North Wales flood works call on Boxing Day anniversary

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Media captionPaula and Dave Sapsford have been living in a caravan for 11 months after floods hit their home

More calls for work to start on a £22m flood prevention scheme have been made a year after communities across north Wales were devastated by floods.

The Welsh government funded scheme at Abergwyngregyn and Tai'r Meibion in Gwynedd was unveiled in February.

But nearly a year later work has yet to start after negotiations with land owners have yet to be finalised.

The Welsh government said work on advanced drainage would begin once agreement was reached with landowners.

Parts of north west Wales were cut off by flooding on Boxing Day 2015. The main A55 road was swamped and had to be closed while people across the region saw their homes and businesses badly damaged by the rising waters.

The flood prevention scheme announcement came just weeks later but there has been frustration the work has yet to begin in earnest.

In November, there was criticism that the work had yet to start.

As negotiations continue, BBC Wales spoke to members of the community who were affected by the deluge on Boxing Day 2015.

For Dave and Paula Sapsford, 2016 has been a year they would rather forget.

They have only just moved back into their home after floods devastated their Gwynedd village of Talybont on Boxing Day 2015.

Eleven months in a caravan and a £100,000 repair bill later, the couple are philosophical.

After all, it is the second time they have been flooded - and in 2012, they also lost their car in the water which engulfed the area.

"The day it happens, there's nothing you can do about it, You just have to go with it," admin assistant Mrs Sapsford said.

"After that, it's the hassle and inconvenience. It's just relentless.

"As far as everybody else is concerned it happened on Boxing Day and it's all over with now.

"But for us, it's gone on for 11 months."

Image copyright Dafydd Meurig/ BBC
Image caption Paula Sapsford's living room on Boxing Day 2015 - and now, after £100,000 worth of work

Their cottage is in the shadow of junctions 11 and 12 of the A55, which was completely flooded on Boxing Day last year - cutting off parts of north Wales and causing travel chaos.

Homes were also evacuated in the villages of Llandwrog and Bontnewydd, near Caernarfon, Llanwrst and Llanfairfechan in Conwy, and Beaumaris, Anglesey after the rivers Ogwen, Conwy and Gwyrfai burst their banks. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) estimate over 100 properties suffered some form of flooding across 40 communities.

The flood rushed into the Sapsfords' home around 08:00 GMT, with the ground floor immediately covered in a foot of water.

Although it subsided by lunchtime, the damage had been done.

"The floors had to come up, the walls had to be hacked off three feet to the ground, the floor had to be ripped up. The whole house had to be completely emptied," Mrs Sapsford explained.

Although insurers were helpful, her taxi driver husband ended up finishing a lot of work himself. "This is why it's taken so long," she added. "They didn't live up to the promises we were given."

Image copyright Dafydd Meurig/ BBC
Image caption The A55 was closed between junctions 11 to 15, cutting the whole of north west Wales off

The Welsh Government has invested over £1m in a new flood defence system for the village, which opened in November. It says it has "performed well" in recent heavy rainfall - but Mr and Mrs Sapsford are not so sure.

"We are not going to trust it, until we can be sure ourselves that it will divert the water to the river as promised," Mrs Sapsford said.

"If the drain pipes are not maintained the same thing could happen again."

Gwynedd county councillor Dafydd Meurig, who met First Minister Carwyn Jones during a visit to the area after the floods, agreed that the community was still nervous.

"It's difficult to convey in a photograph how awful and horrible it is when you are standing in someone's living room in your wellingtons in all this murky horrible water," he said.

"Talybont had been flooded in 2012 and a plan designed after that. It was there ready and waiting to go.

"Unfortunately the next flood came before it was funded," he added.

Image caption Rainfall across areas of north Wales in December 2015 was three times the monthly average

In February, the Welsh Government announced £500,000 extra funding to start work on a £22m flood prevention scheme between Abergwyngregyn and Tai'r Meibion ahead of schedule, in Autumn.

Yet almost 12 months on, ongoing landowner negotiations means work has yet to begin.

Arfon MP Hywel Williams has called the delay "unacceptable" and Mr Meurig said the government "really need to get on with it."

"They are talking about January now - and it is getting us into the period where we might have floods again," Mr Williams said.

Despite record rainfall during December 2015 - with almost three times the Wales average falling in parts of the north west - he claimed the flooding of the A55 which led to the road's closure was "entirely preventable".

Image caption Cllr Dafydd Meurig with the new £1m Talybont flood defences

Further up the road in Talybont, Susan Wright and son Andrew remain fearful. They were forced to stay in a hotel for two months while flood damage to their home was repaired - at a cost of £45,000.

"We tried blocking the doors off with anything we could find - beddings, quilts, pillows, just to stop it coming in. It didn't really help, the water was so fast," Mr Wright explains.

He has had to repeat a year of his Bangor University criminology degree.

"It affected me," he said. "I tried not to show it - I tried to keep calm for my mum and dad."

And though he welcomes the Talybont scheme, he pointed out that floods briefly closed the A55 at Abergwyngregyn in November - and said urgent action was required.

Image copyright Andrew Wright
Image caption Susan and Andrew Wright's Talybont home was one of around 20 evacuated in the village

The Welsh Government said the design work and procurement of contractors on the Abergwyngregyn scheme was now complete.

"Once agreement is reached with landowners, the advanced drainage will begin," a spokesman added.

£1.1m has been spent on flood risk management in north Wales so far in 2016, with a further £3.25m to be spent by the end of the year, which includes funding to local authorities.

And in December, the government announced that cuts to the flood scheme budget are to be reduced, with an extra £33m over the next four years.

A separate £150m fund for councils to borrow money for "flood and coastal-risk management" will be available from 2018-22.

Image copyright Tu Hwnt i'r Bont/ Twitter
Image caption The Tu Hwnt i'r Bont tearoom in Llanwrst was flooded when the Conwy river burst its banks

But over in Llanwrst, Conwy, the owners of the 15th Century, Grade II-listed Tu Hwnt i'r Bont tearoom, which was badly damaged, remain concerned that little seems to have been done in their area to prevent future flooding.

"There is a man-made cob (embankment) in the meadows north of here that soaks up water, but it was breached," explained owner Tim Maddox.

"If there was a manned sluice gate there, the floods in Llanwrst could have been avoided."

The tearoom's soaked walls had to be repaired using specialist lime plaster. And although the most severe flooding happened on Boxing Day, small floods had occurred from October 2015 and badly affected business.

An NRW report said a 2010-built, £22m flood defence scheme designed to protect 76 homes in Llanwrst performed well. But it also said flood barriers were erected "too late", leading to the flooding of three homes.

"We have been lucky so far this year," says Mr Maddox.

"But there was an awful lot of bad feeling around that we have been here before - and here we go again."

Back at Paula's house, and she demonstrates where floodwater poured in through the garden, likening it to a "swimming pool".

Is she looking forward to a happier Boxing Day this year? "I just hope it's dry," she replies.

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