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Climate Change and Coastal Developments

In a case which foreshadowed the impact that climate change may one day have on sea levels, plans for a substantial mixed-use development – including 230 homes – on the coastal plain at Burry Port, in South Wales, have been scotched by the High Court.

Coast at duskCastletown Estates Limited has for years been battling to persuade planners that the old Grillo Zinc Oxide Works is ripe for regeneration and that future residents would not be exposed to any unacceptable risk of tidal flooding. The company managed to convince Carmarthenshire County Council, which backed its plans on the basis that they would bring real benefits to the area.

Castletown thought it was home and dry when its plans also received the approval of Natural Resources Wales and a government planning inspector following a public inquiry. However, the Welsh Ministers dealt the company a serious blow when they disagreed with the inspector and refused to grant planning permission.

The company’s proposals included raising ground levels before building work started and it insisted that any risk of tidal flooding, even in the most extreme sea conditions, was miniscule. Attacking the Ministers’ decision as ‘a terrible mistake’, Castletown and the Council claimed that tidal maps, which showed part of the site within a flood risk zone, were inaccurate.

Relying on expert hydrological evidence, the company insisted that – with ground levels raised and even taking into account the potential long-term impact of climate change – there was at most a 0.1% chance of any of the site flooding in any one year. Even if the worst happened in ‘extreme’ tidal conditions, flood levels would only rise to a few inches and the benefits of the development greatly outweighed whatever small risk there might be.

However, dismissing the challenge, the Court found that the Ministers had been entitled to rely on maps which classified parts of the site as falling within a ‘highly vulnerable’ area without any significant flood defences to protect them. The Ministers had rightly adopted a ‘precautionary approach’ to the flooding issue and there had been no unfairness to Castletown which had been given a ‘fair crack of the whip’.