SCOTLAND’S environmental watchdog has delayed progress of Langholm’s flood protection scheme by insisting on an environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Today Dumfries and Galloway Council’s communities committee was being recommended to give the go-ahead to the flood order being published.
But there will now be a six-month delay with extra costs of up to £70,000 to pay for the EIA.
The council’s flood risk management team consulted the community on its preferred option of direct defences, comprising walls and embankments, with an overflow channel through Buccleuch Park to relieve flow on the Wauchope during high flow events.
The current estimated cost is £9.9m.
While preparing documents for publication later this month, the council was advised by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) that the scheme must have an EIA completed and this will take about six months.
The Water Framework Directive assessment identified that the scheme had the potential to cause a deterioration of the morphological (the shape / form of the river channel and how that can change over time) status of the Esk and Wauchope.
SEPA’s view is that that the works may lead to deterioration of the water environment beyond the location of the defences.
The cost is estimated at £50,000 to £70,000.
The report to today’s meeting said: “Legislation does not require any additional engagement before proceeding to the scheme’s publication but the project team considers it’s important to re-engage with people and see whether any issue can be addressed before the publication process rather than after.
“The team is aware of opposition, particularly to the height and scale of some of the defences and the adverse effect it may have on the town.
“Before committing more spend, particularly the EIA, it is recommended another engagement event is held.
“Enhancements to the computer-generated 3D model are being developed to show more walk-through visuals of the defences.
“There is an option to install full-scale mock-ups of sections of the defences on site to give people as accurate representation as possible.”
Such an event would be affected by COVID-19 restrictions but the construction and installation of mock-ups could be done later in the year.
The report added: “Public feedback on the scale of defences necessary to achieve the design level of protection would help to determine the likelihood of formal objections and inform members in making decisions on progressing the scheme.
“Depending on how quickly the mock-ups could be installed, this approach would put back the timetable by three to six months.
“If, after the engagement, members decided to proceed, we would do the EIA and the scheme would proceed as planned.”
It is anticipated that the public engagement would run from November to April and a report go to committee in May.
The detailed design would be completed in 2025/6 followed by the construction.
The flood defences review group, which is calling for a design review, has welcomed the temporary reprieve but is disappointed there is no mention of a review to deal with the issues they raised.
It welcomes the proposal for the on-site mock-ups but says it’s only an enhanced sales-pitch for the same scheme currently on the table.
The group wrote to councillor Andy Ferguson, committee chairman, asking for a review.
In his response Mr Ferguson said: “I know Langholm well and I’m only too aware of the devastation flooding causes when the Esk and Ewes are in full spate.
“I’m considering the points you raise and I’ll discuss them with the flood risk management team.
“Whichever option is preferred, there will be further engagement with the community on it before it is formally published.”
In a statement, the group said: “Public engagement and offering opportunities to influence the design are two entirely different things.”
In its correspondence with the group, the council’s team wrote: “We’re preparing another ‘virtual tour’ to enable people to go online and view the defences from an eye-level perspective at about a dozen locations along the river and then rotate the view to look back and forth along the defences.
“This will be accompanied by still images which include the appropriate defence heights.
“This virtual tour has been created from scratch because the 3D model did not provide the quality needed for such enhanced visuals because the work is detailed and time-consuming.”