LETTER: Bridge could collapse

I WRITE to you with growing concern at the unexpected damage caused in Newton Stewart by the recent floodwaters from the River Cree, which at its height caused the main road bridge to be closed owing to concerns over the integrity of the bridge.

Living just 70 yards above the bridge in Arthur Street, I naturally have a vested interest in the height of the River Cree in flood and its ability to get through the bridge.

For the past 15 years, although witnessing some very big waters, the maximum river level never caused me any concern since it always stopped rising before it actually reached the maximum safe level for the bridge – just below the arches.

In Monday’s flood, leading to high tide the river reached the safe level for the bridge and kept on going for a further 18 inches.

I watched anxiously as water entered our garden – “for the first time in living memory”, we were told. Watching the level rise two inches every half-hour was a very harrowing experience for my my wife and I, though it never actually reached our house. Regrettably, others were not so lucky.

This clearly demonstrates that the bridge is no longer safe from all high water conditions: another 18 inches would have been catastrophic for the town. So the question is: what now?

We can put the reasons for this exceptional event down to global warming or forestry channels or even the questionable decision to site a sewage plant in the centre of town, 50 metres from the river on an important flood plain, but the fact remains that the delicate balance of factors that interact to help control the floodwaters is out of sync.

The bridge itself is now a serious potential contributory factor in the extent of flooding of the town and is a possible disaster in the making. Now this event has happened, it is not beyond the imagination that it will happen again.

The critical factor in all this would seem to be the water level under the bridge. It must be kept between the piers at all water heights below the safety level with room to spare. I would like to see serious dredging carried out to lower the river level – upstream of the bridge and between the bridge and the weir – and for the trees to be cleared below the weir. This should be done sooner rather than later.

What plans does Dumfries and Galloway Council have to address the problems raised by the events in Newton Stewart on Monday and what assurances can be given that these matters will receive the highest priority?

James McDonald,

17 Arthur Street, 
Newton Stewart.