the Member for that. I agree that we will have to think differently about the future. I don't draw exactly the same conclusions as he draws, because I think that the figures will demonstrate when these events are over that there were 73,000 households across Wales, as a minimum, that were protected from the effects of this extreme weather event because of the flood prevention schemes that have been implemented in Wales over recent times. So, the idea that things had not been done, I don't think will bear scrutiny.

Where he is right, I think, is that the plans that have been in place have been drawn up in order to be able to resist the sorts of weather events that we have experienced over the last 50 years. And it may well be—climate science is telling us that the sorts of events that we saw over the last two weeks are likely to become more frequent and more intense in the future, and therefore, the test against which we judge flood prevention schemes will have to be different in order to meet that new intensity of risk, and in that sense, the future will have to be different to the past.

I discussed this yesterday with the Secretary of State in the meeting that we jointly chaired about coal tips in Wales. Coal tips that pose a risk are inspected very frequently by local authorities, by the coal authority and by NRW. They inspect them against the sort of risk that a winter would pose. If those risks are going to be different, then the standards of inspection will need to be different, and, therefore, the future, as Paul Davies said, will have to now meet those new circumstances.

As to publication of expenditure by the Welsh Government under the flood and coastal risk management programme, we do that all the time. Whenever a scheme is agreed—£44 million in the south-west of Wales recently—then we publish those schemes and we publish the amounts of money associated with them, because we are very keen that people in Wales can see how the £350 million that is being spent over this Assembly term is being used to protect them from the effects of river and coastal flooding.

13:50

Diolch. Last week, I saw for myself, first-hand, the deep sense of community spirit that the First Minister also referred to, and I'll be visiting residents in Pentre again tomorrow. This is not a time to walk on by on the other side, when people are facing such hardship and distress, or, in the case of Boris Johnson, simply not to turn up at all, of course.

Now, the repair bill—I've seen one estimate—could be up to £180 million in Rhondda Cynon Taf alone, and I know the Welsh Government has provided £10 million of immediate hardship relief. Could the First Minister say whether you have yet a figure for the amount that you're asking for the UK Government to provide? In the event that they are not willing to make up the shortfall, does the Welsh Government itself have sufficient reserves for the scale of the challenge that we face?

I thank Adam Price for those questions. He is right to say that what the Welsh Government has done is to focus upon the immediate aftermath of the floods to make sure that we provide funding for individual householders directly affected, to pay for the clean-up costs of local authorities, to be able to begin to help businesses to get back on their feet. We can cover those costs from within our own budgets, by very careful management and drawing together of funds from different parts of Government. But beyond the immediate impact, when local authorities have major infrastructure repairs to be carried out, then that is not going to be £10 million, that's going to be tens and tens of millions of pounds. My colleague, Rebecca Evans wrote to the Treasury yesterday, formally setting out the fact that we will be looking to the Treasury for assistance with that bill.

It isn't possible, at this point, Llywydd, to put a precise figure on how much that will be, because some of the damage that will need to be repaired is literally still under water, so it hasn't been possible to get engineers down to look at the scale of the damage and to give us an assessment of what it will cost to put it right. The figure that Adam Price has referred to, which comes from RCT, I think is not an unreasonable estimate of what the damage in that county may be, and there's damage in many other parts of Wales, as well.

As the clean-up begins, of course, questions will need to be addressed about what could have been done differently—the lessons learned that the First Minister referred to. I was wondering if he could address some of those initial concerns. Natural Resources Wales have already admitted, I understand, that debris left behind by logging operations on the mountain above Pentre contributed to flooding there. There are also serious concerns that NRW don't have the capacity to cope with work that urgently needs to be undertaken. In Trehafod, Dŵr Cymru has made a £1,000 payment to 40 households without accepting liability as the pumping station there didn't function. So, can you, as a matter of urgency, look at the budget of NRW to ensure that it's adequately funded to deal with disasters on this scale and also set up an investigation into the role or contribution that any actions by either a statutory body or the utility made to some of the flood damage?

13:55

Well, just to repeat what I said to Paul Davies, Llywydd: of course, lessons will need to be learned. In relation to NRW's logging operation at Pentre, my understanding is that, in clearing diseased larch from a small part of the wood there, NRW did what the current guidance would suggest that they should do, which is to leave some of the smaller debris that you get when trees are being felled on the ground, because that's how you protect soil from erosion when trees are logged, and it's how you protect biodiversity gain. So, they were acting within the rule book as it's currently constructed. The question has to be now asked: is the rule book fit for these sorts of events, should they happen in future? That's just one example of lessons learned.

The summit that we held last week, Llywydd, did its best to draw everybody who had had a part to play in responding to the floods around one table. That included Dŵr Cymru, as it included the third sector and the voluntary sector in part of that response to the flooding that Adam Price referred to. We will be looking to see how all those players think about the part that they played and whether there are things that they would want to do differently in the future.

NRW's budget, like the budgets of all public services in Wales, has had to be calibrated against the impact of 10 years of austerity. I probably should have said, in answering Adam Price's first question, about the impact of the flooding on capital expenditure in the future. Part of the reason why we are having to ask the UK Government for assistance is because with six weeks of this financial year left to go, the Treasury wrote to us requiring us to repay to them £100 million of financial transactions capital, and £100 million of conventional capital, before the end of this financial year. They said that they had recalculated Barnett consequentials, and that that money needed to be returned to them. When I say to the Prime Minister that I want money to help us with the impact of flooding here in Wales, I'm essentially asking him to hand back to us money that he took away from us in the last few weeks.

When Yorkshire was hit with severe flooding in July and in November last year, and again this month, UK armed forces were drafted in to help. In the autumn, RAF Chinooks were called in to assist a pumping station near Doncaster following heavy rainfall. This resource—this level of response—might have been invaluable in the case of Trehafod and elsewhere. Although no infantry units are based in Wales—the First Battalion The Rifles is based, for example, just across the border, near Chepstow—Welsh men and women loyally serve in the forces and would, no doubt, have made a valuable contribution in serving Welsh communities during the crisis if asked to do so. Did you ask the UK Government, First Minister, for the assistance of the army? If not, why not, and will you in future if the need arises?

Well, the question as to whether or not assistance from the armed forces should be sought was very actively discussed by the emergency services command structure. Their decision over that weekend was not to make such a request because circumstances were so difficult and dangerous that only people who were specifically trained to be able to deal with them were thought to be safely capable of being deployed. That was the advice that they gave, and I thought that it was sensible to follow their advice.

They thought that drawing in the armed forces at that point would not have been a helpful thing to do because you needed those very specialist abilities and training to be able to cope with the sorts of extreme weather event that we saw, Llywydd. At the height of that storm, 900 cubic metres of water were coming down the Taff every second, and if you are trying to act in those circumstances, then you don't need a general army training to know what to do, you need to be trained in the way that our emergency services are trained, to know what is safe to do. Now, should that change, and should the assessment of those people who are better equipped than we are in this room, I think, to know whether help from armed forces would be a useful contribution, then of course we would look at it. But in the circumstances of that weekend, the assessment of those who are best equipped to make the assessment was that that was not the right moment to ask for such assistance.

14:00

First Minister, in response to Paul Davies, you said that local government, coal authorities and NRW all inspected coal tips. I wonder if you could reflect whether their responsibilities in that area are sufficiently clearly delineated or whether they're overlapping, with any associated potential for confusion. Could I also ask you, First Minister, whether you think changes to flood protection budgets, particularly the significant cut I recall, at least initially, being announced in 2016, have affected the current situation in any way? I infer from the funding request letter from Rhondda Cynon Taf politicians to the UK Government that this has Welsh Government support, and I hope that UK Government will agree to it. Do you think that this letter, this request for financial assistance outside of the block grant, could provide a template for future co-operation between Welsh and UK Governments?

I thank the Member for those questions. I don't think that the budget in terms of flood prevention has been the problem over the last two weekends. Thinking of lessons learned, one of the things I think we will need to look at very carefully from now on is the many flood defences in Wales that held good, but were perilously close to being overtopped—in Monmouth, for example, where the flood defence is constructed to be able to deal with a rise in floodwater of 4.3m, and the river actually rose by 4.2m. So it was within a centimetre of those flood defences being overwhelmed. Now, they weren't overwhelmed, just as they weren't overwhelmed in Cardiff, and they weren't overwhelmed in Swansea, but in many places the gap between holding and not holding was narrow, and in lessons learned for the future we need to see whether we need to do anything to strengthen those further.

As far as help from the Treasury is concerned, I think we are already acting in a way that is consistent with rules that have been established over many years. When a completely unforeseeable event happens, and it happens on the scale of the sort that we saw over this weekend—and I don't think anybody believes that the ferocity with which the storm hit south Wales was foreseeable—[Interruption.]

You're answering the leader of the Brexit Party, and not the local Assembly Member.

I don't believe that the event of that weekend was predictable, and when unpredictable events happen and costs are commensurately high, the ability to go to the Treasury for help from reserves is one we've used before, and we're using it again here.

First Minister, you were interrupted, but I will also just remind you of the point about the division of responsibilities between local government and NRW and the coal authorities in terms of those inspections.

One thing struck me about the RCT-based letters: it was a request to draw supplementary funding above the block grant in a devolved area, and as such could represent a change from the Barnett formula. If we are to see that as a template for future co-operation between Welsh Government and UK Government, would Welsh Government consider writing a letter of that sort, perhaps to draw capital from the shared prosperity fund for infrastructure projects, such as improvements to the A55 in north Wales or even the M4 relief road that you had promised to build? Also, Wales has an overall fiscal deficit this year of £13.7 billion, or 19 per cent of GDP, and we're asking UK Government for additional funding above that. Doesn't that show the danger of always demanding more and more powers and devolution and separation of Wales from the UK?

I don't draw that conclusion at all, Llywydd. I think the case for seeking assistance from the UK Government is simply the case for the union. The union is a mutual insurance scheme in which we all pay in, and we're all able to draw out in circumstances where help is needed. It's why I've always been a supporter of the United Kingdom, because I think that system of mutual insurance has always been in Wales's interests. It's why I hope that the Prime Minister—who has awarded himself the title of Minister for the Union—will see that the request that we have made for assistance is one where he can demonstrate that the union really does work for Wales.

14:05
Swansea Bay and Western Valleys Metro

3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the development of a Swansea bay and western Valleys metro? OAQ55138

I thank Dai Lloyd for that question. Four hundred and thirty two thousand pounds has been awarded to the City and County of Swansea in this financial year to develop the rail and bus business cases for the south-west Wales metro. New services will help to reduce travel times across the region.

Thank you for that answer. So, are you fully confident that you have all the moneys that you're able to put forward towards the development of the Swansea bay metro, and will you ensure, on top of that, that the Valleys communities in the west are not neglected as part of this development?

Llywydd, my colleague Ken Stakes will be making a statement on all of this later this afternoon. As I explained in my first answer, the Welsh Government has provided funding to the City and County of Swansea to allow them to carry out the necessary preliminary work to develop the south Wales metro. Stage 1 is completed, stage 2 will be completed shortly, and we look forward to working with local authorities—not just in Swansea, but, as Dr Lloyd has said, in the surrounding areas—to make sure that that multi-modal approach to the construction of a metro, bus and train services, that we are able to put that to work for the benefit of local residents.

I strongly support a metro system for the Swansea city region. Does the First Minister agree that stage 1 needs to be to get bus/rail interchanges at current railway stations with aligned timetables and buses stopping as close as possible to the railway station? Llansamlet, for example, not all of the bus stops are outside Llansamlet station and one of them is around the corner down another road, which, if you didn't know the area, you'd probably have great difficulty in finding. And can I also make my regular request for the reopening of Landore station?

I thank the Member for those important points on behalf of his constituents, and of course he is right that the integration of bus and train services is at the heart of the metro concept—an integrated transport system.

The bus legislation that we hope to bring in front of this National Assembly will provide local authorities with the powers they need to be able to make practical sense of the disposition of bus and rail services so they are genuinely integrated in that way. And Mike Hedges, I know, will have welcomed the plan to improve bus services, particularly along the corridor between Ystradgynlais and Mumbles, which specifically is looking at how bus timetables and rail timetables can be brought together so that bus services operate in ways that are reliable, attractive, frequent and therefore better usable to residents.

Storm Dennis

4. Will the Welsh Government outline what support they are providing to communities that have been affected by storm Dennis? OAQ55117

7. Will the First Minister provide an update on how the Welsh Government is supporting flooded communities in Wales? OAQ55141

Llywydd, I understand that you have given permission for questions 4 and 7 to be grouped together. Following the multi-agency emergency flood summit last week, we have been working hard to put practical and financial support in place for households, businesses and local authorities affected by the flooding from both storm Ciara and storm Dennis.

First Minister, I'd like to place on record my thanks to yourself, to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, and to all of Welsh Government for your efforts to support those whose homes and businesses have been ruined by storm Dennis. The financial support that you are putting in place is much appreciated by constituents that I have spoken with, and, alongside support from Rhondda Cynon Taf council, will help those who have lost everything. The very visible presence of yourself and the environment Minister is also appreciated. You both visited flood-stricken areas of RCT several times in the last week, including on Wednesday when the environment Minister visited Mountain Ash with myself. This stands in stark contrast, First Minister, with the UK Government where Boris Johnson has not visited a single community that has been affected by flooding, or offered financial assistance, despite written requests from myself and other RCT AMs and MPs. Do you agree with me, First Minister, that the UK Government has a duty to help, both morally and legally?

14:10

I thank Vikki Howells for that, and let me equally pay tribute to the actions that local Members across the Chamber have taken in their local constituencies to respond to the difficulties that local residents have faced. I know that Members here have been hard at work over the last fortnight in north and south Wales in making sure that local residents know that this National Assembly, this Senedd, takes very seriously the predicament that they have faced—my colleague Lesley Griffiths in Llangollen and Llanrwst, and Ken Skates as the Minister for north Wales in north Wales, as well as the visits to which Vikki Howells has referred. 

As to the UK Government, the help that I look for from them is not necessarily visits, but the harder edged help of cash—the money that we will need, the money that, as I mentioned a moment ago, was taken away from us over the last few weeks, that money needs to be restored so that we are able to make sure that whether it is our very hard-pressed local authorities, or whether it is NRW as we heard earlier, that those organisations on the ground have the money they need to be able to deal not just with the events of these weeks, but the events of months ahead for affected communities.

First of all, I'd like to add my deepest sympathies with all those who've been affected by the floods across Wales, and pay tribute to the emergency services and outstanding community efforts. The response from you, First Minister, and the environment Minister has been excellent and very welcome. However, the impact of these floods will be felt for months, even years to come, and I'm keen to see that momentum and support continues. Lessons do need to be learned and potential weak points in our defences need to be strengthened.

While Newport didn't see the levels of devastation by floods in other parts of Wales, I visited some of the worst parts in my constituency affected by flooding. The River Ebbw was at worrying levels in Dyffryn and at Bassaleg, and whilst the defences mainly held, in many places this was a matter of centimetres. Residents are grateful and they're hugely sympathetic to the worst areas across Wales, but are obviously fearful for the future. They have asked for assessments of the current defences and what support grants can be made available to better protect their homes.

Businesses have also been hit very hard. The popular Cefn Mably Farm Park has been devastated, and they're looking at months of closure as a result. This will not only affect the business and its customers, but the employees and their families. What support can we provide to ensure that businesses get back on their feet as quickly as possible? 

I thank Jayne Bryant for that, Llywydd. I'll focus, if I may, just on the final part of that supplementary question—the help that is available for businesses. We made it clear last week at the summit that councils are able to use their discretionary powers to suspend council tax and non-domestic rate obligations on properties that have been flooded, and that the Welsh Government will reimburse those costs to local authorities under the emergency financial assistance scheme. So, that's immediate and direct help, and local authorities now know that they can offer that help and that the cost won't fall on them; they will be picked up through the Welsh Government's emergency financial assistance scheme. 

Business Wales has been very active over the last week. There's a helpline that businesses can use to get through directly to a help desk that Business Wales is providing, making sure that businesses have the advice they need to deal with cash flow issues, liquidity issues. There was a surgery held in Pontypridd on Friday of last week that Business Wales was involved in, together with Mick Antoniw, the local Member. It was repeated on Monday in Coleg y Cymoedd, again making sure that businesses have that help directly provided to them. The Development Bank of Wales are targeting smaller businesses that may benefit from their £25,000 fast-track loan, again to try to make sure that where businesses need immediate help, we use that route to assist them, and my colleague Ken Skates has indicated that he is looking within budgets that he has, provided originally to assist businesses in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, to see whether we might be able to repurpose some of those funds to assist businesses who find themselves in the circumstances set out by Jayne Bryant.

14:15

Can I identify with the sentiments that are being expressed across the Chamber in support of the help that is being given from all sides, whether it's the volunteers, the emergency services, or just communities themselves coming together for the flood victims in my own electoral region but also across Wales because this has affected the whole of Wales?

I would like to go back to the point that the leader of the opposition raised with you about the flood risk management strategy. Two years ago, the environment committee took evidence on this in its pre-budget scrutiny and was told that this was a document in preparation and would be available shortly. In response to that question today, First Minister, you said it will be with us in a few months' time. Really, First Minister, some two years on, the title says it all. It is the flood risk management strategy that would direct the rulebook that you highlighted that NRW work to at the moment and many other facets that are put in place to try and help alleviate some of this flooding that goes on with the climate change we are seeing at the moment. I appreciate you wouldn't be able to stop all flooding, but if you have a strategy that is dedicated to alleviating the risks of flooding, surely that document should be live and in circulation rather than, again this afternoon, hearing from you that it will still be a couple more months before that document is available. Can you indicate more precisely when that document will be available, and importantly, will that document have the budgetary considerations that will be needed to put the measures in place?

Well, Llywydd, let me just say again that the draft national strategy is available. Anybody who responded to the consultation will have seen it, and there was a good response to the consultation, and that didn't close until the autumn. So, there has been work to do to make sure that the comments that people contributed as part of the consultation are considered seriously and make a difference to the final strategy, which we intend to publish later this spring. So, we're not delaying it unduly. It will be an important document. I agree with what Andrew R.T. Davies and Paul Davies said about the importance of that strategy because it will show how the £350 million investment that this Government is making in flood and coastal erosion risks are being deployed in the best possible way.

And to return to a theme of earlier this afternoon once more, Llywydd, in terms of lessons learnt, one of the things that we will pick up in that strategy will be the need to try and shift some of the expenditure on flood management away from concrete-based solutions towards more natural-based flood defences, where we can use natural disbursement, for example, as a way of mitigating flood risk further downstream. So, the strategy is important, it will help us to pick up the lessons not just of the last couple of weeks but of this whole Assembly term, and it will underpin the very significant amount of expenditure that is already committed in this area.

The high rainfall levels have caused utter misery for hundreds of people in the Rhondda, and seeing is believing when it comes to the mess that's been left behind in people's homes, gardens and in the streets. We're all thankful for one thing, however, and that is that no-one lost their life in the Rhondda.

I've called for an urgent review of the stability of all coal tips left behind as a result of our industrial past. The disturbing landslide in Tylorstown is one that many people will have seen, but there have also been landslides in Clydach and Pontygwaith, and we all know how devastating and frightening a moving coal tip can be. I wrote to you last week about these coal tips, and it's good to see that there has been some action on this since then. But I wonder if you can tell me what the timescale is for inspecting all of the coal tips in the Rhondda. Does the First Minister agree with me that we need to recalibrate what we thought was once safe, due to the adverse weather that is becoming increasingly common due to the climate emergency? Will he also accept that this new normal cannot be acceptable? We should have known that this was coming; we do know that it will happen again.

And finally for now, will the First Minister consider the reintroduction of a land reclamation scheme for brownfield sites that was cut just a few years ago, as this would go some way to ensuring the former coal tips are not just brought back into economic use but are also made safe?

14:20

I thank the Member for those questions and agree with her entirely that to visit and to see and to speak to people whose homes have been devastated by the floods is a deeply sobering experience. And the level of human misery that has been caused in those households is palpable when you go there. And as people said to me when I was visiting them, in the end you can buy a new sofa, but what you can't do is replace the things that you have built up, having brought up a family, having lived in a property for not just years but decades, where all your memories are invested in it, and those things can never be recovered in that way. They made the same point to me as Leanne Wood has made this afternoon, that nevertheless, no lives were lost and that memories can be recovered and sofas can be rebought, but people can't be brought back. And there was a real sense of the effort that the emergency services had made to prevent the very worst from happening.

In relation to coal tips, what yesterday's meeting established was that NRW, the coal authority and the local authority have a shared approach, which is to identify on a scale those coal tips that give them the greatest cause for concern. And we received assurances yesterday that all those coal tips that are at the top of that list will have been investigated by the end of this week. Most of them have been investigated already, and assurances have been received from engineers that they don't pose a risk to life and property.

But there was a very important discussion that connects to Leanne Wood's point about the new normal, that those assessments are being made against the standards that have been used over the last decades, and those standards may not be satisfactory for years ahead. So, we will definitely return to that discussion with those authorities and with the experts that they deploy on the ground. Interesting ideas were being explored yesterday about better monitoring possibilities for those tips—new technologies that weren't available in the 1980s that we may be able to deploy today. And that effort will go on. The group that met yesterday will meet again to receive further reports, to look ahead and to make sure that the reassurances that people have every right to expect can be made, and that if further action is necessary, it will be taken, and that the standards against which the different public authorities carry out their responsibilities to provide those assurances are fit for the future.

Vascular Services

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the safety of vascular services in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board since they were restructured? OAQ55124

Thank you, Siân Gwenllian, for that question. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is currently undertaking a review of the vascular network service, established in April 2019. It is anticipated that the report will be discussed at their board meeting at the end of March.

Thank you for confirming that the board will be holding an internal review of the very grave and concerning problems that have arisen as a result of the restructuring of vascular services. But, First Minister, an internal review is not good enough. People in north Wales have lost all confidence in the managers of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, whilst, of course, appreciating the work of the front-line staff very much indeed. So, I am most disappointed that your Government is not going to hold an independent review in light of all the complaints that have been unearthed by the community health council. Why won't you accept the very grave picture that is now emerging, and why won't you go there and hold an independent review as a matter of urgency?

14:25

Well, Llywydd, I don’t think that it is fair just to refer to the work of Betsi Cadwaladr as something that is just an internal review, because they will be using people outwith the board to advise on the work going forward. The consultation that they will be holding is with experts in the field, and they are independent of the board as well. That is why Professor John Brennan, who works in Liverpool and is a consultant vascular surgeon, is part of the process of reviewing the service, which has existed for less than 12 months currently. Also, in the work that Betsi Cadwaladr has commissioned, they will be using new national data that has emerged in order to compare the service currently available in north Wales—to compare what goes on in Betsi Cadwaladr with what goes on in other comparable services in other places within the United Kingdom. Nobody here has seen that report as yet, and I am willing to wait to see what that report says, to see what the independent compilers of this report have to say in it, and to see whether we need to do anything in addition to that.

Welsh Government Spend

6. What assessment has the First Minister made of the value for money and effectiveness of Welsh Government spend? OAQ55140

Llywydd, we draw on a wide range of guidance and evidence to help assess our investment decisions, including the high-level principles set out in Her Majesty's Treasury's Green Book, and the seven goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

I thank the First Minister for that reply. Does he agree with me that one of the many failures of devolution is that, over the last 20 years, Wales has actually dropped to the bottom of the income table of the home nations and the regions of England, and one of the biggest failures of Labour and Plaid Cymru Governments in the last 20 years has been the failure to attract higher paid employment to Wales? The Government has been strong on road maps and strategies, but actually very poor on delivery. We've had enterprise zones that have spent about £250 million in the last decade, at a cost of about £20,000 per job, but that has only scratched the surface. In the case of the area around Ebbw Vale, the Government turned away the chance of £450 million-worth of private investment for the Circuit of Wales to replace it with £100 million promised of taxpayers' money in 2018, and, as yet, no foundations have been laid for the buildings that were promised, and, of course, no jobs have been created. In the meantime, the Heads of the Valleys road—the Gilwern to Brynmawr section—is £100 million over budget, and much delayed. What we see here is a Government that just hasn't got a grip on the major economic problems of Wales. Is it any wonder, therefore, that more and more people are thinking that this place is pointless and that the Assembly should be scrapped?

I think the Member is much in danger of confusing views of the institution with views of individuals who find themselves here. So, it's a mirror, rather than an analysis, that he—that would lead him to the best conclusion. 

Look, I completely disagree with what he has to say, Llywydd. He's ever gloomy in his views of Wales and of Welsh people. People who were here in 1999 will remember that if we'd said then that, within 20 years, Wales would have economic inactivity levels at or below the UK average, when we were so far behind 20 years ago, and getting further behind—. If, within 20 years, you thought that that gap had not just been narrowed, but had been completely filled, people would have said to you that you were being absurdly optimistic about what could be achieved in a 20-year period. If you'd said then that the latest unemployment figures showed unemployment in Wales not just at the UK average but below the UK average, people would have thought that you were being stretchingly ambitious in what could be achieved in that period. If you'd said to people back then that the rate of business growth in Wales would be faster than the UK average, that business survival rates at the end of a year would be greater than the UK average, people would have thought you were describing an economic future that was beyond our grasp. That's the reality of the Welsh economy. It's so far away, it is so far away from what the Member hopes to be able to describe in a way to rescue his own future here. It has nothing at all to do with the future of Wales. 

14:30
The Valuation Office Agency

8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s service level agreement with the Valuation Office Agency? OAQ55119

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The Welsh Government concludes an annual service level agreement with the Valuation Office Agency. It sets performance targets that the Welsh Government expects the VOA to meet. Decisions made by the VOA are determined by that agency, and are entirely independent of the Welsh Government.

I'm sorry, First Minister, I call that 'passing the buck'. During Plenary last November, I raised the fact that your Welsh Government had a £9 million of taxpayers' money SLA with the VOA. Now, some of my businesses in Aberconwy are still waiting over two years to see their business rate appeal's progress, leaving many businesses with financial difficulty and, in fact, financial ruin. Now, the Counsel General, of course, agreed to look into this last November. What a waste of time, because in response to a recent written Assembly question, the Counsel General stated:

'As the provisions in the service level agreement are being met'

They're not being met. Those are your words.

'and the agreement itself is being monitored, I have not identified the need for further action.'

Well, I would invite either you or you, First Minister, to come and speak to some of my businesses who are still waiting now for their business rate appeal. When I procure something for me or my family, I have a say in the quality of that service delivered. You are the First Minister of Wales, you have a say on the quality of the service delivery from the VOA. There's no getting away from it. So, I would like to know how are you going to review the targets that the VOA are expected to meet, and how do you actually scrutinise the use of taxpayers' money and this failing service here in Wales? Thank you.

I thank the Member. I want to agree with her that the performance of the VOA in specific instances of the current appeals process is not satisfactory. But the Member does need to recognise that this is quite properly an entirely independent arm of Government, and it has to be. It's right that it is. I did ask my officials yesterday to see whether the VOA could provide me with any further updates on the two instances that the Member has written to me about over recent months, and they refused to provide those details. They refused to provide the details because they said it would not be proper for them to disclose to Government the confidential matters that they have to determine with the people who use their service. And, on reflection, I think they were right. That's why we have arm's length organisations, so that Governments don't make these decisions; the VOA does.

Now, if the VOA is not delivering on its service level agreement with us, then we need to put that right. But my way of putting it right is probably different to the Member's, because I want us to change the appeal system in Wales altogether. The appeal system is not fit for purpose. It's been changed in England and has run into enormous difficulties there. What we have said is that we have brought forward the revaluation from 2022 to 2021, provided the UK Government stick to that—it was interesting to see that they didn't have anything in their Queen's Speech to put that commitment on to the statute book, but it's a commitment they've given in the past. If they honour it, then we want to change the appeal system here in Wales, alongside that revaluation, because it's just leading up to and just following a revaluation, Llywydd, that the appeals come in. We want a new system next time around, and that will allow us, I believe, to avoid some of the difficulties that we've seen with the current system. 

14:35
Coronavirus

9. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for educational establishments affected by steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus? OAQ55114

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for the question. The Welsh Government has developed and published guidance with Public Health Wales for all schools and educational establishments in Wales. These advise on which steps should be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Thank you for that response. Coronavirus, of course, is already a threat to the mobility of people across the world, and the benefit that that mobility provides. My local university, Bangor University, is one of those that has become more and more reliant on their ability to recruit students from abroad. Students from China come to Bangor in significant numbers. So, can I ask you what consideration the Government has started to give to how we may need to provide support for institutions such as Bangor University if it became more difficult to allow students from nations such as China to come and study there? We hope, of course, that it won't come to that, but we need to do that preparatory work now, in case.

I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for that question. It's true to say that the impact of coronavirus will have an effect on our universities, and that effect has already been seen, because students from some of our universities are out in China and they've recalled them back. Some staff members are due to go to China, and other countries in that part of the world, and they're unable to go there at present. I have seen a detailed report from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which draws the information together from all the universities in Wales, and which sets out the current situation, it then looks forward to the challenges if the coronavirus continues throughout this year, and the impact that that will have on student recruitment into Wales. I can ask the Minister for Education to see whether we can share the information that we have at present on Bangor with Rhun ap Iorwerth, and other Members who have universities in their own areas.

2. Business Statement and Announcement

The business statement and announcement is next. I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement, Rebecca Evans.

Diolch, Llywydd. There are several changes to this week's business. Immediately after this business statement, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs will make a statement to update Members on the emergency flood summit. Later this afternoon, the Counsel General and Brexit Minister will make a statement on legislation related to leaving the European Union. To accommodate these statements, I've postponed the statement on Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board until next week, 3 March, and progress on the single cancer pathway until 17 March. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Education about the disruption of pupil learning caused by the strike action by teachers at Llanwern High School and Caerleon Comprehensive School in Newport? Teaching unions say that industrial action has been prompted by the overhaul of the curriculum in Wales. The acting general secretary of NASUWT says that the union has not heard any convincing argument for why this proposed restructuring is necessary. The National Education Union Cymru says that Caerleon Comprehensive School has suffered from historic and prolific underfunding and the staff have been subjected to restructuring and redundancy procedures on a regular basis for a number of years. They fear a reduction in staffing levels, and support for children with special needs being withdrawn. Can we have a statement from the Minister on what action she's taking to allay the fears of teaching unions, so that disruption to the education of pupils at these two Newport schools can be avoided? Thank you.

14:40

I thank Mohammad Asghar for raising his concerns relating to two specific schools in Newport, but perhaps on this occasion, certainly in the first instance, I would invite him to write to the Minister for Education setting out those concerns, so that she can consider an appropriate response to you. 

The matter I wish to raise today concerns Christopher Kapessa, a 13-year-old black boy whose body was found in the River Cynon near Fernhill last year. I mentioned the colour of Christopher's skin because his family strongly believe that it's a factor in the Crown Prosecution Service's decision not to bring a prosecution in connection with his death.

The decision came despite the CPS's assertion that there was, to use their own words, 'sufficient evidence' that Christopher was pushed into the river. Christopher's distraught family says that there may well have been further evidence to make a stronger case, had the police interviewed more than only four of the 14 people who were at the scene during his death. It's hard to argue with the assertion of Christopher's mother, Alina, when she says:

'If this had been 14 black youths and a white victim we have no doubt that the approach of the police and outcome would have been different.'

While criminal justice remains a reserved matter there are limits as to what the Welsh Government can do. However, at the time of the incident, I conveyed the concerns from the family and urged, albeit informally, that this Welsh Government look into the matter, because community cohesion is devolved, and so this is a case that should be of concern to you from that perspective.

So, what representations do the Welsh Government intend to raise on this matter? And can this Government send out a clear statement that everyone in Wales is equal, that they should be treated equally, regardless of gender, sexual preference and skin colour, and that everyone deserves to understand that black lives really do matter? 

I thank Leanne Wood for raising what is a particularly harrowing and distressing case. I remember reading about Christopher and finding the entire story that I was reading absolutely appalling and horrific.

Leanne Wood is right that criminal justice does remain a reserved matter, but the Welsh Government and, I know, this Senedd as a whole has a really strong interest in ensuring that we promote equality and respect and a strong, diverse Wales here in our country.

So, I will ask the Minister with responsibility for relationships with the police, and the Minister who also has responsibility for equalities and community cohesion, to give some thought to your comments this afternoon in terms of what more we can do to promote a strong, cohesive Wales and ensure that everybody in Wales is equal, and what more we can do to push forward that message that everybody deserves to be treated absolutely equally. 

Could I ask for two statements? One statement would be from Welsh Government Ministers on the issue of erosion of land behind Valley terraces on which run old unadopted lanes alongside watercourses, which threaten over time to erode not only the lanes but the rear gardens of private properties.

So, in Caerau in my constituency we have a row of terraced houses backing onto such a watercourse and an unadopted lane; the sort of lanes that the old council wagons, in the days of those tiny wagons, went up the back and took the steel galvanised bins away and so on. They no longer use them. They're unadopted. They're not owned by anybody, it seems now, but yet the river erodes. In the storms that we've recently seen, they're increasingly being eaten away towards the back gardens of these properties. It's contested land, it's no-person's land, nobody wants to do anything about it, and yet the home owners are really worried.

So, could we have a statement on what happens to this no-man's land, in effect, of unadopted lanes on the backs of properties where streams, in these sort of deluges that we've seen, are now being eaten away and the effect on properties? Or perhaps the Minister could meet with me to discuss this, because I suspect it's something that is widespread across the south Wales area. 

Could I also ask for a statement on the issue of safe road crossings on A roads? Now, A roads, of course, are major roads, they're heavy with traffic, that's why they are A roads, they're major thoroughfares. But the difficulty is that, in some of our Valleys, including my own in the Llynfi, but also in the east of my constituency, it's the only road that goes up that Valley. If people can't cross from one side where they live to the shops or the school on the other side because—. The explanation given is that the guidance does not allow for safe crossings to be done across A roads normally. Well, it would be helpful to have clarity on that. Failing that, perhaps I could meet with the Minister, if the business manager, the Trefnydd, could help me; meet with the Minister, discuss this problem, and seek clarity on the guidance on safe road crossings for pedestrians and others on A roads in the Valleys.

14:45

Thank you to Huw Irranca-Davies for raising both of those issues. The first related to unadopted lanes, and, of course, the Minister, Ken Skates is currently undertaking a piece of work that looks at unadopted roads, and I'm sure that many of the lessons that we'll learn from that particular piece of work will apply equally to the issue of unadopted lanes.

We've heard a lot from the First Minister today about our immediate response to the recent floods, but the next piece of work, as we move on from the immediate urgency of an emergency situation, will be to look at those longer term issues. Of course, the First Minister referred to the Welsh Government's forthcoming flood strategy, and that will encourage wider catchment programmes and more natural flood management, recognising the role that it plays in reducing run-off and peak flows in rivers and so on. So, some of that, I think, will also be relevant to your concerns today.

But I will certainly seek to arrange a meeting with the Minister to achieve that clarity that you require on the issue of crossings on A roads, and I'm sure that he will be in touch shortly to arrange that.

Organiser, could I seek a statement, please, from the economy Minister in relation to St Athan enterprise park, and the airfield, in particular? The Welsh Government had a contract with Serco to provide seven-day air control cover so that operators could use the airfield on a seven-day basis. As I understand, there's been an issue recruiting suitably qualified air traffic controllers, and, therefore, that's limited the use of the airfield, and in particular, lost business for some of the operators who operate out of the facilities there.

As of 1 April, Cardiff Airport are taking over the management, as I understand it, of this particular operation and the airfield itself, and I hope you'd agree with me that, given 1 April is only a month away now, it would be opportune to bring a statement forward outlining what compensation, if any, has been paid to operators on the airfield because of the lack of seven-day cover, what money has been recovered from Serco because they haven't fulfilled their contract, and what improvements might be put in place once Cardiff Airport take over the operation, so that seven-day-a-week use of the airfield can be brought forward. 

The Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales does have questions tomorrow in the Senedd, so that might be an opportune moment to raise those particular concerns about St Athan airfield, but, failing that, I will certainly make the Minister aware of your request for a fuller statement.

I'd like to ask for a statement from the Welsh Government covering what support will be made available for children who are affected by the recent flooding. This has affected communities throughout my region, in Monmouth, in Newbridge, in Llanbradach and lots of other places.

Last week, I visited residents in Edward Street in Ystrad Mynach, who were woken at 2.30 a.m. by a neighbour who just happened to be awake to alert them to the fact that their street was flooding. They were able to do what they could, but, obviously, a great deal of damage was done to their properties, and it'll take months to do the repair work. But, aside from the physical damage done to the actual houses, what was concerning the residents most was the impact that this has had on their children—children who were just traumatised by seeing their homes turned upside down; who lost toys; who have to stay away with relatives and friends; children who lost school uniforms; and who have nowhere to do their homework now that schools are back after the holiday. At one point, one resident was in tears telling me that her children were staying with their grandparents at the moment, but they're afraid to come home at all, because they're convinced that the flooding will happen again in the middle of the night.

So, I'd ask what work the Government could do to work with councils, with schools across the region to co-ordinate what help and support could be offered. But I'd also ask what the Welsh Government could do, if they'd consider making counselling services available to children who aren't of school age who are affected by the flooding, who won't be able to take any advantage of support services that are available in schools, but who are, nonetheless, in need of care and compassion, because of how frightened and confused they are. What's happened with the floods will have been devastating for everyone affected, but it must be especially terrifying for children. I'd welcome any opportunity to meet someone from the Government to discuss this. Thank you.

Thank you to Delyth Jewell for raising what's a really important aspect of the recent flooding episodes, and that is the distress it will cause particularly to children and also to young people as well, who, for all the reasons that you've described, might find it difficult to go home and feel safe at home. So, the points that you made are very well made, and we do have a statement next this afternoon from the Minister for environment. Although this is very much a cross-Government response, the Minister this afternoon will be setting out some of the things that we have been doing right across the Government. Of course, we will take into consideration your points as we move forward on this. 

14:50

Can I ask for two statements, Minister? Yesterday, we had the great news of 100 jobs being allocated at William Hare in Risca on a steel fabrication plant. But, in an interview with the news broadcasters, the managing director identified that Port Talbot works was a crucial part of the future of the steel industry, not just in Wales but the UK. Now, I understand that the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales has had a meeting on the steel council with the previous Secretary of State. But, can we have an update in relation to what happened at that steel council meeting?

Can you also include in that update what progress is being made in discussions with the new Secretary of State to ensure that, as we go forward, the budget that is due in a few weeks' time actually reflects upon the high energy costs that industries such as the steel industry are facing, and something that the UK Government can do to ensure that the steel industry actually has a strong future here in the UK? 

The second one, I have a constituent who has met with me recently on a boundary dispute issue. He actually wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales, and a response from an official indicated—and the words were—that boundary disputes are now the responsibility of the devolved nations. Now, I'm unaware of that, but if we could have clarity as to the Welsh Government's role in boundary disputes, that would be helpful, so that when issues come to me I can address those points. That was from a UK Minister's office.

Thank you to David Rees. I'll certainly ensure that I liaise with my colleagues to provide you with detailed answers to both of those points. On the first, being the steel industry meeting, I'll ensure that you do get an update as to the outcomes of that and the discussions that have taken place following that particular meeting. Of course, Ken Skates does have questions tomorrow again, so there could be opportunities to raise that issue with him.

On the boundaries issue as well, I know that the Minister will provide you with a written answer on that issue. I know that she has organised a detailed briefing session for Assembly Members from the planning inspectorate, so that might be a useful opportunity to explore some of these issues as well.  

I'd like to ask for a statement on water resilience. You may find that a strange thing for me to ask, given the flooding of recent times, so perhaps I should say: drinking water resilience across Wales. I know that we have a statement on the emergency flood summit immediately after this statement. I think that this is an issue that may or may not come up during that statement, Minister, but it is one that is a standalone issue that needs to be looked at.

There was a pretty major issue with the Mayhill water treatment works in Monmouth last week, which I know the Minister is aware of. The treatment works were flooded. Dŵr Cymru could not get into the treatment works to fix it, so they ended up having to put on replacement tankers. They did an incredibly good job, actually, despite the fact that lots of the roads were flooded, and the worst-case scenario was warded off.

However, I wonder if, at this point in time, or once the floods subside, the Minister could look at drinking water resilience across Wales to make sure that, in future, any weak spots in the system like the Mayhill treatment station are dealt with, so that people across Wales can be sure that, when we in future do have more instances— as we probably will, with climate change increasing—like the recent flooding, the water system will be able to cope.

Well, I'm very pleased that the treatment works issues that you described have now been resolved but, of course, the Minister has been here to hear your request for a statement on drinking water resilience more widely.

The first statement that I wanted to ask for was from the Deputy Minister for Culture, actually, in relation to the soundings that we're hearing from the UK Government that there may be changes to the BBC licence fee, and that it may potentially change to a subscription service. Now, I know that this all has not been confirmed, but of course this will have implications for Wales in relation to BBC Wales and also S4C, whose whole funding stream will be moved imminently to the licence fee. Would we be able to have a statement about what conversations the Deputy Minister has had with the UK Government in this regard, and then potentially in relation to how they may be looking at alternatives to how Wales and broadcasting in general may be looking for the future here in Wales.

My second request for a statement is with regard to a request to the environment Minister for a statement on opencast restoration. I ask this because, in the last week, it's not directly to do with flooding, but the Kenfig Hill void that was left by Celtic Energy is that—it's water that has been contained because Celtic Energy left without restoring the whole site. Bridgend council has said that they can't afford to fully restore it, and they have said that, in light of the floods, it's safe, which I've written to NRW to confirm, but the wider point is that we need to ensure that all of these opencasting applications are restored, which they're not being, and I would urge the Government to give us a statement as to what future planning they have in mind to help these areas become naturalised again so that we are not left with these big holes in the ground.

14:55

Thank you for raising those two issues. The issue of the BBC licence fee is very much an emerging issue, and I know that the Deputy Minister is very alive to the discussions and the issues that are coming to the fore there. I know that, in due course, if there is an update to provide you, we'll certainly be keen to do so. The environment Minister heard your request for a statement on opencast restoration, and she says in the first instance, please could you write to her in order for her to respond fully to those particular concerns that you've raised.

3. Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs: Emergency Flood Summit Update

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, the emergency floods summit update, and I call on the Minister to make the statement, Lesley Griffiths.

Diolch, Llywydd. Over the last two weeks, many communities throughout Wales have suffered devastating effects from storms Ciara and Dennis. I want to say again that my thoughts, and those of my Cabinet colleagues, are with all those who have been affected.

These two storms are two of the most severe and widespread flooding incidents we have experienced in Wales for many years. At the peak of storm Dennis, there were 61 flood alerts, 89 flood warnings and two severe flood warnings in force. This is more than Natural Resources Wales has ever issued. The rivers Taff and Usk reached their highest levels in more than 40 years and, at its peak, 900 tonnes of water per second was flowing down the River Taff.

As a result of these two storms, we have seen severe and widespread flooding in communities in north, mid and south Wales. There are confirmed accounts of more than 1,000 homes suffering internal flooding and more than 300 businesses being directly affected. The threat has not yet passed. Yesterday, a severe flood warning was issued in Bangor-on-Dee and we saw flash flooding in Dolgellau over the weekend following further heavy rain. We do not yet know the full extent of damage. Teams on the ground are continuing to verify the damage and likely cost of repairs as they start the clean-up. The Welsh Government wants to thank everyone involved in the response to the flooding, from the emergency response to the ongoing recovery. The emergency services, local authorities, Natural Resources Wales and volunteers have worked around the clock to address the immediate impact of the flooding.

I have seen first-hand some of the devastation caused as I visited communities across Wales, in Llanrwst, Tylorstown, Pontypridd, Llanhilleth, Crickhowell and Mountain Ash. But many more communities have been affected. I have spoken with people who saw for themselves the incredible response from their local community as schools, halls and centres opened their doors to help those in need. There were incredible acts of kindness and generosity as people came together to help and there were powerful and humbling levels of resilience. One example, Llanhilleth Miners Institute in Blaenau Gwent, provided shelter, advice and three meals a day to all those who needed it.

These floods have had a significant and financial impact on councils, businesses and individuals. Last week, the First Minister chaired an emergency summit, announcing a £10 million fund to help meet the costs of the initial response, including support for those affected by the flooding. However, this of course will not be enough to cover the full costs to repair the damage caused by storms Ciara and Dennis.

The emergency flood relief scheme is now available. Households affected by flooding will be able to claim £500 each with a further payment of £500 available to those without flooding insurance. Support will also be available for businesses and high streets. Business Wales is ready to support affected businesses. Any business affected should contact their helpline, who can provide practical advice, including help with recovery plans.

I've heard from many home owners who lost everything and who have previously been declined flood cover. Since 2016, Flood Re has been in place to enable home owners to access affordable insurance, but there is a lack of awareness about the scheme. I want to work with the insurance sector to ensure Flood Re is publicised more effectively.

Emergency funding for repairs to flood infrastructure was immediately made available after storm Ciara, and extended to cover storm Dennis. Urgent works to assets, including defences and culverts, will be 100 per cent funded by the Welsh Government. This applies to both NRW and local authorities.

The number of properties affected and the damage caused has been devastating. But we know this could have been a lot worse without the network of flood defences. Across Wales, more than 73,000 homes were protected from flooding by this network of flood defences. This is a reflection of the £350 million we've invested in flood risk management since 2016. Going forward, we will work with local authorities and NRW to identify whether more schemes will be needed to further reduce risk. I also want to increase financial and practical support to local authorities to accelerate the development of new flood projects.

My officials are exploring ways to better support the development of new schemes and maintenance works, including providing 100 per cent funding for all preparatory work prior to construction. This would include all costs of modelling and design. We will also explore practical ways on how to progress more natural solutions, and wider catchment management to reduce both the amount and the rate of run-off, to reduce peak flows and help address the quick onset of flooding.

These storms have once again raised the issue of the safety of coal tips for communities living in their shadow. Many of us will have seen images of the dramatic landslip at Tylorstown. There are more than 1,200 of these tips across the former mining areas of south Wales. They are a legacy of our industrial past. Many of these tips were abandoned more than a century ago, and we have been working since devolution to address the issue of tips, and some of the sites have undergone work to transform them. The First Minister met the Secretary of State for Wales yesterday to discuss the safety of these. As a priority, we are working closely with the UK Government and partners—including the Coal Authority, Natural Resources Wales and local authorities—to ensure we have a full picture about the current checks and monitoring systems in place.

All the evidence suggests that we will see more storms as a result of climate change. Later this year, I will publish our new national strategy for flood and coastal erosion, which sets out how we will manage the risk over the coming decade. But flood risk management is more than just building higher and stronger defences. We cannot prevent all flooding. We need to be more resilient, we need to prevent flooding from happening and we need to be better at raising awareness about the risk of flooding so better decisions can be made.

We are promoting wider catchment projects, adaptive measures to respond to climate change, better information provision to communities and the sharing of ideas to do things better. We will continue to support people to recover from these storms and the flooding they caused. I commend and sincerely appreciate the work of all those who continue to work on the recovery effort, supporting people, businesses and communities alike.

15:00

Thank you, Minister, for your statement, and I appreciate there will be some cross-over with, obviously, the remarks that the First Minister dealt with during his questions, but rightly so that they were taken in such high profile in the First Minister's questions segment of today's business.

I too would join in the comments that you have identified with and sided with on thanks to the emergency services, to the volunteers, and to individuals themselves, who, in the face of complete and utter devastation of whole lives being washed away, have been remarkable in their courage and fortitude in the way they've faced up—whether that be in the first week of storms, or whether that be in the second week of storms. Looking at the weather this morning, another great big blob of rain, sadly, is due at the end of this week again, it is. And to actually see that resilience in our communities really does show what it is be Welsh, and ultimately stand shoulder to shoulder with each other in their greatest time of need.

I'd like to touch on specific areas, if I may, because I know just from our benches we have six contributions on this particular statement, and so I'd like to be quite precise in what I'm asking you, and I'm sure other Members will deal with those points in the statement.

The coal tips that you touched on is a really important area of concern in many communities, but in particular in my own electoral ward, because most probably that was one of the visuals that people could see played night after night on the news clips. And as you've identified in your statement, there are some 1,200 tips of one shape or form or another across Wales and, as I understand it, a third here in the top category, category D. The First Minister in his answer identified three authorities who are responsible for inspecting those tips—they were the Coal Authority, NRW and councils. Can you confirm that they do have a joined-up inspection process and that when each authority inspects, that information is shared with the other authorities so that there is complete confidence that things aren't sitting on shelves, and when problems might or might not occur, one organisation knew about it but another didn't know about it? And also, can you identify what type of measures might be being considered by Government to move forward in making sure that any advice that is given is acted on, more importantly, because obviously this is going to come at a cost?

I heard what you said about the meeting with the First Minister and the Secretary of State. So far today, I've heard three costs of what people think the potential clear-up operation might be. Yourself in your press conference—this isn't a criticism—this morning touched on tens of millions. The First Minister in his radio broadcast touched on £100 million, and I think in First Minister's questions a Member said £180 million just in Rhondda Cynon Taf alone. So, it is really important for us to understand how Welsh Government, working with its partner organisations and the UK Government, are able to put a final figure on what might be required to support communities and support local authorities and other public agencies, and businesses as well, in seeking that money from the Treasury. Because I think in fairness to the Welsh Government, if demands were coming in thick and fast they would want to know the quantum of what they're being asked for, and I think it's vital that we understand how Government is working to bring that figure to a conclusion, so that we can actually understand the magnitude of what is required here.

I'd also like to understand exactly how the infrastructure points are being taken forward within Government. My colleague Nick Ramsay from Monmouth touched on the clean drinking water situation in Monmouthshire, but other infrastructure issues have stuck up above the parapet on this one. If you take Natural Resources Wales and the issue of the culvert in Pentre in the Rhondda, there are many issues about how this infrastructure is managed and how it is regularly maintained and, importantly, where faults are found, the timeline that is put in place to rectify the faults that are found. Can you indicate how your department interacts with Natural Resources Wales, local authorities and other partner bodies that are responsible, such as Dŵr Cymru, to make sure that when maintenance programmes are required, those maintenance programmes are carried out on that important infrastructure?

I'd also like to understand how you're working with the UK Government on the insurance side of things. I appreciate it's for the insurance industry to step up to the plate and, in fairness, in many instances I've heard of insurance assessors going over and above what would be expected of them to get claims processed and inspect properties so that people can have peace of mind that those inspection claims are being processed in a timely manner. But it is important that the speed of processing and the speed of assessment is kept up, and whilst we move further and further from the date of the actual flood, we can understand that there might be some taking the foot off the throttle on this. That cannot be allowed be happen and you in Government and, in particular, the UK Government working collaboratively, must make sure the insurance sector steps up to the plate on this.

I would again reiterate how important it is that we have the flood risk management strategy as soon as possible. This has been a piece of work that has been undertaken by Welsh Government for some considerable time, and as it is such a vital piece of work to inform Government and other public bodies of what the responsibilities will be, to know that it will be with us in a couple of months really does leave some questions to be asked. If you could be more specific, as it is your department dealing with this, to give us a timeline that we're working to on this and, importantly, the budget consequences that you think that current development work is looking at, then that would be reassuring to say the least, going forward.

With those questions, I look forward to the answers that you'll be able to give but, again, I would like to put on the record my thanks to everyone who has worked over and above and gone that extra mile to give people peace of mind in what has been a very bleak couple of days.

15:05

Thank you, Andrew R.T. Davies, for those observations and questions. I don't think we can thank the emergency services, local authorities, the volunteers and third sector organisations such as NRW and Dŵr Cymru enough. I think we just need to continue to do that over the coming days and weeks.

You started your questions around the coal tips, and I think you're right, that very visual image of the water coming down in Tylorstown, that was something that, as you say, was played over and over again. The First Minister and I visited Tylorstown last Tuesday—I think it was—to see it for ourselves, and I was very pleased to see that the Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority, who, I think, have been exemplary in their dealings with residents, had gone to great lengths to ensure that they were talking to residents who were obviously concerned when that happened. This is clearly a priority around the ongoing work that needs doing in relation to the coal tips and, as you say, the First Minister met with the Secretary of State yesterday and I understand a further meeting will be convened, I think at an official level, next week. These tips are owned by a variety of organisations, and even some of them are privately owned. So, it is vital that there is that joined-up approach between the Coal Authority, NRW, and local authorities going forward.

In relation to your questions around insurance, I think that was a really good point. I heard you say that you'd listened to the lobby briefing this morning. I went to great pains to say that the representative who attended the flood summit last week from the insurance association, he said that the assessors would be out there as quick as possible. They'd, sort of, doubled up their efforts to make sure that that happened because, I think, certainly in the lobby briefing this morning, journalists were raising with me their concern that insurance companies tried not to pay out if they could, which—that wasn't the understanding that we had from the representative who was there, and that these assessors would go out. In fact, the First Minister and I were at a meeting of RCT's group that they brought together in relation to ongoing work following the floods, and there was an individual there who owned property on the Treforest industrial estate that's been particularly badly affected, and that morning his assessor had been out. So, certainly within 48 hours, the insurance assessor had been out. So, I think that we should pay tribute to those that do that.

You asked for a final figure. I'm afraid you're going to have to be very patient. We are not going to be able to give a final figure as to the entire cost of this for a long time. So, if you just think about RCT, for instance, we know there are several bridges that have been damaged, but it's not safe for divers to go down yet to see what damage is done. So, it is going to be a long process and we are not going to be able to give a final figure. So, you heard me say tens of millions, the First Minister the same, and I heard somebody say £180 million. I haven't heard that specific figure of £180 million, but I can assure you it will be tens of millions of pounds. I was in Mountain Ash with Vikki Howells last week, and just to see the debris alone on the streets that had come off the mountain, it is incredible that nobody was killed. All that is going to take a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of resources.

Around the strategy, I heard you say in your question to the First Minister that two years ago we were promised this. Well, we only closed the consultation in the autumn of last year, and the strategy will set out our strategic direction alongside revised objectives and measures for delivery over the next decade. I do think it's really benefited for that consultation and for the feedback, the workshops, the close working groups that we've had, the work we've done with our stakeholders following the responses, and I will be publishing it later this year.

15:10

I'd like to place on record my thanks to the emergency services, as others have as well, but I also want to pay a special thanks to the community volunteers because, initially, some people saw no-one official at all, and these volunteer teams were a lifeline to people.

I have to say as well that last week was one of the toughest weeks I've had to face as an Assembly Member representing the communities where I grew up. It's been absolutely gut-wrenching to see how the lives of people have been torn apart just over the course of one weekend. I've spoken with many, many people who have been affected, and the initial shock turned to anger quite quickly and frustration about what happened and the lack of support from certain agencies at the events that led up to the flooding, events that, in the eyes of many people, exacerbated the floods. So, on behalf of all of those people, I have some questions for the Minister and for this Government.

Many culverts and rivers became blocked as a result of hundreds of tons of debris left behind after tree felling operations was washed down the mountains. The drainage network stood no chance. This was particularly evident in Pentre, where many streets were flooded by a deluge the town has not seen the likes of. Natural Resources Wales, responsible for tree felling and leaving the material behind, have admitted that the debris contributed to the flood and have pledged to review their policies internally. Minister, this isn't good enough, especially as Pleasant Street in Pentre was flooded for a second time. Now, as the Minister responsible for Natural Resources Wales, will you insist on a full and independent investigation into what happened? And if that investigation deems Natural Resources Wales were liable for the flooding, will you ensure that people are fully reimbursed for the damages, in full, without any consequence to their home or car insurance policies?

In terms of keeping waterways clear, some residents took matters into their own hands—they were forced to because help was not on its way. In Ynyshir, people lowered themselves down underneath a road bridge and used saws to cut into a mass of tree limbs, twigs and muck that had formed a dam and blocked the river below the bridge. This happened in a number of places. So, will concerted efforts be made to ensure that all culverts and waterways are cleared as a matter of urgency?

As part of any review into the floods, will you also look at how other countries cope with flooding in order to learn best practice? The Netherlands has to be an obvious example; people there live below sea level without the problems that we have seen here.

As people attempt to rebuild their lives, help with the cost of utility bills are needed. Once water and muck is swept out, the next stage is to dry out all affected parts of the property, and industrial heaters and dehumidifiers are deployed. But, of course, they're energy intensive and very expensive to run, which means that people could be forced into fuel poverty just by drying out their home. In the absence of a publicly owned energy company in Wales that prioritises people and not profit, like the one Plaid Cymru proposes, will you look at ways in which assistance can be provided to households struggling to cope with the energy cost of dealing with the aftermath of the flooding?

I'm also concerned by the psychological damage the flooding has caused to people, especially, but not exclusively, to children who are often less experienced and therefore less resilient to deal with trauma on this level. The community pulled together in the Rhondda last week to put on a fun day for the children who were affected, which was great, but professional support is needed. Schools are being brilliant, but what additional efforts are being made to ensure that mental health support and counselling is available to children as well as to adults in order to cope with the aftermath of this devastation?

And finally for now, will the Government also look at ensuring that people in Wales have parity with people in England when it comes to flood relief? I note that there's a flood resilience scheme in England that offers up to £5,000 to households to futureproof themselves from flooding. That would be welcome to many, along with what seems to be enhanced support in England for businesses that have been caught up with the floods as well. Can we expect people in Wales to see something similar?

15:15

I'd like to begin by echoing Leanne Wood's remarks around the community volunteers, and I mentioned volunteers, the third sector and the communities in my statement too. I certainly saw that right across Wales over the last two weeks, and that coming together of communities.

I agree with you, I think last week was one of the toughest weeks I've had as an elected representative, to see the devastation and the trauma, and I don't think 'trauma' is too strong a word to use with people who, as you say, have lost everything. And I repeat again, I think we've been very lucky that nobody was killed. I'm sorry to hear that you came across anger, frustration and blame, because I certainly didn't. Last week, nobody said that word to me; everybody was incredibly grateful. I do appreciate that it's very early days and there is a long way to go. And if your house has had 4 ft of water—. The two streets I was in in Blaenau Gwent, which had never flooded before, they went from six inches to 4 ft of water at 3 o'clock in the morning in 20 minutes. That is so traumatic, and I absolutely would have understood if they were angry with me, but what I got in those streets was, 'Please let me go upstairs and make you and your team a cup of tea, because you're very cold and wet.' So, I didn't come across that. I certainly would understand if I had, but I think people were just incredibly grateful. And you heard the First Minister say in his answers that that was the first thing that they wanted to share—their gratitude for the support and help they received.

In relation to the drainage network, I know, over the weekend—. On the Sunday, I spoke to Andrew Morgan, the leader of RCT, and there were some culverts that they cleared three times. From Friday evening, knowing the storm was coming, they cleared them three times, but, each time, debris was coming off the mountain or from the rivers or from streets. So, we are providing 100 per cent funding for clearance of grids and culverts going forward to assist local authorities to do that very quickly.

You mentioned about learning from other countries, and, of course, best practice should always be shared, and I'd be very happy if any Members have got any examples of best practice, but, certainly, I think we must look at other countries to see how they do it, in the way that other countries are looking, for instance, at coal tips. We are international experts there; we have people from all over the world come to this country to look at that.

Psychological—and you mentioned children specifically, and I know that Delyth Jewell raised that with the Trefnydd in her statement. You will have heard that this is completely a cross-Government response to the flooding, and, obviously, this is an issue that we can take up with the Minister for health and the Minister for Education—they're both here to hear your question around that. 

In relation to the cost of energy, clearly this is going to be ongoing as part of the costs going forward. It's not just about infrastructure; it is about such things as for people to get those dehumidifiers in the houses. But this is—. As I say, this is going to be a long-term approach; it could be months before people are able to return to their homes, for instance, so we need to look at that as part of our ongoing response.

15:20

Minister, I'm going to concentrate mainly on the disasters that hit Rhondda Cynon Taf, because of the focus and concentration of the deluge, but can I first of all thank you for coming to my constituency? Can I also thank the First Minister for coming and visiting in the immediate aftermath? Can I thank Jeremy Corbyn? Can I thank Adam Price, and the Prince of Wales, who also came to visit? Because those visits are important, because they are an act of solidarity with hard-hit communities. They also uplift morale, and they show that we care and that we are listening. So, I thank all those who actually came to visit—and how well received they were by persons who were cleaning out their houses at the very time that those visits took place—and also reiterate again my thanks to not only the public sector and emergency workers, but the volunteers, many of whom are still, at this very moment, working away, helping within their communities. And a particular thanks to the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Andrew Morgan, because I think it's been almost universally accepted that the response from RCT almost immediately has been exemplary and has been outstanding and it has been an honour to work with him and his colleagues and with all those public sector workers in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

If I can make a comment also in terms of the scale of the damage, that, as is obvious to so many people, it is those—some of the communities in my constituency, it is some of those who had the least who have lost everything. And how important the grants, the contributions that have been made, the donations that have been made to a fund that myself and the MP Alex Davies-Jones made, which, within a matter of days, had achieved in the region of £30,000, and all the other funds that have been set up to do that.

I spoke with the council leader this morning about the actual scale of the damage—it's important to get this on the record—in Rhondda Cynon Taf. There are nine bridges closed—severe damage to those bridges and they may all need replacing. The council have inspected 199 bridges; there are 32 left to inspect. There are dozens and dozens of collapsed river walls and collapsed, damaged culverts, all of which have to be dealt with. There has been the inspection of 43 category C and D coal tips. There is a considerable list being drawn up in respect of the work needed on highway inspections and highway repairs.

We have in Rhondda Cynon Taf 557 flooded homes—25 per cent of the UK total. We have 500 flood-damaged business properties, and the businesses damaged alone in one area of Treforest, where something like 90 per cent of the businesses were affected, is potentially estimated at around £100 million to £150 million. So, the guesstimate from the council—and it can only be a guesstimate at this stage—is in the region of £30 million to £40 million of damage, but I suspect it is going to be considerably more once those inspections are actually completed, and I know the council leader wanted to put on record the thanks for the support. He has had vehicles and equipment from other local authorities around Wales, and it is that community spirit across Wales that is something that I think, as a country and as a community, we can be so proud of.

Can I just say one thing also, then, in respect of the money that is actually needed? We are not asking for some extra devolution handout. We are part of the United Kingdom, we pay into the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister is the Minister of the union, and it is incumbent on any union to actually help those areas when disaster hits. What is being asked for is no more than any part of the United Kingdom—Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland—could ask for and, in the past, have actually received.

Can I ask for one particular thing that I think does need to be done, and that is, firstly, to assure everybody that Pontypridd is open for business? Because those businesses are up and running, despite some of the damage they still have, and that has been a remarkable effort. Can I thank the Secretary of State for Wales in respect of the fast action in respect of the derogation in respect of the Department of Social Security?

And can I then ask one further thing, and that is: we need to specifically look at specialist advice being given to our communities in respect of the issue of insurance. There are many who have insurance, there are all sorts of games that are being played by the insurance industry—'Is it flood damage? Is it storm damage?' or whatever. The fact of the matter is, I think this is a matter where the Association of British Insurers really need to rein in and take control of the situation, engage with Government and local government, and ensure, firstly, that those people who have insurance are properly compensated under their insurance policies. And then I reiterate everything that the First Minister has said, that is we need to look at the existing arrangements that may be available in terms of insurance and, possibly, how we may even devise and enhance a specific Welsh arrangement, to ensure that our people do not suffer. Thank you, Minister.

15:25

Thank you, Mick. I think the statistics and the numbers that you came forward with demonstrate very clearly that RCT local authority was so severely impacted. I was going to also say I know, through my discussions with Andrew Morgan and at the summit also, how grateful he was to neighbouring local authorities for their assistance.

Just to pick up on a couple of specific points that you raise—absolutely, Pontypridd is open for business. I think it is so humbling to see the way that businesses get back there. I was in Llanrwst a week last Thursday, following storm Ciara, and the businesses there were clearing out. It was great to see the one shop that was up and running one day ahead of Valentine's Day was the florist—she had all her flowers and her balloons outside, and I thought that was just great, to see that sort of resilience from our businesses, so I'm very happy to put that on record.

In relation to insurance, it's a very, very important point, because I think we need to do more to promote Flood Re. I don't think enough people are aware of it, so people who will have had flood insurance refused—even if that's happened, Flood Re will be able to provide some cover. So, certainly, the discussions that we had with the representative from the association of insurers at the flood submit—that's one area where I think we need to do more. So, for anybody now who is listening, the thing to do, if you don't know about it, is ring your insurance company—the one that you're with now—and ask them to look into that for you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

I would also like to reiterate and would like to thank all the emergency services and the local villages, on behalf of my party, for the work that they've done over the last few weekends and their continued work on the recovery.

One thing that we can take from the last few weeks is that support from this institution and Welsh Government needs to be reviewed now. Minister, lots of constituents have been e-mailing me about the lack of support from local authorities during the flooding. Will the Welsh Government now review action plans and guidance for flood prevention? Because one thing that we can be sure of is that this sort of rainfall can and will happen again.

Minister, I agree that flood risk management is more than just building higher and stronger defences, but how we provide support, and how support is communicated to residents and businesses must also be improved. I spoke to a number of farmers who wonder if NRW could possibly look at the way flood warnings are communicated to help them, as flooding as had a huge impact on their businesses. You also mentioned future schemes in your statement. Will you please confirm that rural areas will have a scheme to help local authorities in these areas across Wales, please?

In my own village, homes and businesses were flooded when a small stream running through the village actually melded with the flood waters coming down from the mountains. It washed down into the village. The county council—I got in touch with them for the villages previous to that happening, because we could see the water rising—haven't given sandbags to residents for the last few years, Denbighshire County Council, and they really weren't interested, even though I asked for them for the villages, because the water was going into the houses and the local businesses.

My two villages, either side of where I live, were totally cut off. If it wasn't for the locals pulling together, it would have been a lot worse for all the residents there. I've driven those roads since 1986, and I've not seen water like that myself. The gullies this year were cleared earlier, but they soon backfilled due to the rubble and the rocks washing down from the mountain roads.

The River Dee has flooded all the fields up to the main roads between the villages and beyond for the last few years, and a lack of dredging is definitely being blamed for this. Can we please restart river dredging as soon as possible, as this is vital for the smooth water flow depth of our rivers, which will help to alleviate future flooding if done regularly? Thank you. 

15:30

Thank you. I think there will be lessons to be learnt from these two storms, but I think we have to accept that—you said you hadn't seen rainfall like it—we had a month's rainfall in less than 24 hours. So, I think we need to remember that.

In relation to future flood prevention and flood alleviation schemes, there are about 25 in the pipeline, and that's right across Wales. It's up to local authorities to come forward with preparatory work around business cases for such schemes. I've got 25 in the pipeline, and just before these two storms, I'd asked for a rapid review of those schemes to see which we could bring forward. It's really important, obviously, that local authorities and NRW have the capacity to be able to deliver these schemes within the year of the funding that is provided. 

You were criticising Denbighshire County Council. I suggest you write to them. If you want to copy me into the correspondence, I can share that with them. 

I would like to thank the Minister for this update, and also take this opportunity to raise the issue of promised funding for flood victims. We still have a crisis situation in Aberconwy. During storm Ciara, around 10 properties in Betws-y-Coed and 60 in Llanrwst were flooded out, on 9 February. We then had storm Dennis, and I've got to be honest, it was the community rallying around that stopped further devastation there, and the emergency services. But again, this weekend, we saw roads cut off and Llanrwst feeling almost isolated.

Now, you will be aware, Minister, that on 11 February I did ask you what funding would be available to the local authority and residents to assist with the clean-up, and I also wrote to the Minister for Finance for emergency financial support on 14 February. Yet, it took the First Minister until 18 February to announce the creation of an emergency funding relief scheme. And it was only yesterday that you could actually access that. Forms were only available yesterday.

So, you can understand that my residents in Aberconwy feel very frustrated that the First Minister seemed—and I will say seemed, or appeared—to choose to wait until after storm Dennis to take any action. For my—[Interruption.] So, why were the forms only available yesterday? For my constituents, that means they have been waiting over 15 days for any emergency financial assistance. For some without insurance, that is over two weeks without even being able to start to tackle—[Interruption.] You can shout all you want, it's exactly right what's happened.

Only non-chemical cleans have been undertaken on some flooded estates. I've still got children in my constituency having to live upstairs because their homes have just had a jet wash, yet there was sewage mud running through those homes. At least three businesses without insurance have now ceased trading, and others continue to fight for their future. Many constituents have been desperately trying to get hold of any promised financial support.

The community response to their plea, though, has been exceptional. Many of us have been making an effort to be on hand, to help where we can, be that through making representation to the local authority—. And I have to give credit to Conwy County Borough Council for their immense efforts during storm Dennis, to ensure that those already affected weren't affected yet again.

Whilst I am grateful for the fact that all households affected by flooding throughout Wales will technically receive £500, possibly £1,000, for those without house insurance it's just a mere drop in the ocean. I had a resident on the phone to me yesterday, she's lost her business, her home, and her car. She has nothing left, as we speak today.

So, Minister, why did it take until after storm Dennis for the First Minister to announce financial support to individuals affected by storm Ciara? Can consideration be given to increasing the amount of financial support available in exceptional circumstances? What emergency support will be available to our flood-hit farms, which saw losses of livestock? No mention of that in your statement. And will money be available to help undo damage to our listed, precious, historical buildings? And you know where I'm going with this: Gwydir castle and gardens. The unfairness caused to them is immense.

It is well known that I want to see an independent inquiry into flood mitigation measures in Aberconwy, because we were flooded out in December 2015, March last year, storm Ciara, and more effects from storm Dennis. Your Welsh Government—. You said in your question response to me, 'No further reviews'. People in Llanrwst feel that you are not interested, Minister. [Interruption.] I've asked four questions.

I now ask: will you work with Natural Resources Wales to reassess previously proposed and rejected options? And I endorse what Mandy Jones has said over there: people believe that the River Conwy, now recording at its highest levels, should actually have an implemented flood risk mitigation scheme in terms of dredging, or some form of support for that river. Thank you.

15:35

I really object to Janet Finch-Saunders's tone. I was in Llanrwst on 13 February—[Interruption.] Do you want to listen or not? Do you want to listen? I really object. I was in Llanrwst on 13 February, visiting houses in your constituency, and I spoke to many of the residents. Not one of them took the tone that you did—not one of them. So, I will tell you why it takes several days—and that's all it's been, several days—to set up—[Interruption.]

Will you let the Minister speak? I have 10 more speakers after this, and we've 20 minutes, so not all 10 are going to get in. Minister.

I'll tell you why it takes several days to set up a scheme: it's public money. And that public money has to be accounted for. It has to be audited. You have to have a mechanism to be able to deliver that funding. Do you want to listen or not? So, every house that's had internal flooding—. You can smirk, Janet Finch-Saunders; I'm not even going to look at you, because you—. In fact, Deputy Presiding Officer, I don't think she's worthy of an answer.

15:40

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you, Minister. I'd like to repeat again the thanks made by many Members across this Chamber for the effort made by countless heroes to help those affected by recent flooding, and to repeat also my thanks to you for visiting businesses and residents in Mountain Ash with me last week. The visible leadership from yourself and the First Minister was welcome. 

My questions. I hope you will have seen the letter jointly sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by representatives of RCT, and I note your comments about working with the UK Government. Will you make representations to ensure that RCT gets the help that it needs, where there is a duty on the UK Government, such as funding for infrastructure, council tax and rate relief exemption? 

I also note your comments about Flood Re and I think it's really important, as other Members have said and yourself, to make sure that people know how they can access that affordable insurance. But I am concerned about a lack of clarity in this area. I've met with a number of people who have been very, very distressed to discover that they are underinsured against flood damage. So, I'd like to ask particularly what we can do to make sure that that information is clear and that insurance companies are forced to make that information a lot more clear than it is now? 

And finally, I'd like to close by again reiterating the comments made by other Members in this Chamber about the need for support for the emotional impact of flooding as well. Financial support to help people rebuild their lives is really important, but those long term psychological scars will come to the fore over time. I've met with people in Ynysybwl who were hit by a seven foot wave of water rushing through their properties. So, just to place on record, please, my ask for some assistance with counselling services for those who require it.  

I think most of the points that Vikki Howells raises, outside what other Members have raised, are really about the cross-Government approach that we're taking in relation to the flooding. So, you'll be aware my colleague, the Minister for Finance, has written to the Treasury regarding this. Obviously, the First Minister has had discussions around funding, because—I think that Mick Antoniw raised the point—it's not a devolution handout. This is money that we need and it's money that we should have from the UK Government.

And it's the same around the emotional impact. I answered Leanne Wood before that, obviously, the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Minister for Education will ensure that that support is available as we go along the next weeks and months and even years. Because I think you're right; the majority, particularly around storm Dennis, and storm Ciara too, happened in the night. I always things are much worse in the dark and in the night and to go—as I say, the houses I visited in Blaenau Gwent—from six inches of water to four foot of water in just 20 minutes is incredibly frightening. The same: I visited Crickhowell in the constituency of Kirsty Williams on Thursday, and again it was in the night that they obviously had this huge surge of water in their homes. 

I think that you make a very pertinent point around insurance and about ensuring that people have got adequate cover. Flood Re is available for domestic. It's not available for businesses, but it is available for domestic. And I think there is a point around it perhaps being made available for businesses, and this is an issue for the UK Government, but it is something that I will be writing to the appropriate Minister about.

May I endorse the thanks and the tributes that have been paid to the emergency workers, council workers, NRW workers, volunteers and the communities that have come together in light of the exceptional pictures that we have seen over the past few weeks?

May I ask first of all, Minister, how do you respond to two north Wales council leaders, in Denbighshire and Conwy, who have criticised the pace of the Government's response? There was no talk of a £500 payment for the residents affected in Llanrwst, in Llanfair Talhaiarn and so on and so forth. But of course, after the events in RCT, there was a major announcement that funding was to be made available. There was to be an initial £10 million and there would be more available later. I know the scale is different, but we must bear in mind that over 100 homes were affected in north Wales, and many tens of businesses too. So, how do you respond to the suggestion that the Government didn't respond as they should have done to the situation in north Wales until the events unfolded in south Wales?

The council in RCT is offering an additional £500. Some comments have been made, too, that regret the fact that Conwy council isn't offering an additional £500 payment to residents affected in places such as Llanrwst, and I would like to hear from you. Because the damage is the same and the impact is the same in terms of these floods, wherever you live. But it’s starting to look as if there was some kind of postcode lottery: if you live in the Rhondda, you'll have an additional £500, but if you live in Conwy, you won't. I would like to know: isn't consistency important? Isn't fairness important? And shouldn't there be equality of access to support, wherever you live? Isn't that important? I'd like to hear your response to that.

I've raised with you in committee, in this place and in other fora, some concerns about the resources available to NRW and the additional responsibilities placed upon them whilst their resources are shrinking. Now, there will be additional work emerging in response to what has happened, not only the direct response in dealing with the impacts, but there will be additional assessments to infrastructure and there may be public inquiries that may need to be led or contributed to. So will you commit, therefore, to ensuring that, if there is any additional work in light of this that falls on NRW that they will receive the necessary resource to deal with that?

It’s not just NRW; local authorities are in the same situation and, of course, there’s a wider range of bodies that we don't always mention: the North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent, which is responsible for gulleys through Llanrwst, for example—and I see the Minister starting to listen now, having heard reference to that. We do need clarity that this whole range of relevant bodies have the necessary resources. While it is necessary to focus on the bigger picture and the major infrastructure schemes, we must bear in mind that it’s the day-to-day work, the spade work, quite literally, that is also important in terms of cleaning culverts, gulleys, and so on and so forth. So I want to know what assessment you as a Government will now make to ensure that this range of bodies has the necessary capacity for that spade work, and I would like to hear from you on that. 

There are a number of points on the planning system that would be better referred to the relevant Minister, and there will be an opportunity to do that on a future date, but a response to those three or four questions would be something I would be grateful for.

15:45

Diolch. You make a very important point about transport and roads and I think, again, we should place on record our sincere thanks to staff across the entire transport sector for those of us from north Wales who've had to come down again this week. It was equally as bad as last week, but I know they have been working tirelessly since the flooding began nearly two weeks ago to support the travelling public and to make sure we reopen our public transport and road network as quickly as possible.

You ask again about the public money that was being made available, so I mentioned that I visited Llanrwst on the Thursday; I was in my constituency on the Friday. I did try to get down to Cardiff on the Saturday when we realised the impact of storm Dennis, and I was unable to because of the train network. I'd already started to have conversations with the First Minister around what support we could give to people who had been flooded, and as I said in my answer to Janet Finch-Saunders, it does take a while to set up that scheme, but what the First Minister did straight away—but this wasn't made public, because obviously, you're doing it collectively as a Government—was that we identified the money. So, the First Minister, in the first meeting that I had with him on the Monday morning—he was adamant that that money would be found. We then found the mechanism to make sure that that money got out as quickly as possible to the public, so it opened yesterday. It did take a few days, but as I say, you've got to make sure that public money can be accounted for in the correct way.

The fact that RCT local authority are giving their residents an additional £500 is a matter for RCT. If Conwy Council choose not to do that, that's up to them. You know that the budget that local authorities get—it's up to them how they spend it with their local population, so you need to take that matter up with Conwy and Denbighshire. The money that we're giving as a Welsh Government will be the same. For a house that's been flooded, it will be £500. For a house that's been flooded that doesn't have insurance, it will be £1,000. There's also business funding available through—and people should contact—Business Wales. There was an earlier question around farms: they are businesses, and I have to say, most of the farmers I've spoken to have got insurance, but clearly, they are just as able to access that funding as a business as any other type of business. I mentioned in an earlier answer that we will be giving 100 per cent funding for clearing culverts and grids.

In relation to your questions around NRW, there are clearly lots of questions around NRW and what they have had to deal with over the last two weeks. I'm meeting with the Chair and the chief exec—I think it's next week—and obviously, this will be top of the agenda. But, what I have said to them is—. I've asked the specific question: do they have the resources—and that's human as well as financial resources—to be able to deal with that? So, I can give you a commitment that I will clearly look at anything that comes forward from them. But, again, I think that it's a little bit early to answer that question in detail.

15:50

Thank you. I have seven speakers and eight minutes left. So, please can I now just ask the remaining speakers: will they just ask a question of the Minister, rather than—? I know that we all want to put our thanks on record from our particular areas, but I think that it's been well documented, so if we could have some questions straight to the Minister. Russell George.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, I'm going to raise a question that I have raised with you a number of times before, and that is about the management of Clywedog and Lake Vyrnwy reservoirs. Pictures show on social media, and video footage, great swathes of mid Wales underwater, including B roads and trunk roads and properties partly underwater as well. I have no doubt that, even if those reservoirs were managed in a way that I would like to see them managed and the people of mid-Wales want to see them managed, we would still see significant disruption because of the sheer level of rain that fell in such a short period of time. But, I also have no doubt that if those reservoirs were managed better, we would see significantly less reduction.

What we do see, for days on end, is water tipping over the top of both reservoirs. Common sense tells you that you have lost control of the reservoir when that is the case. We need a greater drawdown of water, I would suggest, during dry periods of weather on both reservoirs. I know that you are aware of the section 20 operating rules; I think that they urgently need to be reviewed. I accept that this isn't your responsibility alone; it is jointly between yourself, Natural Resources Wales, the Environment Agency and the water companies—I fully accept that. But, can I ask you to lead on meetings with some urgency to get this operating rule reviewed and changed, and ask that you and your officers lead on that particular area?  

I suppose that the short answer is 'yes'. I'll be very happy to look at that, and perhaps I can update the Member in due course.

I'd like to pay tribute to those communities most affected in my constituency, which is Machen, Bedwas, Llanbradach, Ystrad Mynach, Tredomen, Nelson and Penpedairheol; those with commercial businesses and residential businesses. Bedwas RFC's Bridge club was hugely affected and has benefited from crowdfunding. It is struggling to survive, it has to be said, at this point in time, and I'm doing all that I can to help them.

On Thursday 20 February, Caerphilly County Borough Council announced a £250,000 fund to support businesses and residents in the Caerphilly community. I have to say that Caerphilly council have been working 24/7 through this process, and I have praise for them. Can she confirm that the Welsh Government's funding is entirely separate to that, and any application will be looked upon separately to any application to the Caerphilly County Borough Council fund?

The only other question that I've got—. I've had an e-mail today from a resident who tried to apply for the Welsh Government's fund through the link I sent them to the council. She followed the link that I sent, and said that, upon ringing the number, she went through to the council switchboard, who said that they didn't know about the Welsh Government's part of it, and tried to direct them to the discretionary assistance payment. So, if any of your civil servants are listening at this point in time, please could they ensure that local authorities are well aware of the mechanism for drawing down Welsh Government funding? Caerphilly council: I've written to the chief executive and the leader to explain this difficulty. But, the sooner that that is resolved, the better.

Thank you. I can confirm that the Welsh Government funding is entirely separate to anything that Caerphilly council want to do in the same way that RCT are doing also. I'm concerned to hear your last point. As soon as I finish my statement, I will go upstairs and make sure that that is corrected as quickly as possible. Obviously, it's the discretionary assistance fund that's doing the scheme for us. I know that, just last week, they had 200 applications for the ordinary DAF funding, and I think that they gave out significant funding. It's either £50 or £100. So, those two schemes are entirely separate as well. But, Deputy Presiding Officer, I will go upstairs and do that, and hopefully, by the time I come back down I will be able to give Hefin David an answer. 

15:55

Can I extend my sympathies to all those affected in South Wales Central by this most distressful event and the experiences that followed of seeing your homes flooded? It's the speed at which it happens—I think you've referred to that. It is astonishing. In my 21 years in the Chamber, when I've talked to flood victims, speed is what they say, which means we need the most effective warning systems possible.

Can I praise the joint work between the Welsh Government and the UK Government? I know there have been a few things flying about the Chamber today, but actually, both sides seem to have co-operated very well, and you need to continue this. I do commend the fact that the Secretary of State, Simon Hart, did visit RCT on Friday.

My main point is that we do need, because of climate change, to look at the whole hydrology of the south Wales catchment area. We have very fast-moving rivers. They're short. The energy they possess is astonishing, and quite frankly, some of the culverts are not fit for purpose for the speed of the water flow. We need to look at these water courses and examine them in the whole system, about what can be done to deepen them and strengthen them and move that water away from the areas at most risk around businesses and homes.

Thank you. Yes, I think that last point is very important. I mentioned in an earlier answer that, on the Sunday, I spoke to Andrew Morgan, the leader of RCT, and he sent me some photographs of a culvert that had been cleared out three times. It was completely destroyed because of the speed of the water, to which you refer. There's a massive infrastructure operation that's going to have to take place over the coming months and years, probably.

But clearly, some things are more urgent than others, and as we work through—as each local authority goes through the clean-up operation and comes back with what's required, that's when we need to look at specific and individual things that need repairing immediately, and what needs to be done in the longer term.

I think all my exchanges with the Minister in the last four years about flooding have involved coastal flooding. I wonder if she would agree with me that we now need to give much greater attention and priority to dealing with the consequences of inland flooding as well. Nobody could fail to have been impressed by Mick Antoniw's tale of woe in RCT earlier on, and I very much agree with what he said and what the First Minister said earlier on—that it's very much a responsibility of the UK Government to make a proper contribution towards alleviating the problems that have now been created. It is part of the price that we pay, if there is a price at all, for being part of the United Kingdom, and that's the way in which we can help to cement the various parts of it together.

Chris Bryant said yesterday in the House of Commons that many of his constituents have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for insurance against disasters of this kind, and I'm sure the Minister would agree with me that that's not really an acceptable situation for people to be in in the twenty-first century in one of the richest countries in the world. What's happened here is a humanitarian disaster equally as much as the kind of flood damage that we see in other parts of the world, for which our overseas aid budget is designed to cope. Only 14 per cent of that overseas aid budget actually goes towards distress relief of this kind. So I wonder if she'd agree with me that, if the British Government comes up with the old excuse that they haven't got enough money to give us, the poorest part of the United Kingdom, in the one of the poorest areas within Wales, the money that is needed to help to alleviate significantly these difficulties, then that budget, which is currently earmarked for various absurd projects like a £6 million project to persuade Chinese housewives to put less salt in their cooking, which is funded by the Department for International Development, that money should be diverted to Wales—and indeed for future occasions of this kind—so that we are not put in a position where we are scrabbling around for the cash that is needed to sort out as quickly as possible the very, very real problems that ordinary people are now suffering. 

Well, I don't have the inside knowledge that Neil Hamilton seems to have of the workings and the way DfID gives out money, but what I do know is exactly what Chris Bryant said. There are lots of reasons why people don't have insurance, and when I was visiting people last week, we discussed some of those reasons. Some of them were because they'd been flooded before and they couldn't get insurance. Others were—the cost was a barrier. Clearly, we need to ensure that people can access affordable insurance.

Before I go on to the next questions, Deputy Presiding Officer, officials have just e-mailed Ken Skates in response to the question raised by Hefin David, to say the link is correct—it's an extension of the discretionary assistance fund. So, perhaps, if you can get that message back. And again, if there are any further difficulties, I'd be very happy to look into them.

16:00

Thank you. I have three speakers left. As long as they promise me they have a question, just one question each, then we'll get through them. Dawn Bowden.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I think it's important for me just to place on record my sympathy for the residents of my constituency, where we didn't see flooding on anything like the scale of Rhondda Cynon Taf, but we did see flooding in Troedyrhiw, Pentrebach, Aberfan, Quakers Yard, Pontsticill, Heolgerrig, Tir-Phil and Deri, and that was not insignificant for those individuals affected, as I'm sure you'll appreciate.

Most of the questions and the points that I wanted to raise, Minister, have now been raised, but there's one thing that I wanted to pick up. You will appreciate that landslides in my constituency have a very deep and painful history, and you have talked about the work being done on coal tips, and I appreciate that entirely. But I had a whole community in Troedyrhiw that were evacuated because of landslips in Troedyrhiw, but they were not actually to do with coal tips; it was literally the topography of the valley. There are very steep hills that are running right the way through our valleys—some of which are not related to coal tips. But those hills, those mountain sides, were so saturated, and they have streams and rivers running through them, that they couldn't cope with the amount of water coming through and they slipped, and we had to evacuate a number of streets in Troedyrhiw. So, my question to you, Minister, is, over and above what's being done around coal tips, what can we be doing to look at the general topography and stability of the hillsides, because this isn't going to be one-off? This is going to happen again, and we need to find some way of making sure that those steep hillsides are as secure as they can be when those heavy rains come again.

Thank you, Dawn Bowden. I mentioned in my earlier answer—I'm not sure if it was to Vikki or to somebody else—but around when I was in Mountain Ash with Vikki Howells, and to see the size of the boulders that had come down from the mountain was truly horrific. So, clearly, it was the culmination of—. We've had probably one of the wettest winters that we've had for a long time and a wet autumn as well. So, we need to be looking at this issue alongside everything else, because I'm very well aware that there have been landslips, as you say, not in relation to the spoil tips to which you originally referred.

I'm grateful to the Minister for this statement. May I ask the Minister a question on contingency planning for flooding by the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales? Last week, I was contacted by a group based in the London Borough of Brent that provides assistance in emergency situations, such as those who lost homes in the fire at Grenfell Tower. They offered to provide a large amount of aid to flooding victims in south-east Wales in the form of food, blankets, cleaning material and other household essentials. Unfortunately, having contacted many community centres, I could not find any place and no venue whatsoever large enough that was available to store the amount of aid offered to us. Please, Minister, if such floods occur in future, could consideration be given to establishing a central point where aid can be delivered before being passed on to the flood victims? And two more questions: co-ordination among the local existing county councils; and, finally, the media must be active to make sure there is a flood-victim support website there straight away to help the people in the country. Thank you.

Well, that certainly wasn't my experience. I mentioned in my statement about Llanhilleth Miners Institute in Blaenau Gwent, where people were just continually coming with donations. And I saw it elsewhere, in Mountain Ash—we visited a community hub in Vikki Howells's constituency where a local supermarket had come with mops and bleach and disinfectant. So, that is not my experience of it at all, unfortunately. So, I don't think I can really add anything else.

16:05

Thank you. As a person who has lived through a personal flood experience in the Towyn floods 30 years ago this week, my heart goes out to each and every person that's seen the devastation of flooding in their homes and businesses over the past fortnight with storm Ciara and storm Dennis. I also know that it brings out the best in people as well, and I know that each one of us that's visited a community in recent weeks will have the seen the way that communities have pulled together and grown together through the terrible experiences that they have had. 

Imagine, then, being in a situation, as some of my residents are in the community of Llanfair Talhaearn, which has been impacted by flooding three times in the past eight years. Three times in the past eight years, having the builders in, ripping everything out, trying to put everything back together and to piece your life together. It has just been absolutely horrific. And I would ask you, Minister: can you ensure that communities like Llanfair TH, like Llanrwst and others, which have been impacted frequently in recent years by flooding, are given that little bit extra priority because I think that they need it and they deserve it? That's not taking away from the awful impact of floods elsewhere, which also need attention, but, clearly, there's something seriously wrong when a community that is told that it has a flood risk of about one in every 50 years has been hit three times in eight. There's something not right with the modelling, which needs to be addressed.

You also referred, Minister, earlier on, and I think Llyr Gruffydd referred to this, to the capacity of certain councils to be able to respond through additional assistance and support in the same way that Rhondda Cynon Taf has been able to, with financial payments to those who've been without insurance, and perhaps even those who've had some insurance. Conwy County Borough Council, as you will know, has one of the lowest settlements this year with its revenue support grant, and it doesn't have the capacity in the same way that some of these other local authorities have to be able to support residents in its communities that have been impacted by flooding. Can I ask what support you might make available to councils with significant financial pressures, like Conwy, in order that it can respond perhaps in a different way to the challenges that residents in that community are facing?

And finally, one of the near misses that we had during the recent storms was on the coast in Kinmel Bay, in the community of Sandy Cove. As I said at the opening of my remarks on this statement, it was 30 years ago this week that that community suffered the devastating Towyn floods, along with other communities along the north Wales coast, as often the Deputy Presiding Officer is only too keen to remind me. But, clearly, having a near miss in a community that suffered such devastation in the past is also a concern. So, what support can you make available as rapidly as possible for communities on the coast in Towyn and Kinmel Bay to ensure that their flood defences are also robust and up-to-scratch, so that they can avoid the sort of devastation that people in RCT and elsewhere have suffered in recent weeks?

As a north Walian, I very well remember and actually visiting Towyn 30 years ago; it's incredible to think it's that long ago, it was so devastating. You're right; the people I met in Blaenau Gwent, it was the first time these two streets had been flooded. It was a manhole coming off that had caused the flooding there—they'd never been flooded before—but the complete devastation and the fact that the water went from six inches to four foot in 20 minutes can tell you just how traumatic an experience that was. 

In relation to Llanfair TH, when I was in Llanrwst I obviously met with Conwy council and talked about what we could do there and, obviously, NRW are delivering a flood scheme there. I've asked for it to be expedited, so that is in relation to Llanfair TH. I think I've answered this already; I've already asked for a rapid review of the schemes that are currently in the pipeline to see again what we can accelerate there.

In relation to local authorities, it's a matter for a local authority how they spend their funding. RCT have chosen to do what they have chosen to do. It's up to Conwy—and Denbighshire was in my earlier answer to Llyr Huws Gruffydd—if they want to give funding. They all have reserves for a rainy day; well, you don't get much rainier than this, do you? So, if they choose to give their funding in that way, that's up to them.

And, again, about the—. We've had a lot of near misses. I mean, our flood alleviation schemes right across Wales stood up, but some by literally centimetres, and I'm thankful for that, obviously, but, again, we need to go back, I think, and revisit those schemes to see what more we need to do because, clearly, if we'd been working to one-in-a-hundred-years events and you mentioned three in eight years, I'm not saying that was a flood scheme, but we need to look to make sure our flood alleviation schemes right across Wales are up for the job. Diolch.

16:10
4. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Update
5. Statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government: Re-imagining social house building in Wales—A modern methods of construction strategy for Wales

So, item 5 is a statement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government: re-imagining social house building in Wales—a modern methods of construction strategy for Wales. There we go. So, I'll call on the Minister for Housing and Local Government to move the statement. Julie James.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I'm very pleased to provide Members with an update on Welsh Government's modern methods of construction strategy, 'Re-imagining social house building in Wales', and how it will support our ambition to deliver more high-quality social and affordable homes across Wales.

Unlike other parts of the UK, this Government has continued to invest in affordable housing, providing £2 billion-worth of funding in this term of office, but we want to build more and we want to build better. Welsh social homes will be built to high space and beauty standards, embrace sound place-making principles, and, of course, be near-zero carbon in terms of emissions. Producing homes using modern methods of construction will play a vital role in making this happen.

The strategy I share with you today was produced in response to recommendations following the affordable housing supply review, which identified modern methods of construction, or MMC as it is known, as a way of more quickly increasing housing supply. Over the past year, we engaged with a range of key stakeholders and leading experts in the housing sector, construction industry and academia to co-produce and test the approach of our MMC strategy. We received overwhelming support for our proposed direction and I would like to thank everyone who contributed. Your invaluable input has helped ensure that our strategy is robust, well-supported and gives us the best chance of maximising the opportunity MMC presents for social house building and for our economy in Wales.

Although still in its infancy, there is recognition in Wales and across the UK that use of MMC can help us build better quality homes faster than traditional methods to meet housing need. We see MMC as an umbrella term that includes various construction methods, from new materials and technologies to off-site manufacturing, which either replace or complement traditional methods of construction.

Whilst some types of MMC may be more advanced than others, what is clear is that innovation in this field has advanced in leaps and bounds over the years. We have certainly moved from pre-fab to ab-fab. Gone are the days of association with poor-quality, temporary pre-fabricated housing; MMC now produces high-quality, desirable and energy-efficient affordable homes that tenants can be proud of.

Our approach to MMC aligns directly with other recommendations of the affordable housing review. It will support councils to build at scale and pace. Our grant system will ensure MMC schemes are not disadvantaged compared to traditional ones, and proposed new space standards ensure traditional and MMC buildings are treated with parity.

We recognise the need to cultivate a consistent approach to MMC adoption with our neighbours. This includes aligning to the UK-wide approach to warranties and accreditation of MMC homes to bolster lender and consumer confidence and utilising recognised definitions.

MMC opportunities go beyond house building. The strategy supports our ambitions to move to a circular economy, as building with MMC could reduce construction waste by as much as 70 to 90 per cent. Reducing emissions from the housing sector is a key element of our climate change emergency mitigation.

We are exploring how best to identify the new skills required to accommodate greater use of MMC, which represents a sea change in the construction industry. We need to ensure that the existing construction workforce is upskilled to meet our ambitions, attract new and diverse entrants and marginalised groups such as offenders, to explore employment and training opportunities.

Our plans provide real opportunity for Welsh MMC producers, many of which are SMEs and family-run, supporting Welsh businesses in finding a home-grown solution and strengthening Welsh suppliers. Linked to this is the longer term use of Welsh timber in house building.

As part of this approach, we have commenced an exercise to engage with all Welsh MMC providers to understand their capability, expertise and contribution to our social housing goals in Wales. We are fortunate to have a wealth of experienced MMC producers in Wales already supplying high-quality products to homes and commercial developments across the UK. The combination of their product, experienced workforce and indigenous supply chain means they are ideally placed and ready to respond to the increase in demand for MMC homes. We want to support these businesses to reap the rewards of increased order books and harness the economic and social benefits increased MMC production brings. Welsh Government wants to drive forward the use of MMC in social housing, and next month we are hosting a summit to bring together MMC producers and social landlords across Wales in order to share knowledge and broker new relationships and opportunities.

In many ways, we are already ahead of the game due to the success of our £90 million innovative housing programme that includes a number of MMC projects that are already under way. Nonetheless, to further accelerate the programme, I am making £20 million available for MMC businesses, who, in partnership with Welsh social landlords, want to build the next generation of social housing. I am making a further £25 million available for IHP round 4, focused on an MMC special.

Translating the strategy into tangible benefits is not solely about financial investment. Over the coming months, we will shape these aims into an implementation plan that will provide more detail on how we deliver the objectives of the MMC strategy. I will provide an update for Members before summer recess, but work has already begun in earnest. Greater adoption of MMC presents some challenges, however these are not insurmountable, and I am confident that we have identified the right approach and partners to work with to address them. Our strategy keeps us at the vanguard of new and innovative developments, ensuring that social housing leads the way in driving up standards for all housing in Wales. Diolch.

16:15

Can I welcome this statement on modern methods of construction—MMC hereafter? The Welsh Conservative Party throughout this Assembly term has promoted this type of construction, and in our White Papers on urban design and on housing, we promoted the concept of greater use of MMC. It is becoming a preferred route rather than one driven by necessity or scarcity, as it has in the past. It's actually, as you've said, at the cutting edge of modern house building. So, it's really something that we need to focus on, and I do think, as you said, it's giving opportunities for SMEs and other firms to take this up. I've also visited a plant—the one I visited was in Pyle; I think you visited one in Neath—but it's important to see the opportunities that are there, and as you've said, it offers particular advantages and opportunities for the Welsh timber industry long term.

I think MMC does require training and upskilling, but this can also mean a more attractive career option—for one, most of your work is done indoors. I think the downside on this—and it will attract people who want the more highly skilled careers because of the nature of the work that is involved—as the Association of British Insurers have pointed out, great precision is needed, both in the manufacture and then on the on-site construction of MMC homes, or a lot of the advantages, particularly on energy efficiency and then in any repair work that's done in the course of the houses' lives—we can lose an awful lot of the advantages. So, there are real issues about training.

I've just got a couple of questions because, as I said, I think we're very much on the same page here. By my calculation, the Minister is announcing an investment of £45 million in MMC, but can she confirm this, please? I don't think there's any overlap between the £20 million that you're making available for MMC businesses and then the further tranche of the innovative housing programme round 4, which will be an 'MMC special', as you so vividly put it. But can you just confirm that?

As far as the strategy that is being rolled out, I look forward to the further statement in the summer term. Can you assure us that you have been working with—as well as the manufacturers and other stakeholders—the Association of British Insurers? Because they welcome this form of construction, but they are aware of the insurance risks if it's not done in a full and proper way. And you may have seen their note that they've put out to Members today, and I do think it's not just a case of special pleading; they're making very substantial points, which I think we should apply all due diligence to. But I conclude by welcoming the statement.

Thank you very much for those remarks, David Melding. On the insurance point, I made the point very briefly in the statement that we are co-operating with a UK-wide series of special interest groups, insurers being one of them, because it's actually very important so that people can get mortgages and get the warranties right. And there's a big issue with the International Organization for Standardization standards and needing to update them for modern methods of construction. So, some of the ISO standards were made back in the 1970s, when these things just did not exist. And, actually, the carbon-neutral elements of this often don't comply with the ISO standards, for all sorts of very good reasons. So, there's quite a bit of work to do, which is why there'll be an implementation strategy to follow around what we need to do to ensure that we're on the right page for all of that, and, quite clearly, we'll want people to be able to work across the UK—and, in fact, across Europe and so on—from a Welsh manufacturing base. And so it's very important to make sure that we get the standards that are right for the sector. So, I don't disagree with any of that.

I take the point about the precision in assembly and construction, but one of the things I was really struck by when I visited Hale Construction in Jeremy Miles's constituency yesterday—I've visited a number of these factories and it's the same in all of them—was that, actually, of course, there's much closer supervision of each section of the construction as it goes along. And, unfortunately, we've seen, with traditional methods of construction and all of the fire risks that we've discussed many times in this Chamber, that actually that oversight is not there on the traditional building site—for all kinds of perfectly good reasons, but it isn't there—and so, actually, there have been a lot of subsequent faults discovered, whereas this process actually highlights them straight away. We were shown yesterday the injection of the insulation into a panel, for example, where it's quite obvious that doing it indoors, in the dry, with an injection system, gets every single crevice out of it and all the air and everything else, whereas that's not the case when you do it on-site with an injection system. So, it has lots of advantages. There are a couple of disadvantages, though, that's for sure.

The other thing is that yesterday morning it was pouring with rain, and there were—. It was incredibly awful weather, as we've been hearing in the earlier part of business this afternoon, and the factory was in full production. And I had passed several construction sites on the way to the visit, which I know have social housing being built on them, which were all on stop, because the weather was appalling and nothing could happen. But this factory was in absolute full production, and all of its staff members were in the warm and dry and they were carrying on as normal. So, actually, that's no small thing in a climate emergency and a country like ours. It was also demonstrated to us yesterday that a large part of the construction is watertight immediately. So, even if you're assembling it on-site, it's still waterproof—the panels are waterproof and so on. So, there are lots of benefits for a place like ours.

And the last thing I want to just welcome your saying is the opportunity for the Welsh timber industry, because I think this is an important point in terms of the flooding problem that we had earlier. Obviously we need to plant a lot more trees—trees take up water; we need to plant them at the top of watercourses and so on. They take up water, they stop a lot of these flood events, they hold soil in place, they stop mountains from moving and so on. But you can also crop those trees, because, if you do it properly, you're not clear cropping—what you're doing is selectively cropping species of tree out of an existing forest, and not affecting run-off and soil erosion and so on. We just need to get a lot cleverer about the way that we use our forests so that they stay being forests, but are also a renewable crop for our Welsh timber industry. That would support very many more people off those acres of land than are currently supported.

16:20

There has been a consensus in this Chamber that we need to substantially increase the amount of affordable housing, although there has been less of a consensus on whether it's fair to class homes sold for over £150,000 through Help to Buy as affordable. For that reason, Plaid Cymru has preferred to specifically use the term 'social housing' when talking about our own targets for house building, and that is, of course, where the main problem regarding supply is. So, we welcome this strategy as a step in the right direction, and we agree that prefab housing of the sort that's been highlighted in the media today can be a useful part of providing that, with the usual caveats about quality control and so on. 

So, I just have a couple of questions for you, Minister. Firstly, are you in a position to give us some figures in terms of the numbers you want to see delivered? Now, the media reports, of course, use the 20,000 affordable homes figure, but we know that target includes homes that, in reality, are unaffordable, as we've discussed before, and that doesn't have a specific target for social housing. So, if you could give us an indication about how much social housing you'd want to see delivered through this, that would be helpful. And, secondly, currently the planning system already struggles to get the level of affordable housing it should through developments. Sometimes, this is because developers rely on the planning inspector to water down affordable housing commitments to guarantee that a development remains profitable, and that's something that no other industry has, and something that we really should reflect on. But at other times, it's simply because planning departments don't negotiate well, or they accept cash payments that are inadequate. I'm aware of one development where the cash payments amounted to around £50,000 per home they alleged to be able to build, which is clearly inadequate.

Now, of course, one advantage of prefab housing is that the cost per unit is substantially reduced, but, clearly, what we don't want is developers taking advantage of that and reducing their cash payments accordingly. So, instead, Minister, will you strengthen the planning system to actually require more affordable homes within developments to reflect the fact that it will cost less?

16:25