Work to protect a Monmouthshire village from future flooding has been delayed until April 2024 at the earliest.
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.
Welsh Government funding was secured last summer to develop an outline business case into the viability of a possible scheme. But NRW has now written to confirm it 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”.
Monmouth MP David Davies, who has been supporting village representatives to lobby for better flood defences, said the news was “bitterly disappointing”.
“Residents were led to believe work was progressing, with the appointment of a project team to develop an initial assessment study into a Strategic Outline Case,” said Mr Davies.
“This is obviously a very disappointing setback. While I realise it is not a personal decision, I do hope NRW officials will be acutely aware of just how concerned and anxious residents will feel.
“It means yet more waiting and, in the meantime, Skenfrith remains a flood risk.”
NRW’s head of operations for South East Wales, Steve Morgan, stressed this was “not an isolated issue impacting only Skenfrith” and projects were not being cancelled or stopped entirely.
In an email to Mr Davies, he said there was simply not enough “money or staff resource” to deliver “everything we had planned” for this financial year.
Mr Morgan said: “We have had to review all of our flood related projects against this financial pressure and have prioritised them in terms of the risk to people and property.
“Unfortunately, the current budgetary constraints means that there will be further delays in taking the Skenfrith business case forward. Where possible, and in the case of Skenfrith, work is being delayed until the start of next financial year, where it is our intent to resume the project as soon as possible.
“The decision to defer any work has not been taken lightly, but we need to take action to ensure we effectively manage our expenditure this year within the budget and staff resource available to us.
“I appreciate this is not the news you and the residents of Skenfrith would be hoping for and we feel extremely disappointed to be in this position. Skenfrith is still a high priority for us and we will be eager to push ahead with the Strategic Outline Case as soon as we are able to.”
Mr Davies said he intended to directly question the Welsh Government minister and make a case for the decision to be overturned.
“I have asked NRW to confirm how much money the Skenfrith Strategic Outline Case to cost, because I would imagine that sum to be quite small in the overall budget,” he added.
“We cannot let this slide and need to keep up the pressure. Every month that passes by leaves the community of Skenfrith more vulnerable."