Flood crisis meeting demands assurances

A COUNCILLOR wants assur­ances from Dumfries and Galloway Council that the funds needed to protect homes and businesses along the banks of the River Cree from flooding will not mean Newton Stewart missing out on a new recycling centre.

Following the flooding crisis that swamped the town on November 19 a community task force is to be put in place to coordinate defence measures to protect lives and properties. This was decided at a summit meeting between townspeople, local authority officials and a representative of the Scottish Flood Forum on Wednesday night in the McMillan Hall.

But Mid Galloway Councillor Alistair Geddes said recent events should not mean the town loses out on vital community facilities as a result.

Speaking to The Galloway Gazette yesterday, Councillor Geddes said: “I made it clear after the meeting that this is not a trade-off situation. The household recycling centre is a valuable project in its own right and I will be doing my best to get it approved.

“But I see no reason, once we have quantified the cost of flood defences, that this cannot be funded out of the council’s budget and other external funding sources, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that this is the case.

“Let’s now get on and get it done.”

The meeting heard from a variety of local people who had been affected by the deluge that saw the River Cree rise to its highest level in 50 years and flood the Riverside car park and Arthur Street. Retailers, householders and community leaders at the meeting all pressed council officials about what they were going to do to protect them in future.

Alistair Speedie, the coun­cil’s director of planning and environment services, came in for criticism from Victoria Street business owner Roseanne Lowther, who said she felt Newton Stewart had been neglected by the council. She said she was stunned the council had not put a flood defence scheme in place after serious flooding in 2009.

Mr Speedie said the council was to begin work on a flood defence project for Newton Stewart next week but that would be the long-term solution. First, the project had to be designed, approved and costed before the local authority could apply for funding. But he could not give the meeting any reassurance by giving them a timescale for this happening.

The meeting was chaired by Paul Hedley, from the Scottish Flood Forum, who came to Newton Stewart from working in Stonehaven, which was flooded before Christmas.

Short- and medium-term solutions could include the installation of flood gates and barriers at vulnerable properties and putting in place an early warning system. The community would also have to liaise with the council and SEPA to keep them informed of the state of the infrastructure and report blocked drains or obstructions in the river.

A further meeting will be held on Monday, January 14, at 7pm in the McMillan Hall to formalise a Newton Stewart “flood defence committee”. This group will be a sub-committee of the Cree Valley Community Council but membership will not be restricted to community council members.