MAJOR flood defences are set to be downgraded to sandbags in parts of west Edinburgh amid a huge funding shortfall for Water of Leith protection plans.
Around 478 properties in Roseburn and Murrayfield – including the national rugby stadium – will be protected against serious flooding through robust walled deterrents, while other at-risk areas along the river will have to rely on natural defences and turf-topped sandbags if proposals to curtail defences get the go-ahead.
The city is to press ahead with the £25 million flood defence project – phase two of a £107m overhaul – despite facing a £5m funding black hole to complete this section of the work.
It comes as costs for phase one of the project spiralled to £30m – £12m more than was allocated – with no money now left in the coffers to finance phase three, running from Balgreen to Longstone.
In a report to the transport and environment committee, Mark Turley, director of services for communities, wrote that the cash crisis demanded a “different approach” and said it was “no longer possible to provide in full the defences” that had previously been ascribed ten years ago.
The bulk of defence work would be concentrated at the areas of Murrayfield and Roseburn worst hit by the catastrophic floods in April 2000, with Damside, Belton Bridge, Edinburgh Sports Club and Coltbridge also receiving some protections.
Environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds insisted the missing £5m would be found from department underspends elsewhere and the defence work would be completed.
She said “lessons had been learned” from phase one – covering an area from Bonnington to Veitch’s Square – which suffered contractual disputes and may have been “over-engineered”.
Cllr Hinds said: “What we are saying is that [phase one] was over-engineered.
“I have told the officials they are going to get the extra £5m. We will have to find it from underspend and things like that.
“My view is that we need to prioritise this. Residents have been waiting far too long for this and we have to get on with it. What we are looking at is people who were flooded the last time and making sure that whatever we do we are protecting them.
“We are learning lessons from phase one and one thing was how do we control the resources and the contract and also was it over-engineered?
“Far too much work was done, and it could have been done a lot cheaper.
“We applied for extra funding from the Scottish Government and didn’t get it, and are looking to have more discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities through the flood prevention scheme for some money for this phase and phase three, which we don’t have any money for.”
A review into the Water of Leith Prevention Scheme completed this month indicates a low level of confidence that phase two will be able to avoid “slippage and contractual issues”.
The council report also notes concern from residents and businesses about the difficulty obtaining insurance in areas at risk of flooding. It reveals that the current agreement between the Association of British Insurers and the Government on insurance cover is due to expire in July.
Nearly £2m will also have to be allocated to Scotland Gas Networks for the diversion of a major gas main at Murrayfield as part of phase two works.
Phase two targets five locations
The second phase of the flood prevention scheme will see defences at five locations between Damside and Murrayfield.
The work to Damside, Belford Bridge, Edinburgh Sports Club, Coltbridge and Murrayfield, includes a public park and recreation land owned by the Scottish Rugby Union. It will protect 514 residential properties as well as 20 commercial buildings such as the ice rink, Chinese Consulate and sheltered accommodation.
The work was sparked by floods in 2000 which were categorised as a “one in 180 year event”. Around 500 properties were damaged when the river burst its banks and boundary walls collapsed.