This week marked the one year anniversary since communities across Rhondda Cynon Taf were devastated by the unprecedented flooding caused by Storm Dennis, with over 1,400 homes and businesses impacted by the event, which represented over half of the total properties in the whole of Wales. In addition, Council infrastructure – including bridges, river walls and culverts - also sustained over £70m worth of damage, and this is without the cost of rectifying the Tylorstown Tip landslide.
Since Storm Dennis, the Council has invested almost £17m in repairing and upgrading flood protection infrastructure, with over 100 schemes either completed, in the process of being completed, or in the design phase. On Tuesday, the Council also welcomed a further £4.4m of external funding from the Welsh Government to boost this ongoing and substantial programme of work.
It is clear that fixing the infrastructure damage will not be a quick process, but an ongoing programme that will need to take place over several years, and it is vital that we continue to make this a priority area in light of the frequency of weather events that we have witnessed over the past 12 months. RCT is currently under a Yellow Weather warning at the time of writing, and the Council has once again undertaken a proactive inspection of culverts and has drafted in additional extra resources as a precautionary measure to respond to any issues over the weekend. I would remind all residents to call the Council on 01443 425011 if you do experience any weather-related emergencies over the weekend.
It is clear that climate change is a significant contributary factor to the increased frequency of weather events, and this is why the Council’s Cabinet have agreed proposals to allocate an additional £500,000 a year, each year, to recruiting additional Drainage Teams and also a base £100,000 budget for climate change and carbon reduction in the Draft 2021/22 Budget proposals which are set to go before Full Council in March.
The First Minister today announced that the “Stay at Home” orders for Wales will continue for the next three weeks at least, with a view to possibly lifting them in March. It’s fair to say that this current lockdown has been exceptionally difficult for everyone with many having a very different Christmas as the case rates reached exceptionally high levels. The seriousness of the situation is highlighted by the fact that we are only now seeing substantial falls in the case rates and rates of infection, and that is once again down to the immense sacrifices that the overwhelming majority of individuals are continuing to make each and every day. Just yesterday, RCT recorded only 8 new cases of COVID-19, with the case rate per 100,000 also showing a decrease to 85.4 from 107.4 the previous week, and this was mirrored in the seven day positivity rate decreasing to 8% from 8.7% the seven days prior.
We all need to keep our discipline over the next three weeks especially, and of course beyond that, to ensure that we can exit the current restrictions and put ourselves in the best place possible to avoid having to return to them in the future.
Alongside the extension of the lockdown, the First Minister also announced that from tomorrow (Saturday, 20th Feb), the number of people who can exercise together outdoors will increase to four (from two), although this must still start and finish at home. Licensed wedding venues will also soon be able to reopen from March 1st and talks will also commence about possibly reopening the tourism industry in time for Easter and a cautious reopening of non-essential retail.
I know that many will be anxious to accelerate our path out of lockdown, but with the Kent variant circulating as the dominant strain in many parts of Wales and with the South African variant detected, I absolutely think that a slow and steady easing of the restrictions is the right approach. The last thing that anyone wants to see is a swift return to lockdown once we exit this current phase and I would ask everyone to continue taking actions to keep themselves and their communities safe.