First Minister returns to Newton Stewart

Fist Minister Nicola Sturgeon talks to local butcher Kenny Owen
Fist Minister Nicola Sturgeon talks to local butcher Kenny Owen

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, fulfilled her pledge to return to Newton Stewart today, following an earlier visit in the aftermath of flooding at Hogmanay, but she found many who were afffected frustrated at the lack of action since.

The country’s leader took the opportunity to announce a £42 million a year plan over the next decade for the whole of Scotland, with £1.7 million of the COSLA funding coming to Dumfries and Galloway. She also announced that work to repair the riverside wall that collapsed during the crisis is due to start next month.

She said: “Earlier this year I saw first-hand the devastating effects of mother nature as storms battered our communities.

“Last December is on record as the wettest and saw levels at rivers across Scotland overflow. When I visited Newton Stewart on New Year’s Eve I met local butchers Kenny and Yolanda Owen at John D Owen & Son on what would have been their busiest day.

“Tragically all their stock was knee deep in water which not only has a massive impact on the business but also on the wider community who were relying on them. As I walked down the high street what struck me was the resilience of this small community as they supported each other.

“Seven months on and the community have rallied round and businesses are getting back on their feet and returning to normal. However, the implications of the storm will be felt for a while yet and we need to work together to minimise any potential future disruption.

“This agreement will give local authorities the certainty they need to deliver the actions set out in their Local Flood Risk Management Plans to help protect individuals, business and communities from the danger of flooding.”

The First Minister spent time visiting some of the businesses badly affected by the December 30 flooding, including the Riverside Day Centre, Snips Hairdressers, Cunningham’s outdoor outfitters as well as Owen’s the Butchers on her return to the town.

Kenny Owen from Owen’s the Butchers was frustrated at the lack of action from the local authority since the flood. He raged: “Yes, it’s fine that Nicola Sturgeon came back but seven months on still and nothing has happened. That’s shocking. The council haven’t taken the rubble away from the river, they haven’t rebuild the wall, the Sparling Bridge is still closed to the public. What’s that about? If it’s not safe to cross something should have been done to fix it long before now.

“As for insurance, my premium comes in December and I can image it will be massive. There are supposed to be new insurance schemes put in place for communities that have suffered flooding so we will just have to wait to see what happens.”

Ross Cunningham had two businesses flooded during the winter storms, one in the Lake District as well as in his Victoria Street store. He commented: “I’m glad she came back and is giving money to the council for the flood resilience work. It’s vital that the defences for the town are up to the job.

“But to say that the work on the wall will take 12 weeks to complete is crazy as that river could go up again during that time and no one can do anything about it. We have a business over the border that also got flooded and things have happened a lot quicker there.”

Asked what he thought the reason for that was, Mr Cunningham commented: “There seems to be a lack of joined up thinking between the council and the Scottish Government.”

Down Morton’s Entry, Linda McClelland has spent the morning trying to work round television cameras recording the Scottish leader visiting the recently reopened Snips hairdressing salon.

She added: “I do think she’s been helpful. It was a huge help to the town that she came here the very next day (after the flood). People need more information though. It was only today that we heard that the wall is getting rebuilt. Things need to be pushed along more now. I spoke to the First Minister about the difficulty business that were flooded are having getting insurance cover. I told her we are not in a position to pay high premiums and excesses. I said you can’t penalise business for things that are outwith their control. Hopefully she will take that onboard.”

At the Riverside Day Centre, Dr John McDonald, the head of the board, said: “We are delighted she honoured us with a visit. She has extremely good people skills and she took the time to talk to all the members that were here, and she appreciated the importance of the work we are doing here.

“At the time we were indebted to the speedy response of the council and helpers in repairing the damage. Six weeks later we were up and running and I can’t speak highly enough of their response, particularly the clerk of works. We also appreciated the response from the community who helped us empty out the building and also the Celtic Foundation who gave us £5000. But work still needs to be done to make us watertight including rasing the height of the windows.”

Councillor Stephen Hagan, COSLA Spokesperson for Development, Economy and Sustainability said: “Protecting communities is at the heart of what local government does and is the reason why local government has committed this substantial resource for flood protection. Climate change, and the associated increase in flooding events, poses a significant national risk. This is why investment in flood protection schemes and associated infrastructure is critical to protecting vulnerable householders, businesses and communities, and why the strong working relationship between local and Scottish Government is so important.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “More than 10,000 families are to benefit from a ten year strategy to protect homes in many of Scotland’s most flood-prone communities. The plan is the result of grant funding totalling £420 million and follows an agreement reached between the Scottish Government and COSLA. The cash will be used to deliver 40 new flood protection projects and support local flood risk management plans. More than 130 flood protection studies will be carried out to help find potential solutions for another 26,000 residential properties currently at risk.”