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4 Reduce the risk to people and communities from environmental hazards such as flooding and pollution

Allyn Hawkes and Julian Humphries, helping the Fire and Rescue Service fight a major industrial fire - photographed by Mark Sabine

Where are we now?

Pollution and flooding have wide-ranging damaging effects in Wales, with poor air quality identified as one of the greatest immediate environmental threats to people and the natural environment. It has been linked to 40,000 premature deaths a year across the UK, costing more than £20 billion annually12.

Agricultural pollution incidents continue to be an issue with significant impacts on water courses. Water pollution in Wales caused by abandoned metal mines is the worst in the UK.7

Climate change is likely to result in more frequent and extreme weather events, with people located on flood plains or near to coasts increasingly at risk. Drought is also an issue with water availability likely to be reduced in some areas. In urban areas in particular, impermeable surfaces and development on flood plains exacerbate localised flooding.

Although recycling rates are increasing1, hazardous waste and fly tipping continue to be a serious issue. We need to move towards a circular economy – reducing resource use in the first place and using natural resources many times before waste is finally used to produce energy where possible.

An ageing population in Wales suggests that there will also be an increase in the number of vulnerable people who will need help should an environmental incident occur.

 

Where do we want to be long term?

Environmental hazards will be considered as part of an integrated approach to land and water management. Nature-based solutions (such as tree planting or wetland and flood plain restoration) will be considered as a first step, although more ‘hard engineered’ approaches, such as culverts and concrete barriers, will still be needed in some cases. Area Statements will identify the best opportunities at a local level.

Flooding will be dealt with at a water catchment scale: the whole river and coastline will be taken into account and flood risk defences will have investment plans for the long term. Sustainable drainage systems provided by additional greenspace in urban areas will help manage flooding, temperature rises and particulate pollution. Diffuse pollution, including that from mines or agriculture for example, will have been minimised, with simple solutions to prevent leakage into watercourses. Contaminated land will have been remediated and restored where possible. All waste, particularly hazardous and illegal waste, will be significantly reduced, and fly tipping no longer takes place. Everything that can be recycled is recycled as we work towards a circular economy.

People will understand that prevention is better than cure, so inappropriate development on flood plains or where the risk of an environmental incident is high no longer takes place. Everyone will understand it is better not to pollute in the first place.

Communities and businesses will understand the risk of flooding or an environmental incident occurring in their local area. They will appreciate the effects on ecosystem resilience and how this affects their lives and livelihoods. They will recognise what they can do themselves and take responsibility to prevent or reduce the risk of an incident occurring and the impact it might have. If something does happen, they will be able to respond to minimise the impact and ensure that the most vulnerable are cared for.

NRW will work in partnership to help achieve this – providing guidance and advice, monitoring and evidence, modelling and forecasting the likelihood of events and providing an effective response to incidents that do occur. We will be trusted to recommend the best approach to help reduce the risks both to people and to habitats and biodiversity. As a firm but fair regulator, we will investigate incidents and use our full range of powers to tackle environmental crime when it becomes necessary.

 

What will NRW do up to 2022 to help make this happen?

Lead by example

  • Use our Area Statements to assess the risk of environmental hazards, and develop nature-based solutions as a first option to reduce their frequency/severity. Ensure this is built into our own natural resource plans and into future Well-being Plans prepared by PSBs
  • Make sure the risk of an environmental incident on land and water we manage ourselves is minimised
  • Reduce pollution risks by effective use of our regulatory powers
  • Maintain our existing flood assets and build flood defences to reduce the risk to a further 2,500 properties over the next five years including schemes to be completed at St Asaph in 2017/18 and at Crindau in 2018/19
  • Respond to incidents that do occur as a Category 1 responder
  • Play our part in the Shared Regulatory Agencies Research Programme and joint DEFRA/Environment Agency Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Research and Development Programme

Working with our partners

  • Ensure Area Statements include nature-based solutions that reduce the risk of environmental incidents. These are then integrated into Well-being Plans by PSBs and provide multiple benefits where possible such as habitat creation and opportunities for recreation
  • Work with partners, communities, agricultural and industrial sectors on preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring in the first place
  • Collaborate with local bodies to prepare for and develop responses to environmental incidents should they occur
  • Work with others to improve the well-being of coastal communities, especially around areas very close to the coast and where managed retreat is the long-term plan
  • Collaborate with organisations such as Public Health Wales, the Wales Land Management Forum, agricultural inspectors, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and with local authorities and other regulators to research and trial innovative approaches to local air quality, diffuse and/or agricultural pollution, metal mine remediation and dealing with slurry, changing behaviours and minimising health risks and inequalities by reducing exposure to pollutants
  • Support initiatives such as Flood Awareness Wales and Fly-tipping Action Wales

 

How will we know if anything has changed?

  • Properties at risk of flooding – National Indicator3
  • People’s individual perceptions of flood risk – NRW data
  • Individual perceptions regarding local environment quality – National Survey4

Allyn Hawkes - We were working on a site in Llanelli and two ladies came down who were living on the street. They were so grateful we were there, they were overjoyed which made me happy that we're doing a good job

Related document downloads

Our Plan to 2022 - Easy read Looking after nature now for our children to enjoy PDF [16.8 MB]

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