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Last week, I attended the 23rd conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP23, in Bonn. The conference was a platform for me to showcase Scotland as a global leader in tackling climate change, as is indicated by our commitment eight years ago to reduce our emissions by 42 per cent by 2020.
Climate impacts are already evident in Scotland, and climate change is likely to exacerbate the frequency and severity of flood events in Scotland in future. That risk and actions to address it are set out in the Scottish climate change adaptation programme, and today’s debate is an opportunity to review our progress in reducing flood risk and identify continuing challenges.
Climate change increases the likelihood of flooding in future, but of course in many areas flooding is already a reality. Its impacts are devastating beyond description, as I have seen on too many occasions in my constituency. We are approaching the second anniversary of storm Desmond, during which we saw some of the most significant flood events for some time. Reducing flood risk is recognised in the programme for government because of the devastating impacts of flooding.
The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 is tailored to delivering a risk-based, plan-led approach to flood risk management in Scotland. As I look about the chamber, I realise that there are not many members left who recall the passage of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill—although John Scott is indicating that he remembers it well.
The 2009 act was an important piece of legislation because it provided the basis for an improved, modern framework that moved away from tackling flood risk on an ad hoc, reactive basis. An important point is that the 2009 act allocates clear roles and responsibilities for flood risk management in Scotland, providing clarity for the public and the foundation for successful partnership working.
That partnership working between local authorities, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water and others led to the preparation of the 14 flood risk management strategies, which were published in 2015 and which provide the first ever national plan for flood risk management in Scotland, setting out the short-term and longer-term ambition for flood risk management in the country. Across the 14 strategies, 42 formal flood protection schemes or engineering works are proposed for the period 2016 to 2021. The total number of properties that could be protected by those schemes or works is projected to be 10,000.
Since 2008, the Scottish Government has made available funding of £42 million a year to enable local authorities to invest in flood protection schemes. Last year, an agreement was reached between the Scottish ministers and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on a new strategic funding plan for flood protection schemes. The agreement guarantees that, for the next 10 years, the level of flooding capital grant in the local government settlement will be set at a minimum of £42 million a year. That agreement between the Government and COSLA is vital to the good working of the 2009 act.
I well remember the terrible flooding that Elgin experienced. As it happens, I think that I signed off on the plan in the first place; it is a testament to the length of time that it takes for schemes to be put in place that I was back in the same role to formally open the flood protection works more recently. I know what a difference such works make and how important it is for individuals, businesses and communities in areas such as Elgin to see work taking place.
A key part of increasing resilience has been the development of the Scottish flood forecasting service, which is a partnership between SEPA and the Met Office. The service provides local responders with a five-day outlook on the potential flood risk. Responders have highlighted that it is an invaluable tool that enables them to identify when they need to be ready and gives an indication of the likely duration of the event. That means that responders can consider their resources and decide whether recovery efforts might be required.
SEPA also operates floodline, which has more than 26,000 customers. The receipt of a flood warning through floodline gives householders time to take action, such as installing floodgates or considering alternative travel plans.
Last night’s weather showed the value of that investment. SEPA was actively engaged in supporting responders in the north of Scotland and flood warnings were issued to the communities in Easter Ross and the Great Glen. That effort will continue overnight, as further rain is expected.
Alongside those measures, the Scottish flood forum has helped communities to build flood resilience and assist those who, unfortunately, have been flooded. The Scottish Government provides financial support for the forum, enabling it to offer free advice about property-level protection measures. Any member who has had flooding events in their constituency will know that the Scottish flood forum is there on the ground almost immediately to give that help.
Historically, householders in flood-prone areas have had difficulty getting affordable flood insurance. The launch in 2016 of Flood Re, which ensures that household flood insurance remains widely available and affordable, was a major milestone.
I encourage all members to raise awareness in their areas about the free services that are offered through floodline and the flood forum and about the availability of Flood Re. It is really important that people know that those services are available to help them.
Another part of our success in flood risk management has been Scotland’s leading role in piloting and developing approaches to natural flood management. We are supporting the long-term Eddleston water project, which is developing an evidence base to improve our understanding and persuade practitioners, planners and land managers of the case for natural flood management. Needless to say, some of the money that we have used to do that, through Interreg, has come from the European Union, and I am a little concerned about the availability of such funds in the future.
We are making progress and we have a clear, ambitious programme of work to do. However, we must recognise that there are still challenges to face. I do not want to pretend that our programme is a fix for absolutely everything. One big challenge arises along our coasts. Rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion and erosion-enhanced flooding will progressively impact Scotland’s soft coastlines, its assets and its communities. Our first step towards getting a better understanding of coastal erosion was provided by the dynamic coast project, which I launched in August. We now know that we can expect faster and more extensive erosion than we have been used to and that erosion will increasingly affect all asset types: buildings, infrastructure, and cultural and natural heritage. We have a window of opportunity in which to plan, mitigate and adapt in advance of greater impacts, but that will require cross-sector and integrated adaptation and mitigation planning.
One way to address coastal erosion at Montrose might be a sand engine. Is the Scottish Government investigating that option? If not, why not? If so, will the Scottish Government commit to covering the cost?
I am well aware of the difficulties at Montrose and I know that a great deal of work is currently under way to identify the best option for dealing with the problem there. Whether the option that Mr Kerr raises is the best option, I cannot say, because that work has not yet been completed. What is important is for us to establish how to deal with the problem and then to move on from there.
One of the greatest impacts on the health of people who experience flooding happens when they have to leave their homes. Preliminary results from a social impact study that we commissioned after the Aberdeenshire floods in 2015 showed that two thirds of respondents were in temporary accommodation for more than six months. The financial and social impact on people’s daily lives was enormous. The challenge is to ensure that if—or when—a property floods, it is made more resilient to floodwater. We must start to think about making changes following a flood. We cannot aim to go back to normal; we must aim to go back to better.
We are working with stakeholders, including the building and insurance industries, to develop an action plan to promote the need for flood-resilient properties. That can mean introducing resilient materials and using different construction methods for our homes and business premises. Often, the outcome is less damage to the building, less cost, and less time spent in temporary accommodation. It is important that that work is done. All the information that we are gathering helps us to better understand the social vulnerabilities associated with flooding, which allows SEPA to take account of those in its flood risk assessments and action prioritisation methodology. The information is also a powerful tool for local authorities.
We also need to spend some time considering surface water management, and, connected to that, sewer flooding—an issue that I know is dear to John Scott’s heart. The sewerage network is a combined system, draining both sewage and surface water from properties and roads, so sewer flooding can occur following heavy rainfall events. There are a number of reasons for that, although the majority of them tend to relate to people putting inappropriate objects into the sewerage system. Around 70 per cent of sewer flooding events are caused by that, so a bit of work needs to be done there.
I see that I am coming to the end of my time.
We are constantly aware that flooding is a traumatic event that causes damage, destruction and distress to communities, individuals and businesses. We cannot always stop flooding, but we can make sure that we are prepared to do what we can to reduce the risk and, when flooding occurs, support those who are affected.
We are making progress. Together, we have delivered the first set of flood risk strategies and are supporting their delivery. I acknowledge that an enormous amount of leadership has gone into that and that there has been a huge amount of collective engagement. The 2009 act introduced a brand-new approach in comparison with what we had before. It has been an innovative and amazing journey from the act to the first national flood risk assessment and on to the strategies and their delivery. I look forward to future engagement with partners over the second flood risk management planning cycle as we look to what the future will bring with regard to the problem of flooding.
That the Parliament recognises that efforts to reduce flood risk are a vital part of the Scottish Government’s adaptation to a changing climate and are needed to provide a foundation for sustainable economic growth and thriving communities; agrees that the risk-based, plan-led, multi-agency partnership approach, as introduced by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009, has led to a better understanding of the causes and impacts of flooding, and consequently enabled significant progress towards delivering sustainable management of flood risk in Scotland, and further recognises the work of local authorities, Scottish Water, SEPA and other partners to deliver new flood protection schemes, Floodline, the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service and advances in property level protection, which are providing protection to Scotland’s communities and increasing their resilience.
I declare an interest as a partner in a farming partnership; I also have an interest in a wild salmon fishery.
I welcome today’s debate on working in partnership to reduce flood risk across Scotland, and I state at the outset that the Scottish Conservatives will be happy to support the Government’s motion. However, given the increasing rate of climate change, it is vital that the Scottish Government considers
“all measures of slowing down water transfer from the land to rivers throughout the catchment”, as is noted in our amendment.
Every member knows how much flooding can devastate the lives of our constituents, with damage to property, destruction of crops, disruption of energy supplies and, in seven cases, the tragic loss of life. Although no Government can stop flooding, Governments can and must find practical methods of managing flood water.
King Canute proved that we cannot stop the tide, and we need actions, not words, when it comes to flooding. Managing floods is a centuries-old battle that humans have often fought and lost because they underestimate the power of water.
As the climate changes, we need to take account of flash floods, which are, by their nature, unpredictable. The combination of flash floods and high tides means that although pouring concrete and armouring river banks are a visible solution, those measures seldom provide the best answer.
We need to look further afield for solutions. Managing flood plains to allow them to do what they are supposed to do, rather than using them for housing, would be a good start.
SEPA estimates that the annual average cost of flood damage in Inverness stands at £5.6 million. I therefore welcome the Inverness flood alleviation scheme, which was made possible by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. It will protect 800 homes and 200 businesses in the city. However, communities and businesses in Inverness are rightly concerned that the costs have spiralled by £3.1 million over the original budget—an increase of almost 9 per cent on the planned costs. Residents rightly expect and want the best flood protections but at the best price, and a lesson needs to be learned from that scheme. The most expensive scheme is often not the best option.
We need to be realistic, so I am pleased to see that there is now acceptance that flood prevention can be a combination of speeding up the flow of water down watercourses and delaying water getting into those watercourses. That acceptance means that we need to consider whether forestry, for example, can play a part.
Do forests speed up drainage? They probably do. Soil pans under trees, and ditches keep water from trees and are needed in forestry plantations. Planting and harvesting, however, often create vertical tracts that become good natural drains. Good practice should have stopped this, but when I drive around the countryside in the Highlands and Islands I see plenty of examples of water moving too quickly through woodlands and down to watercourses, increasing the risk of flooding, acidification and silt deposits.
EU agricultural policy has always prioritised farming, with pan-European objectives. With the United Kingdom leaving the EU, we now have an opportunity to redesign our agricultural support systems. Perhaps we should be looking at subsidies that compensate farmers if their land is used as an emergency planned flooding catchment area at times of high rainfall.
It seems to be fashionable to point the finger of blame for flooding at the management of upland areas. What is important in the management of those areas is that we have a range of habitats—to be technical, plagio climax and climax vegetation as well as pioneer vegetation are required. That needs management, and experience tells me that muirburn will play a part in it. Furthermore, we need to ensure that the uplands are grazed in such a way as to prevent damage to fragile soils and peat bogs. That means controlling all grazing animals, not just deer. A holistic and balanced approach is what we need.
I would like to mention watercourse management. Experience tells me that allowing rivers to become shallow through gravel deposits or clogged up with weeds means that they can hold less water—it really is that simple. Surely it is time to investigate whether the dredging of rivers should be viewed just as we view the dredging of ditches and drains: as a natural and effective management tool.
I would also like to mention the management of water. Perhaps we need to rethink the management of our lochs and reservoirs. For example, having the ability to raise the water level in Loch Ness at times of high rainfall would prevent flooding downstream. To give members a really simple example, if the water level of Loch Ness was raised by just 2 inches, those 2 inches would be spread over 56.4km2
. It would make a massive sink that held water before it drained down into the river. I will leave members to do the maths, but I can tell them that that is a huge amount of water, and that taking such action would have reduced flooding in Inverness.
It has also become fashionable—rightly so—to increase the use of green energy. Wind turbines, which cover many of our hills, provide clean, green energy. However, members should be under no illusion: wind turbines add to flooding risks. We should not forget that under each turbine is between 250m3 to 420m3 of concrete to hold them up. That means that each turbine base removes the same amount of peat—or sponge, if you will—and concrete does not absorb water. That is not all: wind farms need good access tracks—miles and miles of them. Roads cause water to be pushed into drainage ditches, which flow into watercourses—and that is a true example of how we speed up water reaching our rivers. Are we managing that in the best way that we can?
I am sure that the Scottish Government recognises that it is not about how much concrete we pour, how high we build defence walls, or how deep we dredge a river. If there is a tidal surge or hard rainfall, we must make space for the water with more natural management schemes to slow down the speed at which that water reaches the choke points and, more importantly, the speed at which it reaches our conurbations.
I move amendment S5M-09019.1, to insert after “flood risk in Scotland”:
“; considers that, given the increasing rate of climate change, the importance of considering all measures of slowing down water transfer from the land to rivers throughout the catchment is vital”.
Scottish Labour will be supporting the Scottish Government motion today, with the emphasis that it places on and the respect that it shows for partnership working. However, our amendment is intended to highlight some issues that need to be addressed on an on-going basis if we are to truly tackle the flooding challenges we will face together over the coming years. We will also be supporting the Tory amendment, with its climate change focus.
Over the past two weeks, climate change has been placed at the centre of global diplomacy. Indeed, the cabinet secretary attended the deliberations in Bonn. The Paris agreement saw us reach international consensus that climate change is our shared threat and responsibility, but now that the international community has spoken on this, it must deliver on those promises, and the nationally determined contributions—which are known to be insufficient—must be re-examined for greater ambition and equity.
This year, the world has faced a deluge of extreme weather caused by climate change, the cost of which is estimated to be $200 billion.
Scotland has hunkered down for the tail end of some hurricanes, but the country’s main threat from a changing climate is heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding. Since 1961, Scotland’s average annual precipitation rate has risen by 27 per cent.
Our amendment stresses that there must be
“adequate research commissioned to assess the implications of climate change on flooding policy”.
“Whilst we don’t have specific research on the impact of the lower density woodland associated with agroforestry systems, we would still expect woodlands of this type to be beneficial for water management.”
Further research is needed, and it may well be happening, but I make that point to emphasise that we must identify ways in which flood protection and better flood management can be based on science.
Regularity of reviews of planning, mapping and flood-related strategies is also essential. Planning has a part to play when considering working in partnership to reduce flood risk. I have an example from my region where agricultural permitted development rights were used—inappropriately, in my view—to exploit the planning system in respect of flood risk, as such applications do not need planning permission and SEPA has no remit. SEPA expressed to me its concern about a decision to grant a housing application on appeal, but it recognised that due process had been followed. It stated:
“it was our judgement that the proposal constituted development within the undeveloped/sparsely developed floodplain (as defined by the 200 year flood extent) and therefore was unacceptable as the land raising works undertaken by the applicant resulted in the loss of floodplain storage/conveyance.”
In challenging times for flooding issues, that loophole should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Our amendment also recognises that
“no communities, whether urban or rural, should be left behind in these developments”.
Action must be inclusive and must support those in challenged communities, small as well as large.
Does Claudia Beamish recognise that there are also concerns about farmers and others putting in drainage that causes natural flood plains to dry out, so that if water has to go on to them at a later date the hard ground is less able to absorb the water? Does she acknowledge that there is a difficult and interlocking set of issues here?
I absolutely agree with Stewart Stevenson, whose point is well made. There is also the issue, on a much smaller scale, of concreting over driveways in gardens.
The 10-year funding for potentially vulnerable areas will be vital to help address national-scale flood issues. However, not all locations at flood risk are eligible for that funding, including small groups of less than 50 properties. That is the case in Carsphairn in Dumfries and Galloway, which is regularly hit by flooding. In 2016, the First Minister made a commitment to my colleague Colin Smyth that the Government would work with SEPA to review the situation. I very much hope that that is going to be done and I would welcome an update.
It is right that an ecosystems approach to flooding is promoted in the land use strategy, which I believe should be given more weight. Flooding needs to be tackled with natural resources and ecosystems in mind. As the Tory amendment makes clear, man-made flood defences have a part to play, but the Scottish Government must maximise our resilience, and is doing so, through sustainable land and water management.
In my region of South Scotland, the Tweed Forum is a stellar example of partnership working and sustainable flood prevention. With its membership of public bodies, local stakeholders and non-governmental organisations, the forum has enhanced and protected the natural, built and cultural heritage of the River Tweed and its tributaries, using catchment management with its two interlinked strategic aims. That has implications for the co-operation fund under pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy as we move beyond Brexit.
As our amendment states, partnership working, if it is really to work, must have the funding that it needs. This year, SEPA has faced a budget cut of £1.8 million, and I hope that that cut will not affect flooding priorities at all. Similarly, reliable funding is essential for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, whose budget has been reduced again this year, with cuts of £19.4 million. It is challenging to keep up to date with the new equipment that is needed and with organised flood response working groups, such as the one in Lanark, in my region, which cannot function effectively if there is a risk of closure of local fire stations. Further, will the cut to local authorities’ budgets affect flooding? I do not want to be negative about these issues, but it is vitally important that there is adequate funding.
Just yesterday, in our Parliament chat room, pupils from Earlston high school recounted to me how, in times of rain, their school car park has been so flooded that cars have been swept along. That brings me full circle to the necessity of research to inform regular reviews of the relevant strategies for all ranges of flood prevention in order to protect our citizens now and in the future.
I move amendment S5M-09019.2, to insert at end:
“; believes that no communities, whether urban or rural, should be left behind in these developments; considers that the Scottish Government must ensure that there is adequate research commissioned to assess the implications of climate change on flooding policy and that the strategies and sustainable management of flood risk are regularly reviewed, and believes that there must be adequate funding to ensure that the range of flooding interventions and policies can be taken forward."
Over recent years, large-scale incidents have brought home to people the severe impacts that flooding can have on communities across the country—not only in the direct, immediate and residual physical impacts of the flooding but in the subsequent effect on insurance premiums. My constituency has managed to escape relatively lightly. We have largely tended to suffer only relatively small-scale, localised events. However, the extent to which the effects of climate change are being felt is clear from elsewhere in Scotland, including Ellon, in my colleague Gillian Martin’s constituency. Of course, good progress is being made as we seek to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the impacts of climate change are with us now and are not going away.
Significant steps are already being taken across the country to try to reduce the threat of flooding to homes and businesses. However, whatever man-made or natural flood defences we deploy, we will never entirely put a stop to flooding. Many of our citizens live in or have businesses in areas that are prone to being impacted, with all the trauma and upset that that causes. With that, of course, comes the added subsequent difficulty of securing affordable insurance. In accordance with the urgings of the cabinet secretary, I therefore want to highlight the work of Flood Re, the first scheme of its kind in the world. The scheme will be in place for a further 23 years and is designed to enable flood cover to be affordable to those households that are at the highest risk of flooding and to increase the availability and choice of insurers for customers.
Before the introduction of Flood Re, only 9 per cent of householders who had made prior flood claims could get quotes from two or more insurers, and none was able to get quotes from five or more. In the first month of the scheme’s operation, that number rose dramatically, with 68 per cent of those households being able to get quotes from five or more insurers. By December 2016, that figure had increased further, with 84 per cent being able to get quotes from five or more insurers and 95 per cent being able to get quotes from two or more. At launch, 16 insurance providers were signed up to the scheme, and that number has now increased to 60, which represents 90 per cent of the home insurance market. That is extremely good news for everyone who lives in areas that are prone to such events, and we should acknowledge it as such.
When Lord Krebs, of the adaptation sub-committee of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, appeared before the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, he made clear that homes that were restored under Flood Re should be restored in a more resilient way so that the properties will be insurable and the problems will be more manageable if the properties are flooded again.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to working, via the national centre for resilience, with stakeholders including the Association of British Insurers, the Building Standards Agency, the Scottish Flood Forum and ClimateXChange to encourage resilient home repairs after a flood and to provide the most up-to-date information about techniques and materials to householders.
Although we cannot, of course, control the weather, we can mitigate its impact on our communities. Various stakeholders are responsible for minimising the risk of flood damage, including the Government, councils, householders and neighbours, who all have roles to play. Although some councils, such as Perth and Kinross Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council, provide people who are at high risk of flooding with grants for property-level protection measures, such as barriers for doorways, that is not uniform.
Another organisation that I would like to pay tribute to is the Scottish Flood Forum. It is a Scottish Government-funded charity that provides support for and represents those who are, or are at risk of being, affected by flooding. I have found the forum to be a great help in dealing with constituency cases that are admittedly low level but are nonetheless important to those concerned. Rather like Flood Re, the Scottish Flood Forum plays an important role.
I will conclude by focusing on the role that major engineered flood defences can have in improving the lives of those who live or work in areas that are prone to significant and traumatic flooding.
Just over a year ago, the cabinet secretary visited Brechin in my colleague Mairi Gougeon’s constituency to open the town’s new flood defence scheme. It provides a one-in-200-year current-day standard of defence and includes direct defences, flood embankments, flood walls, upgrades to the existing surface water drainage system, work on the Denburn culvert and the installation of three submerged pump stations. Even before it was completed, it had proved its worth as, during construction, it helped protect the town twice from potential flooding.
The proposed Brothock water flood prevention scheme in my constituency was last year prioritised by SEPA as one of 42 projects for Scottish Government funding and I look forward to the scheme progressing. Once it has been completed, 530 people will no longer be at risk from flooding, and damage that costs approximately £840,000 each year will be prevented.
I welcome the steps that are being taken to mitigate flood damage and to help people to move on from flooding, and I look forward to further effective measures being taken as our understanding of how best to meet flooding challenges improves.
I declare an interest in the debate as a farmer, although I have not yet been affected by flooding.
It feels very much like groundhog day for me and, I suspect, for the cabinet secretary, as we are survivors of the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill in 2008 and 2009. Eight years on, the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 has served its purpose well. Many of the matters that were under consideration then are still under discussion, and now require to be taken on to the next stage.
Without hesitation, we welcome the Government’s intention to increase the budget that is allocated for natural assets and flooding. We welcome the 22.3 per cent increase in the river basin management budget and note that the level 3 coasts and flood budget has been maintained at £1.2 million. However, we regret that SEPA’s budget has been cut from £37 million to £35.9 million and, notwithstanding the cabinet secretary’s remarks, that intended budget reduction requires further explanation. As I said, we note the maintenance of the coasts and flood budget, but that is an area in which we might have to shoulder significant increases in the future to prevent coastal erosion and inundation.
In the evidence taking for the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill in 2008 and 2009, the evidence that was then available from the Met Office predicted a sea level rise of up to 75cm by 2080. However, that estimate is now being viewed as a conservative one, given the report in
Business Insider of the prediction last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of an 8-foot to 10-foot sea level rise. Although land and river flooding has the potential to inflict massive damage on cities such as Perth, those threats pale into insignificance when compared to the threat of the rise in sea level to our children and grandchildren living in coastal towns and cities.
Regrettably, at some point, we in Scotland might have to decide which areas we will allow to be reclaimed by the sea and which we will endeavour to protect. I suggest that such strategic thinking should be taking place now by the Government, SEPA, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, COSLA and us all. A national debate on the threat will not solve the problem, but it will, at least, focus minds.
I turn to land-based flooding and river basin management, which is an area in which, again, there is a finite limit to hard flood mitigation measures. There is only so much concrete that we can use and afford, so we need to look again at the use of natural capital. That point was made in recommendation 13 of the stage 1 report for the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill in 2009 and I reiterate that we now have to do more with, and use more imaginatively, upstream flood plains and landscapes to take the peaks off floods that have inflicted so much damage in the past.
Sophisticated hydrology to achieve that is still at least part of the solution to the growing need, and land managers should continue to be encouraged to help with that as an identifiable public good in a post-Brexit Scotland. Also on that subject, the illegal release of beavers in the Tay catchment area only makes a difficult situation much worse. Managed landscapes and managed hydrology will perhaps provide long-term protection for the citizens in the Tay catchment area. However, the uncontrolled introduction of beavers will only reduce the ability of hydrologists and land managers to use natural capital and landscape assets to provide necessary flood protection.
No debate on flooding could pass without me mentioning internal and external flooding issues in Prestwick. The cabinet secretary mentioned those, and I am grateful to her for meeting me on the subject yesterday afternoon and for senior Scottish Water officials meeting with me on 8 November. I welcome their acknowledgement of the problem and the now established need to work collaboratively with South Ayrshire Council and other partners to create an integrated drainage and surface water management plan in the longer term for my constituents, in response to the rainfall-driven sewer flooding problems, which Scottish Water is also trying to address immediately. Of course, that will require millions of pounds of funding, which is where the Scottish Government can help. I again ask the cabinet secretary to see what she can do in that regard to help my constituents.
The 2009 act has made a start on addressing flooding issues in Scotland, but it will need to be built on and enhanced to deal with future problems.
In 2016, my constituency was ravaged by flooding that was the culmination of heavy rains over the Christmas and new year period. We had avoided the terrible flooding that took place at new year in Mr Burnett’s constituency on the west side of Aberdeenshire but, early on the morning of 8 January, people from Port Elphinstone and Keith Hall, as well as people from 96 homes in Inverurie and 65 homes in Ellon and many families in Methlick, were rescued from their homes—some in boats—and evacuated to local schools that opened their doors. Many more towns and villages also suffered flood damage.
I will talk about the long-term aftermath of a flood. People face a long and difficult road to getting back into their home, but the effects of a flood last a lot longer than it takes to refurnish a house, although that took up to a year for some people in my constituency. People live with the long-term anxiety about flooding happening again, which is why the debate is important. People want to know that we have a strategy to prevent flooding, and I am sure that the words of the cabinet secretary outlining the substantial flood strategy are welcomed.
Port Elphinstone, Inverurie and Ellon, which were badly hit, are included in the on-going flood protection studies around the rivers Don, Urie and Ythan. The results of those studies will inform the decisions on whether flood protection schemes for the areas that I have mentioned are the way forward, as they have been for Elgin and Stonehaven, which escaped the ravages of storm Desmond in 2016.
In the months after the floods, I discovered that on-going communication with residents is absolutely vital, but it is also missing. Just as vital is partnership working between the Government, local authorities, SEPA, river management groups, landowners, farmers and Scottish Water. In Port Elphinstone, the River Don burst through a protective bund. Drains could not cope and a privately owned canal called the lade overflowed, all of which converged to drive people out of their homes. SEPA has a role relating to the river, the local authority has responsibility for the flood protection bunds, Scottish Water is responsible for the drains and there is a stretch of water that is owned by a private company.
In the months and years after the event, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to get everyone responsible for all the pieces of the Port Elphinstone flooding jigsaw in the same room to talk to residents. One difficulty has been that residents are not informed when repair or flood management work is being carried out. Neither I nor my office staff will forget the day when Port Elphinstone residents woke up to find a channel of the canal filled in with soil. That was an attempt by the private owner to manage the canal. It said that it had taken advice from SEPA, which it had done, but it had neglected to inform the residents who lived next to the canal. When flood management decisions are taken, everyone must work together, but we cannot forget that the residents are suffering trauma and it is vital that they are kept in the loop.
In talking about flood prevention, I recognise the work of the peatland action initiative. The situation in Ellon, Methlick, Inverurie and other areas of my constituency was caused by heavy rainfall saturating fields that could not soak up any more and rivers bursting their banks, along with a temperature change that meant that, further upstream, there was water where there was once ice and snow. In our peatlands, we have a natural resource that is vital in soaking up excess water and, in Scotland, we have 4 per cent of the world’s peatlands. Not only do they hold 140 years’ worth of carbon emissions—as we know, such emissions are leading to global temperature rises and contributing to flood events—but the sphagnum moss in peatlands can hold up to 25 times the amount of water that a kitchen sponge can hold.
The terrain of our mountains and hills is key to flood prevention. When sphagnum mosses and heather, are allowed to generate, they hold water in the hills for longer and reduce peak flows downstream during high-rainfall events. It is, therefore, not just about how we deal with flood events when they happen but the environmental work that we do now to reduce the amount of water that makes its way downstream to cause a flooding event. Restoration of our nation’s peatlands is a good start but we cannot ignore the long-term strategy—the climate change plan, which is a testament to how seriously the Scottish Government is dealing with the environmental causes of flooding.
As we have heard, it is just two years since heavy rainfall and winter storms brought disastrous flooding to parts of Aberdeen and the north-east. As we go into another winter, the question that many people will ask is whether there has been real and fundamental change that can give them confidence that such a disaster will not happen again.
Two years ago, following storm Frank, hundreds of properties were flooded, serious damage was caused and many people suffered trauma and material loss as a result. A lot of the coverage was, rightly, of the effects on the upper reaches of the River Dee and the River Don. Ballater, Inverurie and Kemnay were all affected, but there were also impacts on the city of Aberdeen at the other end of the River Dee, where sheltered housing had to be evacuated at the Bridge of Dee and there were floods elsewhere in the city.
There was, rightly, a lot of focus on the efforts of local communities to help themselves and on fantastic charitable efforts such as hope floats, which involved some of the same people who are involved with the Aberdeen solidarity with refugees campaign—which makes the point that community engagement works at home as well as abroad.
Today’s debate highlights the role of public agencies such as SEPA, local authorities, Scottish Water and the Scottish Government, but public agencies cannot deliver flood recovery or flood resilience unless they take communities and local people with them.
Flooding in North East Scotland is nothing new, nor is it confined to major rivers such as the Dee and the Don. As Gillian Martin said, Stonehaven was fortunate two years ago, but it has perhaps had the most frequent damage from rain and floods over the years, with flooding from the Carron Water and the Cowie Water, landslips on the Bervie Braes and coastal flooding from North Sea storms.
The flood protection scheme that Aberdeenshire Council is taking forward at Stonehaven is intended to provide protection for nearly 400 homes against a one-in-200-year flooding event. It will cost £16 million and is due to be completed in 2020. That is a welcome initiative, but the reality is that more and more homes and businesses are at risk of flooding, and councils need resources as well as a partnership approach to meet the needs of the communities in question.
The reason for the increasing risk is climate change, as has been highlighted.
If the member is making the point that local authorities in the north-east and across Scotland need more support from the Scottish Government, of course, I echo that. However, if he is suggesting that flood prevention and flood risk are not recognised as high priorities for local authorities, I take a different view. Nevertheless, I think that I support the main point that he is making.
Dame Julia Slingo recently told the Royal Society of Edinburgh:
“An extended period of extreme UK winter rainfall is now seven times more likely than in a world without human emissions of greenhouse gases.”
It is seven times more likely because of climate change, and that will only get worse over the next few decades, even if the rate of production of greenhouse gases is significantly reduced. In other words, planning for lower carbon emissions while dealing with the flood risks that we know about now will not be enough; we also need to mitigate the increased risks of more frequent and severe floods for the foreseeable future, which means providing the resources to communities and public agencies to allow them to play their part.
I was fortunate enough to be an environment minister some 12 years ago when the then Scottish Executive was able to take a major step forward in flood hazard mapping technology. Three-dimensional mapping of the whole of Scotland underpinned the development of higher-resolution river and coastal flood hazard maps than had previously been available. Since then, the data and modelling methodologies have been improved further, as the cabinet secretary said, to allow, for example, surface water risk maps to be published three or four years ago.
It was good to be involved at a key stage in the development of what is now a sophisticated flood risk management system, but more needs to be done. High-quality digital terrain models are now available, which can help to bring assessment of coastal and surface water risks up to the levels already achieved for rivers. As the cabinet secretary mentioned, new technologies can also help us to assess the state of sewers and culverted burns in urban areas. That is important for me, as a resident of Aberdeen, but it is also important in other towns and cities.
There are currently more than 100,000 properties at risk of flooding across Scotland, and SEPA estimates that the number will rise by 60,000 by 2080 due to the impact of climate change. That is a lot of extra risk, and a lot of public expenditure will be required.
We know that, whatever flood prevention schemes and early warning schemes are put in place, flooding will happen. That is why we also need to improve household and community resilience. Despite the vulnerability of many properties to flooding, the number of people without flood insurance is higher in Scotland than it is in England—it is more than 22 per cent of households, or nearly two in every nine. Not only that, but the lack of insurance is unequal. More than half of the lowest-income households are not insured against flooding. Tenants in rented properties often have no contents insurance, while some private landlords see no need to pay for buildings insurance for those buildings. As Roseanna Cunningham mentioned, insurance providers have developed schemes to reduce premiums in high-risk areas, but that does not help those who are not insured.
There is an urgent need for the Government to look at that issue. I hope that we will hear a little from the minister this afternoon on what more can be done to ensure that poorer households have the cover that they need. That must be part of planning for future flood risk management along with the other things that have been mentioned.
I welcome the opportunity to debate flooding. It is far better to debate it now than to do so in the political maelstrom of a flooding crisis, of which there have been a few in the chamber over the years.
We have heard the SEPA estimate that 108,000 properties in Scotland are presently at risk, and we have heard from the cabinet secretary that 40 flood protection projects are being funded by the Scottish Government—a welcome investment that is utilising a £42 million capital budget. However, that will support and protect only 10,000 properties by 2026, so more than 90 per cent of the properties that are at risk will receive no protection. By the time we get to 2026, the number of houses that are at risk will be dramatically revised upwards. We have heard from Lewis Macdonald that SEPA has estimated that we could be looking at yet another 60,000 properties being at risk by 2080.
I am starting to see the impact of a lack of available capital funds on the ground. In Stirling Council, multiple competing projects for flood protection work were put forward for Scottish Government funding. Some, such as that in Bridge of Allan, have been successful in squeezing through the funding formula and the local communities are very grateful for that. However, the low number of residential properties in many smaller rural settlements weighs against them. In the case of Aberfoyle, repeated flooding, year after year, was starting to rip the economic heart out of the town and devastate public services such as the school, but the low number of residential properties kicked the possibility of Scottish Government funding out of reach. I am concerned that, although we cannot protect everything everywhere, a constrained funding model is leaving some communities behind or placing an impossible strain on councils, which have to choose between maintaining roads and building flood walls.
I am under no illusion that hard-engineering measures alone will provide the total solution. Sensible planning decisions like not building on flood plains such as Bridge of Allan’s Airthrey Kerse need to be made by planning authorities and backed up by the planning minister. We also need to take natural flood management more seriously. When the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed, there were concerns that natural flood management would not be embedded enough in the solutions and projects that would come from that new holistic approach. Going back to the example of Aberfoyle, Stirling Council recently led a big piece of work to look at how such an approach could be used to reduce significantly the extent and, therefore, the cost of the hard defence measures in the town. The stumbling block was that landowners did not buy into an approach that, ultimately, would have saved taxpayers money and helped to save the town. With the land use strategy now quietly introduced, the Government must ensure that land that does not deliver public goods such as flood prevention does not get public subsidy.
The closure of the environmental co-operation action fund means that there is little support for farmers to co-operate on a catchment scale. The new rural innovation support service could fill that gap over time, but it has funding only for research and development.
I agree that the lands that deliver public goods should be the ones to get Government subsidies, but the difficulty is in ensuring that any subsidy meets the cost of losing lands to flood plains. Can the member see a way around that?
That comes back to the definition of what public goods are. We need to have a debate in the Parliament about how we value natural capital. I would like to see farmers rewarded for the public goods that they deliver, and natural capital is a way to achieve that. However, we need to have a debate in the chamber about the purpose of agricultural subsidies post-Brexit. We have not had a full debate on that subject, and I would very much like the cabinet secretary, Fergus Ewing, to come to the chamber and debate that issue with the member and me.
When land managers get it right—we have heard about the Eddleston Water project—they can protect communities, but when they get it wrong, the public sector picks up the bill. In 2012, the dramatic floods in Dunblane and Bridge of Allan were caused, in part, by a farmer ploughing fields in the wrong direction. That was a simple thing to do but the result was catastrophic.
We have also seen zero successful applications for agroforestry grants, with the budget now having been cut as a result. Why is that? Where is the driver for natural flood management that should be resulting in dozens of applications for riparian planting schemes?
I hope that the cabinet secretary will have three conversations with Cabinet colleagues on the back of the debate. One should be with Derek Mackay about the long-term sustainability of an infrastructure fund that protects only 10 per cent of homes from flooding; another conversation should be with Kevin Stewart about the need for consistent planning decisions that do not make this expensive crisis even more costly; and a third conversation should be with Fergus Ewing about making sure that the land use strategy is being realised on the ground, because, right now, expectations on land managers are low and the delivery is dismal in many areas.
Once again, we have before us an are-we-not-doing-well sort of motion that we are all supposed to support—and why should we not support a motion that says:
“the risk-based, plan-led, multi-agency partnership approach” to tackle flooding is the way forward. Of course it is, and the Liberal Democrats will support the motion in tonight’s vote, as we will support the Conservative and Labour amendments. Everything seems so sensible this afternoon. [
.] Thank you, Mr Crawford—just wait.
However, we would not be doing our job as Opposition MSPs if we did not hold the Government to account for its actions, or lack of them, and that is exactly what I aim to do in my contribution to this debate.
Communities in the north-east have suffered from severe flooding several times over recent years. Major flooding events have occurred in Ballater, Aboyne, Stonehaven, Kemnay, Inverurie and Huntly, to name just a few towns and villages that have been affected across the north-east.
I will concentrate on the issue of Government funding for flood defences, but I would not want the minister to think that it is just me that is criticising the Government’s actions on this issue. A lack of time prevents me from referring to more than one report, but on 3 January 2016,
The Scotsman reported:
“John Swinney said the Scottish Government had provided flood defences to communities the ‘length and breadth’ of Scotland as he defended budget cuts to the country’s environment agency.
Mr Swinney faced stinging criticism yesterday for reducing funding for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency ... by 6 per cent, from £39 million” to £36 million in the 2016-17 budget.
Ten years ago in 2007, when the current Scottish National Party Government came to power—I hope that it will not be there for much longer—it transferred responsibility for flood defences from itself to our local authorities.
In opening the debate, the cabinet secretary said proudly that the Scottish Government has provided £42 million a year for tackling the issue through the local government settlement for local authorities, but nine years ago, back in 2008, the figure was £42 million a year. To be fair to the Scottish Government—I always like to be that—it provides funds to tackle flood protection and relief other than the funds that it provides through the local government allocation.
Let us consider one of those other sources of funding: the Scottish Government’s natural assets and flooding budget line. According to information that I received yesterday from the Scottish Parliament information centre, the budget line for flood alleviation and coast protection was £1.2 million in 2013-14, £1.2 million in 2014-15 and £1.2 million in 2015-16. I am sure that members can guess what the 2016-17 figure was—it was £1.2 million. The figure for 2017-18 is the same: £1.2 million. That is not good news for communities such as Montrose, where the town faces a significant flooding threat from coastal erosion.
Mr Rumbles mentioned Montrose and coastal erosion in the same breath. As I said to the cabinet secretary earlier, flooding appears to be inevitable unless something is done, and done quickly. Does Mr Rumbles agree that the Scottish Government must proactively step in and do something about the situation now?
I agree 100 per cent with what Liam Kerr has just said. I know that the cabinet secretary is aware of the situation that Montrose faces, as she said so in response to Liam Kerr’s earlier intervention. Indeed, earlier this year, she visited Montrose to see it for herself.
MSPs from across the political divide such as Liam Kerr and I have raised the issue directly with the cabinet secretary to find out whether funding can be raised to tackle the situation before any flooding occurs in Montrose as a result of the coastal erosion. I pay tribute to Liam Kerr, who has been very willing to work with me to tackle the issue for the people of Montrose. He has put party politics aside in an effort to get a result.
It would be much better to act now, before anything happens, than it would be to wait for the risk of flooding to become too great. I am convinced that Montrose is under threat. It is a real threat, and we need some action. Liam Kerr and I have both approached Angus Council, but it does not have the funding to tackle the problem. The cabinet secretary said that the Government was going to wait to find out what can be done. Perhaps she could give us an update on the current situation in Montrose in her summing up; I am sure that members across the chamber would appreciate that.
My time is running out, so I will turn to the Government’s motion. Who could possibly disagree with it?
No, I do not disagree with it all. Therefore, we will support it at decision time. However, members should not—I am sure that they could not—mistake that support for uncritical support.
Holding the Government to account for its actions is exactly what we are supposed to do in such debates. That is so much more important than engaging in self-congratulation, which the Scottish Government is far too keen to do.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate, given the constituency interest that I have in the subject, not least in the threat of flooding to industry in Grangemouth.
Flood risk management has been an important part of planning in Scotland, particularly over the past few years. The more the years go by, the more extreme the weather we are subjected to and the greater the risk to our communities and businesses from flooding. It is clear that changes in weather patterns are some of the effects of climate change in action, and—in contrast to Mr Rumbles—I pay tribute to the Scottish Government for doing what it can to tackle climate change and put in place a legacy of protection for the future.
However, with sea levels continuing to rise, and given that we will undoubtedly face further challenges in the years to come, it is important to recognise the work that is being done now to protect our communities and businesses from the potentially devastating effects of flooding. Today’s debate is an opportunity for me to highlight the excellent collaborative work that is being undertaken in my constituency of Falkirk East, which will benefit communities across Falkirk district, not to mention the industries in Grangemouth that are vital to Scotland’s economy and our gross domestic product.
The recognition of the importance of protecting our communities is not a recent occurrence. Under the previous SNP administration on Falkirk Council, which I was part of, consideration was given to the effects that flooding could have on our communities and it was at that point that our administration started to invest in flood defences and protection for communities.
The initial plans were put in place for the Bo’ness flood alleviation scheme, which was confirmed in 2006 and built by 2013. That was the first step in beginning to plan for extreme weather events. Members will be under no illusion as to the importance of Grangemouth and its industry to Scotland, so it is only right that we put plans in place to protect it from the risks that flooding poses in the future.
One such project is the Grangemouth flood protection scheme, which is under way. As part of national planning framework 3 in 2014, it was highlighted that the Grangemouth investment zone required the
“construction of flood defence structures and/or the undertaking of works for flood defence ... where the area of development is or exceeds 2 hectares.”
The Grangemouth flood protection scheme was ranked first out of 42 identified schemes throughout Scotland in the national flood risk management strategy published by SEPA in 2015 and is recognised as vitally important. When in place, it will protect 5,000 residential, commercial and industrial properties, avoiding flood damages estimated in the region of £6 billion, so it will clearly be money well spent.
Grangemouth is surrounded by a number of watercourses, including the Forth estuary, the rivers Carron and Avon, as well as the Grange Burn, so members will realise how important it is for this scheme to be in place. Studies have been undertaken on this project since 2015 and, most recently, ground investigation works along the tidal reaches of the rivers Carron and Avon were completed and reported on. Falkirk Council is appraising and considering options for the next stage of the scheme, while core stakeholders within the council, utilities, industrial partners such as INEOS and elected members have been consulted, with the next phase of public engagement scheduled for 2018.
To date, and with thanks to the Scottish Government, the council has spent £2 million to get the Grangemouth flood protection scheme to this stage, such is the complex nature of the scheme, and the latest estimates put the cost to complete it at £139 million. However, industry will also contribute to that investment. Given that the scheme will protect against damages of up to £6 billion, its importance to Grangemouth and its communities, and to Scotland as a whole, is clear.
Further work is planned to be carried out along the Forth estuary shoreline near the village of Airth. That is at the study phase and it will be taken forward for consideration in the next cycle of flood risk management plans. However, that does not necessarily mean that it will be progressed as a formal flood protection scheme. It is encouraging that Falkirk Council is working in partnership with SEPA and Scottish Water to deliver functional surface water management plans. In addition, the work carried out by SEPA, Scottish Water and other agencies to protect communities is clearly of vital importance.
The council and its partners should be commended for the work that they are undertaking to ensure that our communities, industry and vital national assets are as protected as they can be from the potential risks of flooding. However, it is also incumbent upon on us all to ensure that communities and individuals have access to the necessary insurance, advice and information to further protect themselves, should defences fail in the face of an ever-changing climate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and to outline some of my concerns and those of my constituents.
While I recognise that a great deal of positive work and engagement is taking place around Scotland on flooding, my experience in Dumfriesshire is that warm words and interagency working often fall short of action. The design and implementation of solutions moves at an infuriatingly slow pace that has left many living with the constant fear of seeing their homes destroyed.
The scale of the challenge and the dire problems that our communities face can be seen from the sheer number of towns and villages across the Dumfriesshire constituency that continue to battle against rising flood waters. They include Langholm, Eskdalemuir, Eastriggs, Eaglesfield, Moniaive, Thornhill, Annan, Moffat, Wanlockhead and Dumfries. My mailbag is perpetually full of concerns and many people who get in touch feel abandoned. They find that their views are disregarded and that, all too often, the process is dictated by the views of the local authority. If we are talking about genuine partnerships, the views of local residents need to be taken more seriously. Rather than passing the buck, Dumfries and Galloway Council must start to take more seriously its core responsibilities for road drainage in particular.
I want to highlight the local ill feeling and serious concern about the Whitesands flooding scheme. It will be no secret to members that I have consistently called for the £25 million scheme proposed for the River Nith in Dumfries town to be axed. Like many people who live locally, I believe that it is the council’s incompetence that will ultimately destroy our town centre, not the overspilling of water from the River Nith. Rather than having a genuine consultation with local people and business owners, the Labour Party, particularly in the previous administration, has pushed its own pet project forward and tagged an unpopular landscape gardening scheme on to proposals to build a defensive bund. Even the Scottish Government must be confused as to why local people do not want £25 million spent in their area. Flood defences are important, but it is clear that the problem in this case is that people do not want that particular scheme, and they never will.
To be fair, it is no wonder that local residents are sceptical of the council’s ability to build a bund that is designed to keep water out, as it has spent years floundering in its efforts to build a swimming pool that is capable of keeping water in it.
I am afraid that I will not take any interventions, as my time is very tight.
Naturally, as an objector, I welcome an inquiry into the scheme, but I have continued concerns that it will take up to two years to complete and we still do not know how much it will cost taxpayers. We cannot be certain of the outcome of the inquiry, but it is alarming that more than 400 local residents and businesses have sent in legal objections to the proposals. Despite legitimate concerns, it seems that the council is absolutely hell-bent on proceeding with the scheme, by hook or by crook. Meanwhile, residents in Nunholm and Kingholm live in continued fear that, if the scheme goes ahead, it will narrow the water channel and lead to water being displaced into their properties. I continue to back local residents throughout the process, and I hope that, at the very least, that will allow their concerns to be aired, tested and taken seriously by the council.
I return to my earlier comments about road drainage. It is important to remember that flooding is caused not just by our natural rivers. I have constituents who live in damp and miserable conditions because of significant drainage issues on local roads. To me, that seems to be an easy fix. Members can only imagine the frustration of local residents of Annan and Eastriggs who experienced a great deal of damage following flash floods earlier this year. Their anger was compounded when they found out that, despite flooding issues being well known in the area, the street drains had not even been checked—let alone cleared—in eight months.
This is only a question, but it seems a fairly obvious one to me. Instead of prioritising a grand, multimillion-pound flood defence scheme in Dumfries that very few people support, perhaps the council needs to prioritise smaller schemes elsewhere in my constituency.
As we all know, all the evidence suggests that weather events that create flooding are only likely to increase as a result of human-made global warming. I wish that I had more time to address that issue, but speaking time reductions prohibit that. Let me at least pay tribute to our country’s significant achievements in reducing our carbon footprint over recent years.
A number of areas in my constituency are severely affected by repeated flooding events. The city of Stirling’s relationship with the River Forth presents many challenges. More than 730 residential properties and 80 non-residential properties are judged to be at risk of flooding. Around 80 per cent of those properties are directly at risk due to the swelling of the River Forth under adverse conditions.
In Callander, in rural Stirling, flooding can often disrupt traffic, businesses and homes. Again, it is the town’s relationship with its river—for Callander, it is the River Teith—that causes the majority of the disruption and damage. I acknowledge the efforts of Stirling Council in investing in mitigation measures for areas such as Callander, Bridgehaugh and Riverside. I have no doubt that the council could do more and that people would want it to do more, but at least the measures that it has taken have been helpful. The Scottish Government’s financial help for flooded communities has also gone some way to alleviating concerns, particularly for businesses that can often lose out on vital trade as a result of flooding.
I will share with members the detail of the challenging situation in the village of Aberfoyle in my constituency. I share some of the concerns that were raised by Mark Ruskell with regard to Aberfoyle, which is situated on the River Forth and is exposed to increased flood risk as a result of sustained heavy rain or snow melt. That has an effect on the community with regard to daily life and the running of shops and other businesses, but it also has an overall impact on the village’s morale that is becoming more pronounced. The situation is prohibiting investment in Aberfoyle and has created a drag on the local economy. In that regard, I was saddened recently by the closure of the Guyana Garden Centre, which was a business that occupied a key footprint in the village centre.
In recent years, Stirling Council has looked at support mechanisms from the Scottish Government to address the risk of flooding in Aberfoyle. A plan based on a one-in-200-year event was understandably rejected by the local community, largely because of the significant visual impact that its large, hard defences would have had. Further to that, a one-in-10-year event plan that would not have provided the village with an adequate level of flood defence was also rejected. Sadly, however, as a result of the lack of an acceptable, firm plan, Stirling Council missed the funding window for Scottish Government support for flood defences. Irrespective of that difficult background to the issue, we must all try to work together to find the best possible outcome for the community. If we do not, I fear that there will be further deterioration in the area’s economic offering.
Tackling the problem of flooding in Aberfoyle and seeing some positive forward movement in that regard will help to attract new investment into the village. It will also make it easier for businesses to secure insurance cover and reignite a sense of purpose for many local people.
On the ground, moves are being made by the local flood forum to look at methods of tackling the problem upstream. I applaud the work that the forum does, but it will always only touch the surface. The council is continuing to assess how it can best mitigate the impact of flooding in Aberfoyle with what looks on the face of it to be an acceptable plan for a one-in-100-year event flood scheme. However, the next round of funding for Scottish Government support in the area is not until 2022, which seems a long time into the future for many in the village. It is important that a lasting solution is found, so I ask the minister to open up discussions with Stirling Council officials about how best the Scottish Government can support the application process for flood defence investment in Aberfoyle.
I am deeply impressed by the resilience of the Aberfoyle community in the face of a real challenge. Aberfoyle has always been a remarkable place to visit or set up home in and it will continue to be so no matter what is thrown at it. However, if the threat of flooding can be alleviated, Aberfoyle can continue to establish itself as a must-visit destination, offering an incredible backdrop of scenic beauty that the people of Scotland can continue to access and enjoy for many generations to come.
I am glad to be able to speak in this debate, because flooding is a problem that affects families, infrastructure and businesses across Scotland, especially in the north-east and my constituency of Aberdeenshire West.
I know at first hand how devastating flood damage can be, because property that is noted in my entry in the register of members’ interests was damaged by storm Frank. Storm Frank floods caused more damage in Ballater than in any other community in the UK, with 300 homes and 60 businesses flooded. Rebuilding efforts went on for months, and businesses are still rebuilding, two years later.
The extent of flood risk simply cannot be overstated. The Scottish Government estimates that more than 100,000 properties across Scotland are at risk of flooding and that one in 13 Scottish businesses remains at risk. As flooding continues to threaten our communities, the current funding framework for flood prevention remains inadequate. Annual flood damage is an estimated £252 million in Scotland and £1.1 billion across the United Kingdom, but despite that staggering figure, funding from the Scottish Government has stagnated and will remain stagnant for the next 10 years.
The Scottish Government has announced further cuts to SEPA in the coming year. As a result, only 42 flood protection projects across Scotland will receive priority funding in the period to 2021.
As the gap grows between the funds that have been allocated and the funds that are needed for flood relief and prevention, the Scottish Government must change its approach. However, the review of potentially vulnerable areas, which happens every six years, will not take place until 2019, although it could take place earlier, at the cabinet secretary’s discretion.
The issue becomes especially problematic when an area that is not a designated PVA is flooded. Kemnay, a village in my constituency, was devastated by storm Frank, but Kemnay was not identified as an area of significant flood risk in 2011—although updated flood maps in December 2013 and the flooding of the River Don in January 2016 would have been enough to designate Kemnay a PVA in 2011.
The Kembhill Park Flood Group and many others have worked tirelessly to get Kemnay added to the list of priority areas in Aberdeenshire for the current funding cycle. It is unfortunate that a permanent flood defence system cannot be constructed until Aberdeenshire Council commissions an extensive flood risk assessment from SEPA, and Aberdeenshire Council says that that will not happen until Kemnay is designated a PVA. The cabinet secretary could clarify whether that is correct, but regardless of her response, the fact remains that the council simply does not have the funds.
Without a Scotland-wide review of PVAs, flooded areas that were not listed as PVAs at the beginning of the current cycle are being neglected. On three separate occasions, I have raised flooding with the cabinet secretary, including asking for a review of PVAs before the end of the six-year cycle. On each occasion she has confirmed that the Scottish ministers have no plans to amend the timetable.
In November 2016, the cabinet secretary said:
“The decision not to include Kemnay as a PVA was taken by SEPA based on the best evidence available at that time, including flood maps, historical flood data held for the area, and public consultation.”—[
, 8 November 2016; S5W-04269.]
Later that month, she said:
“The Regulations require that SEPA must review, update where appropriate, and submit to the Scottish Ministers the document identifying the PVAs by 22 September 2018. There are no plans to change this date.”—[
, 29 November 2016; S5W-04790.]
In May this year, I got the same insufficient response:
“Whilst Scottish Ministers have a power under the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 ... to direct SEPA to review and, where appropriate update the document which identifies PVAs at other times outwith this six year cycle, there are no plans to use this power.”—[
, 11 May 2017; S5W-09116.]
As the Scottish Government reallocates money away from flood prevention, at-risk communities will continue to suffer. Current funding is barely able to support PVA schemes alone. The Scottish Government must undertake a review and it must provide more support for flood prevention, so that flooding does not continue to wreak havoc on our communities and residents are not in fear again this winter.
Splendid isolation. No—I am not referring to the Tory Brexit Britain that we will have in the very near future. I am referring to Inverclyde Council’s attitude to dealing with flood prevention and the flooding issues that we have had.
For Mike Rumbles’s information, I say that the Lib Dems were in power in Inverclyde between 2003 and 2007 and did nothing to solve the flooding problems. Prior to that, Labour was in power for 20 years, doing nothing, and we also had eight years of a Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive that did nothing to fix problems that we have had in Inverclyde for many, many years.
Flooding is not a new issue in Inverclyde; it goes back decades, to even before the second world war. There has been little focus on trying to fix or deal with any of the issues. From being a boy who grew up in Port Glasgow, I remember the pinchpoints in Inverclyde. Some of them still exist today.
Therefore, since I was elected in 2007, I have raised flooding in Inverclyde as an issue that needs to be addressed. After my first article about flooding on the A8 and in the Weir Street area in the east end of Greenock, I was contacted by a constituent who offered information to assist. At the end of our meeting, he wished me good luck and ended with, “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew on this issue.” I took that as a challenge.
I was contacted by a second constituent, who wanted to raise flooding issues in a different part of Greenock. I raised the issue further, I got more reports in the local media and I hosted a visit by the cabinet secretary, which she may remember, to the home of Greenock Morton FC at Cappielow park. I also organised the flooding summit with her predecessor, Stewart Stevenson MSP, and many local partners. It was a useful event that would have been even better if Inverclyde Council had sent somebody to participate in it. It did not, which did not surprise me, because Inverclyde Council’s attitude was that flooding was not a problem in Inverclyde. That was put to me by a business that was trying to assist locally, but had been told that by a council official.
Does Stuart McMillan agree that he has perfectly illustrated the need for ministers and others who have any responsibility to visit communities that are affected, which this Government has been particularly assiduous in doing?
I have taken an intervention already and I have only five minutes. I am sorry.
Members will know that Inverclyde has the River Clyde at one side of it. At the top of the hill, we have Loch Thom reservoir, the Gryfe reservoir number 2 and the Compensation reservoir, to name just three—we have 19 reservoirs at the top of the hill. It is blatantly obvious that water management is the business of every single agency that deals with Inverclyde. I am thankful that that is now happening. This SNP Government’s action, by delivering the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009, has forced people and organisations to come together at the table to begin to deal with their responsibilities.
In response to that legislation, Inverclyde Council commissioned the Dutch company Grontmij, now Sweco UK, to assess the need for flood alleviation measures, which I welcomed. Following its report, which identified numerous priority locations in terms of flooding, the council established a flood action working group including representation from the police, Transport Scotland, Scottish Water, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, Network Rail, Ardgowan Estates, Historic Scotland, Amey and relevant council services. The group produced a costed flood action plan in 2010, which was in line with the initial allocation of £500,000 for projects that were designed to alleviate some of the area’s flooding problems.
Consequently, in 2014 Scottish Water committed £50,000 to the Fox Street area of Greenock to improve its waste-water infrastructure and to tackle flooding at nearby properties. In 2016, four Inverclyde schemes received national funding as part of the Scottish Government’s flood projects scheme. They were costed at £1.54 million, of which 80 per cent was contributed by the Scottish Government, with Inverclyde Council funding the remaining 20 per cent. At the same time, Inverclyde Council’s central Greenock flood prevention project was under way, with six out of seven works complete and four additional locations that required measures being at the design stage. It must be noted that that work was largely made possible due to—once again—national funding from the SNP Government, with a £1.7 million grant for the project. I lobbied hard for that and I was delighted that another minister—Paul Wheelhouse MSP—was happy to sign it off.
Flood prevention and maintenance are vital to help our constituencies and our communities. The “splendid isolation” approach in Inverclyde ended in 2009, thanks to the SNP Scottish Government. As John Scott MSP said earlier, the act
“has served its purpose well.”
This has been an excellent debate with thoughtful and insightful contributions from across the chamber. With considerable foresight, the business managers have scheduled a debate on flooding for a day when we have flooding. They deserve accolades for that.
As I learned from SEPA’s floodline service this morning, there have been two flood alerts in Scotland, no flood warnings and no severe flood warnings. I signed up to the floodline alert service today; I recommend that all members advertise this excellent service to their constituents.
Climate change is inevitable. Even if all emissions stopped tomorrow, the greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere would continue to cause damage for years to come. Because of that, future generations face the possibility of severe weather incidents including floods, with their misery and destruction, unless we act now with adaptations and mitigations. Our communities, especially coastal and riverside communities, are already susceptible to flooding, and during the past few years, they have faced its increased frequency and prolonged effects. As we learned from Lewis Macdonald earlier, the poorer people in our society who do not have flood insurance suffer more of the terrible effects of flooding.
The effects are not limited to our rural communities. Urban buildings that were designed to withstand the weather of the past cannot cope with the conditions of the future. It is therefore vital that we protect our homes, buildings and communities from the effects of flooding. What we can do to mitigate and prevent flooding must be at the forefront of our thinking.
For example, the Royal Society of Edinburgh recently looked at research that said that a 10 per cent increase in precipitation could result in halving of the flood-return period at Pacific Quay on the Clyde: the likelihood of flooding once in 100 years would halve to once in 50 years. That means that the standards of flood defences would fall.
A key step must be taken in respect of planning permission, so that when planning applications for new homes are submitted, SEPA is asked for advice and to check for risk to the environment and to the future homes. However, SEPA’s advice against building on flood plains has been repeatedly ignored, as we have heard from several members in the debate. If planning permission is granted, building on flood plains takes place, and homes, lives, businesses and schools are turned upside down because of the flood water.
The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee took evidence from members of the adaptation sub-committee of the UKCCC, who told us that not all local authorities carry out strategic flood risk assessments when dealing with local development plans. Not to look properly at future flood risk seems to me to be inherently reckless. In Scotland, where there is increasing pressure to build on flood plains, it is important that all developers carry out flood risk assessments.
On top of the planning issues, which Mark Ruskell referred to, 90 per cent of at-risk properties are not protected by flood defences. There is a responsibility on developers, local authorities, Government and Parliament to ensure that we do the utmost to protect communities from the tragic consequences of flooding.
When she is winding up, perhaps the cabinet secretary could refer to flood warning systems and responses to flood events. In session 3, a report from the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, on which I was an occasional substitute and which was then convened by the cabinet secretary, made strong recommendations about the establishment of 100 per cent high-resolution radar coverage throughout Scotland, and about the lack of pluvial flooding warning systems in Scotland. I would welcome comments from the cabinet secretary on those points.
It is important to summarise some of the points that have been made by members in the debate: I apologise to the members whom I cannot mention. The cabinet secretary made some excellent points about the good example of flood protection schemes in Elgin, which, as the regional member, I endorse.
I also agree with Edward Mountain’s good points about the crucial issues of measures to slow down water transfer and the unfortunate combination of flash floods and high tides. They were good points.
Claudia Beamish made relevant points about climate change being a shared international threat, about the crucial importance of increasing research and development and about having reliable and consistent funding for SEPA and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
Graeme Dey made the useful point about Flood Re, the insurance scheme that will run for 20 years to provide flood cover for those who are most in need of it. Gillian Martin brought the human element to the debate by talking about the flooding in her constituency and giving vivid examples of the long-term aftermath of flooding, including people being out of their homes for more than a year.
From Lewis Macdonald, we heard other examples of flooding in Aberdeen. He also made the very important point that 100,000 properties are at risk in Scotland. Mark Ruskell made the point that although there are 40 flood prevention projects, 90 per cent of those properties are not covered.
Flooding causes misery, destruction, death and injury. It is crucial that all agencies, including SEPA and Scottish Water, work together to reduce flood risk, take a strategic approach to climate change, and develop sustainable management of flood risk. As Gilbert White, the leading American geographer of the 20th century, said,
“Floods are an act of God, but flood losses are largely an act of man.”
I refer members to my entries on farming and crofting in the register of members’ interests.
I am delighted to be able to close for the Scottish Conservatives on what is plainly an issue of great importance. Flooding is damaging to properties and the environment, but it has a particular impact on the lives of many of our constituents. The impact includes the cost of rebuilding a home, the damage to possessions and furnishings and, of course, the untold stress on the individuals who suffer. Occasionally, and tragically, human life is lost.
Although Scotland is significantly less affected by flooding than other parts of the UK, flooding remains a serious issue, particularly in areas where there are no existing flood defence schemes. I welcome the consensual tone of the debate. However, although the funding allocated for natural assets and flooding rose in the last budget, we remain concerned by the overall cut to SEPA’s budget. It is all well and good to have the funding in place for flood management, but that work will be undone if one of the primary delivery bodies has its budget squeezed. We must also acknowledge a similar difficulty for local authorities, which are the first port of call for the management of flood defences.
I know all too well the impact that flooding has on local communities, given the various potentially vulnerable areas that exist across the west Highlands and the island communities. The idea that the Highlands are not vulnerable to flooding because of the topography of the area is incorrect. Almost all the major settlements are vulnerable due to their location on the coastline, and several islands including Bute and Benbecula are designated as PVA sites. Indeed, most of the Uists are impacted, and many members will remember the flooding that hit Stornoway back in 2014. I should also mention the fact that Caol and Lochyside—on the shores of Loch Linnhe, near Fort William—are regularly affected by floods.
Although I acknowledge that the Government has committed to funding new flood protection projects and to supporting local flood risk management plans, I would be eager to ascertain whether any of those new projects will be in the west Highlands. At present, there are limited flood defence systems in place, and major towns such as Fort William and Oban remain at risk.
Many members will have seen in the news yesterday—I think that the cabinet secretary mentioned this—that the Met Office has issued several flood warnings for areas around Caithness and Sutherland. I look forward to working with the cabinet secretary to ensure that the Highlands and Islands benefit from new investment in flood defences.
I would like to highlight that a number of smaller communities—particularly properties with under 50 houses in them—are excluded from the potentially vulnerable areas that the member has mentioned.
I think that two or three members have raised that issue. Does the member agree with me that that is an important issue for the Scottish Government to address?
Absolutely. It is a serious issue, and it is important that the Government addresses it, because we must address the issues of all communities—big and small—in this project.
Several members have talked about the wider issue of climate change, which is incredibly important. The effects of climate change will play a major role in determining our future approach to flood defence strategy and management. We must see flood management in that context. With sea levels rising as a result of global warming, we need to do all that we can to reduce our carbon footprint. That means continuing to lead the way in producing renewables technologies and minimising the impact of our carbon emissions. We need a rounded approach that does not just focus on reducing emissions in the energy sector but looks at how we reduce our impact in housing and transport—just two of that areas in which the recent report by the Committee for Climate Change noted we have not made sufficient strides in reducing our carbon footprint.
I will spend the rest of my time remarking on some of the points made across the chamber that I have found particularly compelling. Edward Mountain spoke of the significance of considering all measures to slow down water transfer from land to rivers, and that forms part of my party’s amendment.
Having been around longer than many of us—I hope that he does not take that the wrong way—John Scott spoke about earlier legislation that was passed by the Parliament, particularly the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009. It is incredibly important to see the long-term trajectory and to build on what we have achieved in the past.
Lewis Macdonald and Mark Ruskell both spoke powerfully about the difficulty that poorer householders have in getting insurance. Mark Ruskell added to that the observation that there is an interportfolio aspect to flood management and that it is important to deal with and involve the rural economy portfolio as well as the environment portfolio.
Alexander Burnett was one of the many north-east MSPs who referred to storm Frank, and he made the point that businesses are still rebuilding, even now, which reminds us of the long-term effects of flooding.
Graeme Dey spoke about the number of organisations and the web of stakeholders that are involved. There is clearly an issue of co-ordination. That point was made by Gillian Martin, too—I think that she used the word “jigsaw”. She also gave an evocative case study from her constituency, and I was struck by the point that she made about the importance of long-term communication with residents.
It is clear that, although Scotland takes a commanding lead in devising many of the solutions to tackle climate change, there is still more that we can do to support communities and to limit the havoc that flooding can cause. We welcome many of the steps that the Government has taken, but we remain concerned about the cuts to SEPA, which delivers vital services. Although we are unable to prevent every natural incident, that should not make us complacent in our approach to minimising the outcomes and responding to the challenges that flooding presents.
I thank all members for their speeches in the debate. I will accept both amendments. That does not mean that I agree with absolutely everything that I have heard from every member, but the debate has highlighted the interest in flood risk management and the potential impacts on communities across Scotland. Indeed, the Minister for Parliamentary Business was clearly prophetic in choosing to allocate today for the debate, given the flooding events that took place overnight.
The need to reduce the likelihood of such potentially devastating events is why reducing flood risk has to be a priority for the Government. The debate has highlighted the good progress that has been made in reducing the level of flood risk in Scotland, and I reiterate what an enormous difference there is now compared with what existed before the 2009 act was passed. We now have our first set of flood risk plans, which are based on strategic evidence of the causes of flooding and the locations where it is likely to occur. Those did not exist before. The first six-year plans were published last year, and the challenge and opportunity is to implement them and deliver the benefits.
At times, the debate reached out into other portfolio interests. I sense that my diary will fill up with bilaterals if I take up all the suggestions that came from various parts of the chamber, but I suppose that an early warning ought to go out to both Derek Mackay and Kevin Stewart, the ministers who are responsible for finance and planning, respectively.
I will go through some of the speeches that we have heard. Edward Mountain talked about hard engineering not always being suitable, and I agree with him—how could anybody not? He raised big questions about land use issues, but he knows how amazingly controversial they can be. Land use could be the subject of a whole separate debate, and land use issues were referred to by a number of other members. I will have a little think about whether there is a different way of looking at issues such as flooding, but I will need to speak to my colleagues about that, because land use covers so many different areas that it is difficult to encapsulate it in a single debate.
Claudia Beamish raised a lot of issues that also relate to bigger land use questions. She talked about costs, as well. I would make the point that the agreement between the Scottish Government and COSLA secured consistent funding across the whole of the period from 2016 to 2026. I know that there will never be enough money to do everything that we want to do, but the point of that agreement was that it delivered a previously unavailable consistency and ability to plan over such a period.
I ought to say that, as part of the review of planning, the Scottish Government is considering the issue of permitted development rights, which was a particular concern that Claudia Beamish raised. We have commissioned a sustainability appraisal on the subject that will inform work on detailed proposals for future consultation.
To those members who spoke about SEPA, I say that its chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, is absolutely clear that flood risk management and flood warning work will continue to be an organisational priority and that it will be delivered through the available budget. That specific promise has been made by the chief executive.
A number of members, including Graeme Dey, talked about Flood Re and some of the issues around insurance, which, I accept, continues to be a challenge. It is important to say that, as useful as Flood Re is, it will operate only until 2039. That seems quite a long time away, but it is not perhaps as far off as everybody thinks. That date was chosen to give notice to householders and house builders that they should build in and ensure resilience and protection. It is important to remember that the scheme will not be there in perpetuity.
Very much so, and I am aware of that issue in my constituency. I know that, for all the good work that Flood Re is doing, it has not yet reached everybody and there is still an issue in respect of insurance that needs to be dealt with.
John Scott and others raised the issue of coastal erosion. I am well aware of the problem, which is why a great deal is being done to assess the likely extent of the damage. It is important to remind members that, although coastal erosion and coastal flooding are interlinked, they are not necessarily the same. Flood funding will be applicable to flooding aspects of coastal erosion.
No. I need to press on if I am to do justice to the rest of the debate.
A number of members, including Gillian Martin, talked about the impact of flooding on individuals and communities, and it is important that we keep that in mind. Communities and individual householders are at the heart of the issue because they are hit the most.
Going back to the issue of land use, Gillian Martin also flagged up the concern that exists around peatlands and wetlands. That issue is important in relation to any kind of development, and not only in relation to flood risk management.
Several members, including Mark Ruskell, Claudia Beamish and Bruce Crawford, talked about small communities. I say to them that the second national flood risk assessment, which is currently under way, follows a revised methodology that seeks to include small communities that face a significant flood risk. We are aware of the issue and are concerned to do something about.
I have probably missed out a number of members who spoke in the debate and a number of issues that I could have raised, but I will mention the concern that Oliver Mundell raised about Whitesands. As he knows, an inquiry into that scheme will now take place. Because of the number of disputed facts that were raised in relation to the scheme, there was really no other way for us to proceed than to conduct that inquiry. I hope that Oliver Mundell will agree that, regardless of how long it takes, it is better to get the issue sorted out than not to do so.
I caution members that, as I said at the outset, we cannot go back to the previous ad hoc way in which flood projects were dealt with, which is what some members would lead us towards if we were to move away from the framework that we have set down.
The change in climate presents us with challenges in the future that will require continued partnership working involving local authorities, SEPA, Scottish Water and others. Flood risk management is a key component of the suite of measures that this Government has in place to prepare Scotland for the changing climate.