Joint letter from Nairn West &Suburban Community Council and Nairn River Community Council - Flood Prevention
Added at 18:49 on 12 October 2021
Cllr Tom Heggie
Nairnshire Area Committee Chair
Nairn (sent by email) 25th July 2021
FLOOD PREVENTION MEASURES IN THE NAIRN AREA
We are sure you and your colleagues will – like all of us – have observed with concern and alarm the recent media coverage of the disastrous floods in Germany, Belgium and Holland which have caused extensive damage and the tragic loss of many lives.
This is just the latest reminder of the risks posed by serious flooding. Edinburgh and areas along Deeside have also suffered floods recently, and in past years many other parts of the UK from Yorkshire to South West England have experienced similar problems. Climate change is undoubtedly causing more extreme weather. But local geography, the capacity of rivers and drainage systems, and the adequacy of protection measures are also contributory factors.
We in Nairn are not immune. Heavy rainfall and river spates, coinciding with high tides in the Firth, have in past years led to serious flooding in the Fishertown area and elsewhere. This has been exacerbated by CSO overflows and capacity problems with the (largely Victorian) town drainage network. We should not need the news from Germany and elsewhere as a reminder that the town is vulnerable.
In fact the need for effective prevention measures in the local area has long been recognised. As far back as 2012 SEPA produced an overall strategy which set out the timeline for completion of studies, preparation of plans and final publication by 2016. In 2015 SEPA issued a further strategy document. This identified the risks and impacts of flooding for each potentially vulnerable area (PVA). In the case of Nairn, there are three such areas. Two are the responsibility of Highland Council, and one comes under Moray Council’s plan but lists Highland Council as the lead authority.
In January 2020, prompted by the overflows along the Alton Burn, NW&SCC wrote formally to raise residents’ concerns both about that specific problem and about the implementation of wider flood prevention measures (copy of letter attached). The reply from a Highland Council official identified “… minor blockages in the Alton Burn but ….insufficient to cause backing up of flow...”. On the wider task of flood prevention the reply acknowledged that nothing had been done but that there was “the intention to progress”. At that time, no action had been taken in the Nairn West & Ardersier PVA and nothing was expected until 2022-28. The study for Nairn Central PVA (second highest priority in the whole Highland region) due in 2019, had not yet been done. Funding had been deferred to 2021-24, and it would “likely take a couple of years” after that even to reach an options appraisal report. Work on the Nairn East PVA was linked to this and so had similarly been put back.
In reviewing the current state of planning, we have noted that the subject of flood risk management (FRM) plans was discussed at the Council’s Economy & Infrastructure Committee on 4 February. The relevant report envisaged publication of a checklist of proposed “FRM Actions” by 21 March 2021 and public consultation on a draft Local FRM Plan by 21 June, to be followed by an appraisal.
We are not aware of any recently published list of Actions, invitation to comment, or draft plan for public consultation in the past six months; and we cannot recall any public statement or comment by local elected Members on the subject. The actions outlined appear to be the same as already identified in previous strategies and plans. Apart from the maintenance of the existing SEPA flood warning alert scheme, these involve – in the case of the Nairn PVAs – the preparation of studies, fluvial modelling, and selection of mitigation options.
A year and a half on from our previous representations, this work has still not begun. Now the timetable appears to have been further delayed. Even more worrying, the latest report warns that unless money is already allocated in the Capital Plan, there is no funding available and it will have to be sought in the form of a Scottish Government grant "on a prioritisation basis" (ie a competitive bidding process).
So in summary, action proposed in 2012 has slipped by more than a decade. Given the time required for studies, option appraisals, and selection of suitable mitigation measures, this suggests that no practical flood-prevention measures in respect of the Nairn PVAs appear now to be in prospect until perhaps 2025 or later. And there is a serious question-mark over the availability of funding, now and in the future.
This is not an encouraging picture; indeed it gives rise to serious concern. There is no doubt that Nairn is acutely vulnerable to further flooding. It is not a matter of “if” but “when”. Waiting until a further flood actually happens before taking action is not an acceptable approach.
It will not have escaped people’s notice that – by contrast – major flood prevention works along the River Ness have been completed and delivered over the past couple of years. Those who travel east will also have noticed the massive flood protection-schemes, also now complete, on this side of Forres and up the Mosset Burn; and along the Lossie and on the far side of Elgin.
As well as the physical measures that are clearly required, it is of course part of an effective strategy to have local resilience-planning in place and up to date as well. This necessarily involves not only the public agencies such as the police, fire and rescue, and health and social services, but also community organisations and volunteers.
As the Covid pandemic has shown, when the need arises local communities do respond. This underlines the case for the Community Councils and other relevant local organisations to be fully involved in the Community Planning Partnership and in other suitable local groupings (such as a revived Ward Forum, for example). This would provide a framework for discussion of priorities and for collaboration. Such local discussion can complement, but is not an alternative to, early action by those tasked to lead on the flood prevention strategy.
This letter is therefore a reminder and warning that urgent action is required in and for the Nairn PVAs by the agencies responsible for implementing the agreed plans. To quote the text on the very first page of the Highland Council’s own Flood Management Plan:
"The task now for us – local authorities, Scottish Water, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Scottish Government and all other responsible authorities and public bodies – is to turn our plan into action."
That was written in 2016. It was supposedly an update and a commitment to deliver on a flood-prevention strategy drawn up in 2012. We are now well into 2021.
Further interim reports and explanations are not what is required. We now ask that the Council as the lead authority live up to that commitment and give appropriate priority and funding to the delivery “on the ground” of urgent flood-prevention measures for the Nairn area. We look forward to confirmation that this will be done, with clear timelines for completion.
This letter reflects the jointly-agreed views of both Nairn Community Councils. Copies go to the Chair of Auldearn CC (whose area is potentially also at risk), to your elected Councillor colleagues, Chair Nairn & Nairnshire Community Partnership and to the Ward Manager.
Sheena Baker Hamish Bain
Chair, NW&SCC Chair, NRiverCC
Chair Auldearn Community Council - Roger Milton
Cllr L Fraser, Laurie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Cllr L MacDonald, Liz.MacDonald2.email@example.com
Cllr P Saggers, Peter.Saggers.cllr@Highland.gov.uk
Ward 18 Manager – Emma Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Inspector J Valentine, Chair –NNCP Jenny.Valentine@scotland.pnn.police.uk