Just £5,000 was spent on work to protect a Monmouthshire village from future flooding before the project was paused, an MP has revealed.
Skenfrith, on the banks of the River Monnow and Norton Brook, has found itself under water three times in 14 months.
Homes and businesses were particularly hard hit after heavy rainfall in October 2019 and again just four months later when Storm Dennis struck in February 2020, causing extensive damage.
Following concerns from the local community, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has been drawing up various options for flood prevention measures – with £104,000 budgeted to develop a Strategic Outline Case into the viability of a possible scheme.
But NRW announced at the beginning of September that is looking to save money and has placed the project on hold until the start of the new financial year, with officials hoping to kick start it again “as soon as possible”.
It has now emerged only £5,000 of the original £104,000 budget was spent, prompting bemused questions from the local MP.
David Davies, who has been supporting village representatives to lobby for better flood defences, said his overriding concern was that it appeared “virtually nothing had been done” before the plug was pulled.
The Monmouth MP said: “I am astounded to hear only £5,000 has been spent. NRW set a budget of £241.9m for 2022/23, so it seems extraordinary that £104,000 cannot be found to put towards the Skenfrith scheme.
“I was told in February that an experienced team was in place and work had already begun to build on the initial assessment study. My question is what exactly has the project team done during this time, because the strong impression I am getting here is that virtually nothing has happened. Worse still, was the £5,000 merely covering the team’s wages?”
NWR’s head of operations for South East Wales, Steve Morgan, stressed projects were not being cancelled or stopped entirely, but there was simply not enough “money or staff resource” to deliver “everything we had planned”.
In an email to Mr Davies, he said: “£104,000 was originally budgeted for the Strategic Outline Case for Skenfrith and £5,000 has been spent so far. Pausing the scheme until next April will result in a £99,000 reduction this financial year.
“Whilst NRW has a substantial annual budget, most of the funding we receive is provided specifically for certain activities within our remit. In most cases our funding is hypothecated (ring-fenced) to those specific activities. Flood risk management is one of those activities.
“The flood risk management capital allocation within our overall budget is approximately £22m this financial year. We currently have two large projects in construction, spending over half of this between them to reduce flood risk to over 2,000 properties, hence the strain on our funding.”
Mr Morgan confirmed approval was given in May to allow the project team to commence work on the Skenfrith Strategic Outline Case and progress had been made. He said NRW had began procuring an engineering consultant to undertake hydraulic modelling and start technical analysis of the long-listed options.
An initial assessment suggested feasible schemes, at this stage, are property level protection or some form of wall/embankment around the village.
“We developed a detailed scope for our framework consultant to provide a quote and procurement was commencing when the decision to pause the project had to be made,” added Mr Morgan.
“We expect this contract and Strategic Outline Case work package will be reinitiated in April 2024 if funds are available.”
Mr Davies said he had written to Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, asking for Welsh Government intervention and assistance in prioritising the Skenfrith scheme.
He is still awaiting a response.