Colin Smyth, Chair of the Council’s Economy, Environment and Infrastructure committee, met with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Newton Stewart on Monday to seek assurances over planned funding for the region’s flood protection schemes and to press the case for funding to be extended to smaller communities currently ineligible.
Councillor Smyth welcomed the joint announcement by the First Minister and COSLA of grant funding of £420m over the next ten years to deliver 40 new flood protection schemes across Scotland and sought assurances from the First Minister that the Whitesands, Newton Stewart and Langholm will receive a guaranteed 80 per cent of the projects costs within the timescales for the projects to allow them to be fully completed within the cycle of funding before 2021.
Councillor Smyth also urged the First Minister to take a flexible approach to the funding to meet local needs in areas like Newton Stewart and to revisit the criteria for communities currently excluded from funding. At present funding is only available from the Government for ‘Potentially Vulnerable Areas’, which have to have at least 50 properties at risk of flooding. This means that villages such as Carsphairn, where home owners and businesses were left devastated following the floods, are not eligible for Government funding.
Colin Smyth joined the First Minister as she visited businesses in Newton Stewart. Following the flooding at the start of the year which hit these businesses badly, the First Minister heard how the community was getting back to normal and was briefed on the considerable work taken place to develop a full flood protection scheme for Newton Stewart.
Speaking at Newton Stewart, Colin said, “The announcement from the First Minister and COSLA gives us certainty over the funding for our immediate priority schemes moving forward, so that will allow work to press ahead at a pace to design those schemes. However, during the meeting with the First Minister I raised the need for flexibility in the funding rules and the need to ensure the funding is received by the council so we can deliver the schemes by our target dates (within the next 6 years).
“I relayed my concerns that areas like Carsphairn don’t meet the current Scottish Government and SEPA criteria for funding because they have fewer than 50 properties. On behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council, I asked the Scottish Government and SEPA to rethink this criteria in order to allow us to protect the whole of Dumfries and Galloway.
“A huge amount of work is taking place across the region to develop schemes and we have been working with local communities to put in place local resilience plans. We now have plans in place in the majority of our villages, which means that in times of emergency the local community works alongside our Council to respond. But we cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge and the massive pressure that puts on the council’s resources at a time of huge cuts. We have 2500 square miles to cover in the region and there was hardly a community unaffected by the flooding we saw last December.”
The First Minister announced grant funding of £420 million for the next 10 years. This money will be used to deliver new flood protection projects and support local flood risk management plans.
Dumfries and Galloway Council approved its Local Flood Risk Management Plan in June this year, agreeing the development and delivery of flood protection schemes in Langholm and Newton Stewart as part of the Plan as well as the development and delivery of flood studies in outlying areas such as Creetown, Monaive and Dalbeattie.
During her visit, the First Minister was briefed by local authority representatives on immediate work taken place in Newton Stewart including:
• Riverside road wall repair: Design for the new wall allows the height to be increased for the delivery of a flood protection scheme for Newton Stewart during the first cycle (2016-2022) of the Local Flood Risk Management Plan. Design is completed and the cost of the works is currently being evaluated. The anticipated start date is early August and will take approximately 12 weeks. The existing temporary structure (although it is not visually attractive) is effective, probably more so than the original wall.
• Sparling Bridge: The Council have received confirmation that the bridge requires to be raised by 1.2metres. Preliminary design has been completed with a pre-planning application submitted to the Planning department. Subject to agreement with landowners, the anticipated start date for the works is September / October.
• Stroan Bridge repair / improvements: A range of options are currently being explored in more detail. The Council are mainly considering design options that are aesthetically appropriate to existing surroundings, keeps the road open to traffic as much as possible during construction, avoiding the main tourist season, provide a bit of widening, retaining the open aspect parapet in case of future over topping events etc.
• Cree Bridge: In May the Council undertook maintenance works to the Category A Listed bridge. The work entailed removal of vegetation (ivy and small saplings) from the faces, pointing of joints both here and underneath the arches, re-setting some parapet coping stones and a small amount of wall rebuilding. Moss was also removed by light brushing. Lights were cleaned and are all operational.
• A number of properties have taken advantage of subsidised property level protection products through the Council’s scheme, (In Newton Stewart 26 Residential and another 12 Business have had a property survey). The Council would encourage others to do the same.
SEPA are to implement a flood warning system for the Cree towards the end of 2016, given those at risk time to install property level protection.
Fifty residential and 76 business properties in Newton Stewart received Scottish Government grants through the council to cope with the initial aftermath of the flooding.
• A flood protection scheme for Newton Stewart is being developed by council officers. Data from the December 2015 flooding event is currently being used to update the hydraulic model to update the flood study. The design of the scheme needs to balance an acceptable level of flood protection (minimum likely to be 1:75 year return period) with achieving a positive benefit cost ratio.