THE River Esk in Langholm will become a concrete drainage channel if a Scottish government-funded flood defence scheme is endorsed by the local authority.
It’s claimed that the river, along with the Wauchope, will be disconnected from the community by walls and embankments ranging from 1.3m to 2.2m high.
The 1 in 200 year flood defences will run from Mary Street downstream to the sewage works along the Esk and along Caroline Street on the Wauchope.
All trees and bushes on the riverbanks will be removed but the council is pledging to plant saplings.
The council flood team’s preferred option also proposes to dig a wide, shallow channel through Buccleuch Park to carry flood water from the Wauchope into the Esk during flood events.
The scheme was commissioned by the council and designed by consultants RPS who held two, three-day public consultation events in the town, the second one in February.
After this event, a group was set up to challenge the preferred option after a number of people expressed their disquiet at the scale of the scheme.
They believe it is financially driven because the government will pay 80 per cent of the £8m project, while the council pays 20 per cent.
The group believes that Langholm needs a flood scheme to protect waterside properties but says this design is over-engineered and will damage people’s quality of life by cutting them off from the rivers.
The group has set up a display in Welcome to Langholm’s window with photos showing the heights of the walls from eye level.
One of their complaints is that the council has provided only “bird’s eye views” on its video visuals which do not give a realistic picture of how they look to people on the ground.
Questions have been raised over where the ground level is and a council spokesperson said: “It is the height from the existing ground level on the land side, at the point where the defence is sited.”
Erika Luukas, who leads the group, is worried that there will be no more public engagement before the communities committee meets to recommend approval of the scheme.
If this goes ahead, there will be 28 days for the public to comment before the council approves the scheme.
She said: “We want a full design review. Langholm may need some flood defences but we deserve a better design.
“There is no funding (from the government) other than for a 1 in 200-year scheme so the council tried to get the money and then designed a scheme to fit that.
“The Esk will become a drainage channel, not a river. There will be no riverbank or trees. The river will no longer exist.
“The council’s report places no value on the impact from the loss of the trees but says the flood walls will improve people’s lives.
“People have been told that a 1 in 200-year flood is coming and have been terrified by that thought.
“I don’t deny it could happen but it is a minuscule risk.”
The group is concerned that the decision made on which option to recommend was done behind closed doors with stakeholders such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Environment Agency, Scottish Water and Scottish Natural Heritage.
It also thinks the council is wrong to say that only people living on the waterside are affected when everyone who enjoys the amenity of the river will be.
Erika has corresponded for several months with Michael Smith, the flood team leader, who has explained the flood order process.
Mr Smith told her: “Our proposed scheme provides a 1 in 200-year flood event protection and is an economically-viable solution.
“We have investigated all other options and these either do not give the necessary protection or economic viability. This is evidenced by all the information and reports on the website.”
He asks her to provide details of what the group considers to be a better solution or alternative scheme and evidence to support this.
He adds: “The scheme has gone through a transparent and comprehensive process over two years, involving extensive consideration of all possible options, consultation with stakeholders and two main public engagement events.
“In our next update report to the committee we will detail the work to date, current position and the programme and timescale which will include another public display event before publishing the scheme.
Erika said: “This puts the advocates of the current preferred option at a very significant advantage within this process.
“Our request for a pause and design review was flatly refused in March, despite being made very shortly after the drop-in event once many in our community had had an opportunity to fully digest the enormity of the proposals presented to us and despite more than 100 people immediately expressing major concerns.
“It’s frustrating to learn the staged schedule evades any of these concerns being raised in any timely or useful manner which may influence the ongoing design process or its currently ‘unhindered’ progress to the next stage.”
She adds: This can’t be considered good practice for meaningful engagement because it does not enable any form of presentation of our concerns to the project team or the committee before their ‘next stage decision-making’.”
The E&L Advertiser asked the council whether it would provide eye-level visuals so people walking and cycling alongside the walls would know what it’s going to look like in reality, rather than just producing bird’s eye views of the defences.
We also asked how the council would address the group’s claims that there was a discrepancy between the council’s overview map and a new video of the works.
The group has produced its own visuals to show to people but because of the discrepancies between the overview map and the new video, they may not be entirely accurate.
The council has not yet replied.