Selkirk’s long-awaited £31.4m flood protection scheme was officially opened this week after eight years of work to safeguard the town from the Ettrick Water.
Scottish Government environment minister Roseanna Cunningham and Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker declared the new flood defences to be complete on Monday at the town’s Bannerfield Plaza, next to the new Bridge Street footpath.
They were joined by primary school pupils from across Selkirk, and they opened proceedings with a rendition of the 1929 Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown song Singin’ in the Rain.
The youngsters later buried a time capsule at the site.
The £31.4m scheme, made up of just over two miles of walls and embankments from the Ettrick Water and Yarrow Water’s confluence up to the Oregon timber plant at Dunsdale Haugh, was launched in March 2014 after six years of planning and design work, to protect 600 properties, with construction commencing in January 2015.
Ms Cunningham said: “Flooding can have devastating consequences for individuals, businesses and communities, and that is why we are working with partners and investing in schemes to protect against flooding.
“The opening of this new scheme is good news for Selkirk and will provide lasting protection for around 600 properties against the sort of flooding that has affected this area.
“We are committed to reducing flood risk across Scotland. We will continue to make available £42m a year to fund important new projects to protect communities most at risk from flooding.”
More than 150 people worked on the scheme at its peak, with around half being Borderers overseen by Glasgow-based contractor RJ McLeod.
Mr Parker told the crowd: “It is a real pleasure and honour to be here along with the minister Roseanna Cunningham to open the long-awaited flood protection scheme.
“Just to give you an idea of how important the scheme is, on Saturday, it stopped the Long Philip Burn from flooding.
“This is a momentous day for Selkirk.
“Around 600 homes and businesses now have protection from major flood events, thanks to the Selkirk flood protection scheme, the largest project of its kind ever delivered by Scottish Borders Council.
“We must thank the Scottish Government for its support of this project, which we believe will encourage business growth and employment, as well as providing protection to people’s homes from major flood events.
“The council will continue to take forward the Hawick flood protection scheme with the aim of providing similar protection to its residents and businesses.”
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Calum Kerr was also among those present, and he told the Southern: “There’s been a fantastic turnout here today.
“These projects cost a huge amount of money, and the difference they make to a town is massive.
“As we heard, just this weekend we know parts of Selkirk would have flooded, and we know that would have caused massive damage.
Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, the council’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, added: “Selkirk’s history is entwined with the rivers, burns and waters which surround it.
“They have provided the town with work through the mills but also created havoc, from the flood of 1977, which brought down the Auld Stane Brig, to the floods of 2003 and 2004, which devastated Bannerfield and Philiphaugh in particular.
“All flood schemes take a long time to plan, design and then build, but I am delighted Selkirk now has a completed scheme which will protect homes and make it easier for businesses in the riverside area to secure flood insurance.
“We hope this will lead to the regeneration of the area and encourage the creation of jobs.”
“It’s fantastic to see it all finished, and now we hope to see something like this soon for Hawick.”
Also in attendance was MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire John Lamont who told us: “Residents in an around Selkirk have been very patient over the past few years and will all be extremely pleased with the new scheme. Flooding can have devastating consequences and this extra protection for the town is very much something to be welcomed.
“Lots of people turned up to the opening, which shows the level of enthusiasm for the project. I was also very impressed by the musical performance of some of the children of Selkirk at the start of proceedings.
“The focus for the Scottish Government and the Council must now turn to Hawick’s scheme, which will provide protection for considerably more properties and therefore needs to be prioritised. I hope the SNP will reflect on the enthusiasm for this investment in Selkirk and set out a clear timetable for the delivery of Hawick’s scheme.”
A public art exhibition was also held to coincide with the opening as part of the scheme’s community benefit programme.
Some 13 proposals were put on display at Philiphaugh Community Centre on Monday and Tuesday by 11 artists competing to secure commissions for installations at spots close to the riverside and Long Philip Burn footpath network.
Videos about some of the proposed artworks can be viewed at www.facebook.com/TheSouthernReporter.