COMMUNITY resilience is the key defence against flooding, experts advised the people of Newton Stewart this week.
With no immediate answer to the threat of floods available from council chiefs following the deluge of last month, it was suggested instead to set up a flood action group in the wake of the disastrous inundation.
At a special meeting called in the town on Wednesday night between councillors, SEPA and Scottish Flood Forum representatives, along with members of Dumfries and Galloway Council, the message delivered was that while council chiefs will review ways to protect the town, residents and business leaders should take care of themselves.
Cree Valley Community Council had called the meeting urgently following hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to the town after the November 19 disaster, which saw homes evacuated and businesses severely damaged as water swamped them.
And looking for a promise of commitment from the council towards flood defence measures, the community council was instead told that the best quick-fix would be to form the action group.
Cree Valley CC chairman John McNaught told the meeting there had been concern over the time taken to realise the severity of the situation, which may have prevented some people from protecting their properties.
Alistair Speedie, director of planning and environment services at D&G council, said that despite serious flooding at the Whitesands in Dumfries on the same day, the council’s only “Flood Pod” had been deployed to Newton Stewart as soon as it was apparent the River Cree was flooding.
Chairman of Newton Stewart Business Association Gordon Andrews, whose Belted Galloway visitor centre suffered £150,000 of damage, said that when he moved to the area 14 years ago, the Whitesands in Dumfries had flooded. He added: “It’s still flooding. Are we to expect a review of Newton Stewart’s flooding and any action thereafter to take the same amount of time?”
Mr Speedie said: “Our weather patterns are changing and Newton Stewart is one of 24 areas within our council area at risk of flooding, and we have to review each of these areas equally.”
When asked if the retaining wall along Riverside Road required to be strengthened, Steven Herriot, head of infrastructure and commissioning at the council, said: “We will be carrying out investigations of it and the bridges but at the minute, there’s nothing to suggest they are in any danger.”
Mike Welsh of SEPA explained that solutions had been considered, but that dredging would weaken the bridges and river banks so is not an option, and added that gravel banks which have formed over the years are not to blame for water displacement as these come and go naturally, and will eventually wash away again.
With no promise of money or defences imminent, Paul Hendry of the Scottish Flood Forum suggested the town form an action group, with the assistance of himself, the council and SEPA, which will see alerts sent out ahead of any expected water rises and allow the group to dish out flood defences such as gates and sandbags, which can be kept locally in a lorry trailer or shed.
He said: “There is an element where we can never stop flooding and, instead, have to find ways to reduce the impact. You need to bring the community together and implement measures which will buy time until a long-term solution can be found to protect the town should this happen again.”
The action group is due to meet on January 9 in the McMillan Hall, and anyone interested in being involved should go along at 7pm.
Meanwhile, council staff will be in Newton Stewart next Monday and Tuesday to offer businesses and homeowners a range of flood defence products. The Scottish Flood Forum will also host a drop-in advice session in the McMillan Hall next Wednesday, December 19, between 3pm and 7pm to offer advice on insurance, builders and flood prevention.