Wednesday 18 January 2017

The Scarlets - How Carmarthenshire County Council funded a Rugby Region - part 3

Much of Llanelli town is low lying. Many people do not realise how low. Many areas of South Llanelli are functionally below sea level and are utterly dependent on the man made tide locks, huge flap valves which stop the sea water coming in during the highest cycles of the tide. Twice a day these flaps shut and open at the mouths of every river and stream. They confine the rivers behind them which causes occasional back-flow flooding. Many of these rivers are hidden in culverts before going out into the estuary in the town area. This stops unwelcome visits from the sea flooding the town twice daily Some of these water ways have been built over. The major town river,the Lliedi, along with other local watercourses, had its course diverted in the 19th century to facilitate industrial development. Its exact route under the town centre buildings is not known.

Eventually, with the sea level rising, the system will have to "go Dutch" and start pumping the rivers out to sea over the flood defences. Alternatively large areas of the town will have to be abandoned. This prospect has not dissuaded Carmarthenshire County Council Planning Committees from building extensively in these low lying areas.

Adding to this is the fact that the town receives  massive amounts of water, partly due to the high rainfall in the river catchment areas but also due to the geology of the escarpments above the town which have many artesian springs and natural underground reservoirs. Sink holes are not unknown and during my time as a councillor several large holes have appeared inconveniently and suddenly in my ward alone. The level of groundwater is understandably, often high. 

In October 1896, one hundred and twenty years ago, the tail end of an Atlantic hurricane gifted to the town of Llanelli a 10 foot tidal surge. Known as the "Great Storm" the sea flooded all of the low lying areas of Llanelli, having breached the sea defences at Pwll and Machynys and washed away the main road and the railway. A funnel shaped shallow estuary is ideal to accentuate a tidal surge and the flood water hit the town just as workers were waking to go to work. No human lives were lost but large numbers of cattle sheep and horses were swept away and 500 homes were seriously flooded as well as mines, factories and commercial premises. I have been assured NRW that the current flood defences will probably not take a 10ft tidal storm surge but still the Llanelli waterfront is utilised more and more for housing and other projects. Currently the Delta Lakes area is earmarked for a project containing a care home.

The Thomas Arms, Thomas Street, the highest point of the flood in 1896

But how did the Council and the Club deal with the flood risks? Money can be magical and make things disappear. In 2004 the Welsh Government DAM [Development Advice Map] for the Stradey Park devdelopment area showed a large portion of it was on a flood plain. 

In 2006 the flood plain had been conveniently removed in a report by the drainage and hydrology planning consultants Waterman Quadrant .

 In 2009 the flood plain was not just still there but extended on the DAM maps. Currently most of the site and its major access road is on a C2 flood plain. 

This WQ expert assessment in 2006 meant that the first formal considerations of planning at Stradey Park for the new housing estate to fund the Scarlets' new stadium were unhindered by flooding considerations as there was no apparent risk.

However since the "Great Storm" the area around the proposed new estate had been severely flooded twice, In the 1950's the sea visited  the Sandy Road area and in 1981 serious river flooding hit the area, flooding the surrounding homes in Iscoed and the ground near the old stadium, now part of the Stradey Park Housing Estate. History can be embarrassing, especially when in living memory, but the reassurance of the WQ report and the desperate need to sell the site for building overcame common sense,

Welsh Government DAM map 2004

Experts Waterman Quadrant report the flood plain has retreated. 2006 report for planning committee

Flood Plain still in Welsh Government's DAM map 2009

Iscoed Estate severe floods 1981
I suspect expert consultants can do wonders when paid to show development sites in their best light. In this case, the flood plain just magically disappears, then  embarrassingly reappears when further assessed by the environment agency in their regular updates. This is really concerning. Flooding is no joke and risks homes, livelihoods and even life itself. In order to fund a private sports club the welfare of this area and the future welfare of occupants of the new estate were low on the priorities. 

This project was seemingly driven by one thing, money. It seems to me that the inconvenient  truth about the unsuitability of Stradey Park for house building was dealt with by using extreme economy. Both Club and County Council knew of the history of these floods. Iscoed is a council estate .It continues to suffer floods affecting roads and gardens to the present day and now there are cases of buildings subsiding. At the time of the 1981 floods areas of Stradey Park, now built on, such as the practise pitches were also flooded.

At this point, 2006, it is clear that there was no plan B and the pressure was on to get the right decision through County Council to underwrite the project and fund the club.

In the next instalment - comedy and the cash cow

 Siân Caiach,


  1. A very comprehensive article; not only predicting the possibility, but the probability. With weather patterns increasingly showing great variability a prediction that
    is increasingly likely to happen.
    The planning areas depicted show how these factors have
    been disregarded by various committees and organizations.
    One conclusion is the authorities have had flagrant disregard of the possibilities,

  2. Did anyone ask the experts consulted in 2006 how it was that the flood plain had 'retreated'? Is this even possible?

    1. These lengthy reports are filed away in the applications for these large projects and only come to light if local activists start looking at them. Paid experts can interpret the same information as the Environment Agency has and come to a different conclusion. After Carwyn Jones' letter to the Welsh Councils and his own Environment Agency employees is not to oppose development even if there is a flood plain. Presumably WQ were playing it very safe to support the ambitions of CCC and the Scarlets, who payed good money for a sympathetic assessment.


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