Newton Stewart one year on from devastating floods

One year ago this week, Newton Stewart was mopping up following the worst flooding in the town for 60 years.

People were evacuated, businesses left in ruins and infrastructure along the River Cree in need of thousands of pounds of work.

There was concern at one point for the safety of the Sparling Bridge as debris built up creating a massive amount of pressure on the footwalk over the Cree.''GG 2011054 12

There was concern at one point for the safety of the Sparling Bridge as debris built up creating a massive amount of pressure on the footwalk over the Cree.''GG 2011054 12

The town learned a stark lesson about the unpredictability of the river and the need to be more resilient, and efforts have since been made to address this.

One of the worst affected businesses was the Belted Galloway visitor centre in the Riverside car park, which was engulfed by rising water on November 19.

Owner Gordon Andrews said this week the effects are still being felt. “We are still feeling the pinch a year on. We were forced to close for six months and it took us until Whit weekend this year to open again, so that was bound to have an effect and it’s left a huge hole in our takings.”

Of the day itself, Gordon recalled: “It was just like any day, except we’d had a bit more rain and the river was coming up a bit more. The Beltie [Belted Galloway] is on a plinth so we didn’t give the idea that we could flood any credence. Then we watched the river burst its banks outside and flood the car park. It was about 12.30pm when water started to circle the building and we realised we were wrong, so began doing what we could to limit the damage, lifting as much as we could from the floor.”

Flooded out The Belted Galloway Visitor Centre in the riverside car park

Flooded out The Belted Galloway Visitor Centre in the riverside car park

Electrical items such as fridges were ruined, and by 3.30pm the business was abandoned.

Gordon, who had taken his son to Manchester to catch a flight that night, returned to his visitor centre at 4am and found the waters had receded from the car park but when he opened the door to his building, a foot of water poured out.

He said: “We were met with a scene of almost biblical proportions.”

A similar fate awaited Granny’s Kitchen, which sits at the end of the Cree Bridge. With its kitchen wall the only thing that separates it from the Cree, it wasn’t long before the water found its way in.

Owner Carol Smithers, who had only opened the cafe five months before, said: “It wiped us out. Everything in the kitchen had to be stripped right back and started again and it took two of us cleaning, scrubbing, drying it out and starting from scratch before we could open again. We lost seven weeks of trading and it has also trebled our insurance.”

She added that they couldn’t have reopened so quickly without the support of the community.

Dumfries and Galloway Council carried out work to the retaining walls along the river but Carol thinks debris washed down with the flood is now causing levels to rise closer to the building than before.

She said: “There was no work down this side of the river and the stones left seem to have created a sort of fork effect which drives the water towards us.”

The council said in May and June that it had carried out work of clearance and repair to the retaining wall at Riverside Road in order to reduce the risk of flooding.

A spokesperson said: “The works involved repointing and vegetation clearance of approximately 200m of wall, with a further 21m taken down and rebuilt. Non-return valves were installed on 37 drainage outlets to ensure water cannot back-up through the drains or gulleys during flooding.

“The council appointed Kaya Consulting to carry out a flood risk assessment for Newton Stewart and Minnigaff. This study involves hydrological and hydraulic modelling to determine the potential effects of flooding events and to determine potential mitigation measures. Kaya Consulting visited the Cree Valley Flood Action Group earlier this year to explain the modelling procedures and the intended outcomes of the report. The work is still going on. We intend presenting the findings of the final report to the Cree Valley Flood Action Group in early 2014.”