A Newton Stewart businessman whose property has ben the victim of regular flooding problems has branded Dumfries and Galloway Council’s response to last week’s ‘Storm Frank’ crisis “a shambles”.
Gordon Andrews, who owns the belted Galloway Visitor Centre in Riverside Car Park, was speaking at an emergency meeting of Cree Valley community Council in the McMillan Hall on Wednesday evening about the severe flood of December 30.
Mr Andrews raged: “We stayed up all night preparing for this and the council did absolutely nothing. I was told there were sandbags available at their Barnkirk depot but at 5.30am the council told me I could not get any because the river hadn’t burst yet. By 6.30am I was told the flood pod wasn’t available. I then went up to Barnkirk myself to collect sandbags but the depot wasn’t open!”
A council spokesperson replied: “ Members of the Major Emergency Team including the council, fire service, police and coastguard worked round the clock to support communities, from putting in place road closures to keeping people safe to ensuring that our most vulnerable residents were looked after and received the care they needed, including evacuating hundreds of people from their homes and ensuring there were rest centres available for them. This was a massive operation in appalling conditions that really did stretch all agencies.
Over 1300 sandbags were distributed in Newton Stewart and an additional 12 tonnes of sand in larger bags was made available. The locations of where the sandbags were being distributed was advertised on social media. As soon as the bags arrived, they were snapped up. Therefore, to keep up with demand, in addition to the teams making sandbags, vehicles with bags and loose sand were stationed in the town for local people to create their own sandbags.
The depot supervisor from Barnkirk attended the Belted Galloway restaurant at 6.30am and met with the owner. There was no sign of flooding at this time. All calls to the Council are logged. The first call received from the Belted Galloway restaurant requesting sandbags was at 7.12am. By 7.30am, council staff were at the restaurant and sandbagging the property.”
Other business owners at Wednesday night’s meeting also voiced their anger at the lack of sandbag protection in the main street before the River Cree surged up the centre of town after 30 feet of the retaining wall behind the town clock gave way at around 10.30am.
But Cree Valley chairman Tom Greenaway defended the local authority. He said: “In my experience the council staff worked very hard but the scale of this was such that the council couldn’t cope.”
Vice chairman David Inglis added: “There were hundreds of sandbags filled by the council ahead of the flood. When they were all gone they started hand filling more but what happened last week was exceptional - we were all unprepared for that.”
Fire service volunteer ‘Dabby’ McCreadie spoke of the difficulty they had getting riverside residents to realise the gravity of the situation.
He said: “The fire service went round the doors at 8pm the night before advising them to leave but some resident wouldn’t go and you can’t force them. Then the next morning you have to go back and rescue them.”
Mr McCreadie also said that blocked drains in Church Street and Victoria Lane contributed to the flooding. Mid Galloway Councillor Alistair Geddes agreed with him, stating that properties on the west side of Victoria Street “flooded at the back before they flooded at the front”.
Over 30 people packed were into the small meeting room, business owners and residents who had been affected. Many demanded to know what was happening with plans to build a robust flood defence scheme for the town, after a second severe flood in two years.
CVCC member Jim Brown said Dumfries and Galloway Council had a statutory obligation to protect the town and that a lot of work had been done since 2012 on progressing the Newton Stewart scheme, which was now second in the council’s priority list after the Whitesands in Dumfries.
But all the meticulous planning that had gone on with engineers and council officers, all reported regularly to the Cree Valley Community Council, had now been “thrown in disarray”, he said, after the exceptional height the river rose to last Wednesday.
Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm advised that planners now look at the whole of the Cree river basin for the solution.
The speed at which the water rose this time was concerning him.
He advised a multi-authority ‘think tank’ look at ways of holding the water in the hills to slow the rate of flow down into the town.
CVCC member Anthony Berretti mentioned the highly unusual atmospheric conditions associated with Storm Frank, including one of the deepest areas of low pressure ever recorded dumping, in his opinion, the “worst ever amount of precipitation on the Cree Valley”.
He noted: “The part of wall that collapsed didn’t even exist till the mid-70s, and there was no way of stopping that amount of water even if the wall was ten feet high.”
There was also a call for an official collection point for donations. Many organisations, including local primary schools, were keen to donate or put on fundrasing events to help the victims of the floods.