Paul Wheelhouse MSP: Hawick flood protection scheme is on track

Paul Wheekhouse MSP
Paul Wheekhouse MSP

Having witnessed for myself the quite staggering impact of the power of the Slitrig Water and, in particular, the Teviot which meet behind my office, and having seen the events unfold through my own eyes from before dawn on Saturday morning through to the flood hitting its peak later in the evening, I can quite understand why there is an understandable call for urgency to build flood defences for Hawick and for acceleration of the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme.

As an occupier of a property that was flooded, and as someone who, more importantly, cares about the impact on my constituents, both in terms of householders and businesses, I would be very keen to see such a scheme come to pass, and will lend my full support to Scottish Borders Council to that end.

I know that, fortunately, in the form of Connor Price and his team, Scottish Borders Council have amongst the best specialists at their disposal of any local authority in Scotland. The work they have taken forward in Selkirk which is regarded as a pioneering scheme, in terms of its design, demonstrates their capabilities.

It is also clear that the measures put in place on the Teviot and Slitrig, since 2005, relieved some of the impacts – for example the flood gate and wall to the rear of high school was hugely successful in protecting the School and many properties on Buccleuch Street.

On paper this should have been worse than 2005 and the fact that impacts on Sandbed were not as substantial this time is in part due to that investment. This is of some consolation to householders and businesses in the affected areas.

Having discussed the Hawick situation with the council’s emergency response team I know they are taking on board the events of the weekend and are well on their way to delivering a scheme that is fit for the town. The very fact they were going door to door speaking to businesses and residents affected by the flooding shows the commitment by the team at Scottish Borders Council to understand the full detail of the impacts, which will inform the detail of the design of the prevention scheme, which it is estimated may cost in the region of £29 million, to ensure the flood alleviation scheme that emerges for submission for planning consents etc is going to deliver the protection that Hawick needs.

I think it very unfortunate that some ill-informed commentary has been made on this by those in position to know better, given the incorrect assertion that a scheme is in progress and has not and never has been ‘kicked into the long grass’ as has been suggested in some quarters.

Playing politics with the issue is unacceptable – this is not a time for selfies and self-publicity, the favourite pursuit for some – it is a time for serious team work. That is my focus.

The Scottish Government is well aware of the need for a flood scheme in Hawick – my former officials kept in close contact with Scottish Borders Council during my time as environment minister, and I made further representations to my successor as the minister for environment and climate change, Dr Aileen McLeod MSP as recently as September to express upon her the importance of the Hawick flood scheme during a very constructive meeting with her and the resilience officers from Scottish Borders Council.

Council officers and I highlighted the importance of property level protection, such as flood gates, and the work of the outstanding Hawick Flood Group would be in protecting the town in the interim until such time as the major scheme can be completed.

The Scottish Government is delivering £42 million per annum of flood prevention schemes throughout Scotland through Scotland’s local authorities and decisions on how this is allocated on the ground is taken jointly by COSLA and Scottish Ministers, with up to 80% of project costs being met from this source.

We saw the benefits of Scottish Government investment in Selkirk and Galashiels at the weekend. As long as we do not have any farcical objections to the scheme at planning stages Hawick will also reap the benefits of this and I don’t know anyone who saw the torrents of water at the weekend who would seek to deny that of residents here.

The process of delivering projects is governed by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act (2009) and it ensures that there are mechanisms to resolve disputes over details of the design.

The council are taking forward their proposals in accordance with that and have done a great deal to explore their proposals with public consultation.

Where we can all help is to support the council by providing constructive support to the process, such as any consultation, or responding early and positively to any planning work required and in providing detailed evidence of impacts, to ensure that the technical design has the full support of the community.

I will do everything I can with Scottish Government ministerial colleagues to ensure the local community’s voice is heard at Holyrood and this project is delivered.