Leader: ‘Another big project badly managed’

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Flood defences on the Water of Leith have proved to be hugely expensive and troublesome, but we must press ahead with the next phase as soon as possible.

Anyone who remembers the devastation caused by the floods of 2000 will know that action is long overdue. Then, 36 hours of constant rain led to walls collapsing along the riverside, causing 600 homes to flood and £25 million of damage. In the meantime, there have been worrying occasions when torrential downpours have left householders fearing a repeat.

The work which the city is set to carry out will go a long way towards ensuring that will not happen.

The approach of pushing ahead now with the work that we can afford seems to be a sensible one.

Cutting £10m worth of work from a £35m project is a very substantial downscaling.

But the widespread criticism of the scheme for being “over-
engineered” seems fair.

Do we really need to build walls capable of withstanding the kind of catastrophe that is likely to strike only once every 200 years? Or should we plan to cope with smaller, yet significant defences and an early warning system that allows other temporary measures, such as sandbags, to be brought in? The latter seems more proportionate.

While today’s announcement is a positive step, the background to it remains troubling.

The spiralling cost of the first stage of the project – it soared from £18m to £30m – has been blamed on badly drawn-up contracts, in a disturbing echo of the trams debacle.

Today’s decision to scale down phase two – while welcome – does raise questions about the suitability of the original plan. If £10m of the works is not really needed, why was it ever included? Times have changed and we all now look at spending plans in a different light from ten years ago, but regardless this is another major project which does not appear to have been well managed by the city.