Council reviews flood works as cash well runs dry

WORK on the next phase of flood prevention measures along the Water of Leith is now “under review” because of a £9 million funding gap.

And it emerged today that an application to the Scottish Government for extra cash to help complete the work was turned down before Christmas.

City council officials were due to meet senior civil servants today, and council leaders are pressing for a meeting with Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson on the issue.

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Phase one of the flood prevention scheme, from Bonnington to Stockbridge, is well under way and the second phase – as far as Murrayfield – is due to start later this year.There will eventually be a third phase to Longstone.

But the latest funding problem emerged in an e-mail from officials to Labour councillor Lesley Hinds. The council said the combined cost of phases one and two was £54.9m but it only had £45.7m, leaving a shortfall of £9.2m.

Officials said project managers were being asked to identify which parts of phase two should be given priority to make the best use of the money available.

Local resident Walter Spence, 79, whose house in Baird Drive, Saughton, was flooded in 2000, said people lived in fear of a repeat of that deluge and were anxious to see the prevention measures in force.

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He said. “I remember meetings at least ten years ago when they said all this work was going to be done and here we are today and they seem to be saying they don’t have the money.”

Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This latest setback will cause a great deal of concern amongst residents in Roseburn who have had to deal with the devastating impact of flooding in the past.

“The delays to the scheme, and the increasing cost, can be traced back to the SNP’s decision to remove direct government support for flood defences. At the time the funding changes were being implemented, I urged the Scottish Government to consider the consequences of removing ring fencing and was accused of scaremongering.

“Since then, however, the cost of the scheme has continued to grow, the work has had to be split into phases – and no completion date has been identified.

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“In the meantime, people continue to be at risk from flooding and are facing massive hikes in insurance premiums.”

City transport convener Councillor Gordon Mackenzie said the council had been forced to split the scheme into phases, making it more costly overall, because the Scottish Government had not provided the necessary funding in 2009.

He said: “We are committed to completing the full works. We would like to be able to move more quickly on this but we have to do it as funds are available.”

A government spokesman said the council’s pre-Christmas bid for more cash had been refused because the funding in question was intended for new flood prevention schemes.