Speeches Scottish Parliament




Flood Risk  

22 November 2017

As we have heard, it is just two years since heavy rainfall and winter storms brought disastrous flooding to parts of Aberdeen and the north-east. As we go into another winter, the question that many people will ask is whether there has been real and fundamental change that can give them confidence that such a disaster will not happen again.

Two years ago, following storm Frank, hundreds of properties were flooded, serious damage was caused and many people suffered trauma and material loss as a result. A lot of the coverage was, rightly, of the effects on the upper reaches of the River Dee and the River Don. Ballater, Inverurie and Kemnay were all affected, but there were also impacts on the city of Aberdeen at the other end of the River Dee, where sheltered housing had to be evacuated at the Bridge of Dee and there were floods elsewhere in the city.

There was, rightly, a lot of focus on the efforts of local communities to help themselves and on fantastic charitable efforts such as hope floats, which involved some of the same people who are involved with the Aberdeen solidarity with refugees campaign—which makes the point that community engagement works at home as well as abroad.

Today’s debate highlights the role of public agencies such as SEPA, local authorities, Scottish Water and the Scottish Government, but public agencies cannot deliver flood recovery or flood resilience unless they take communities and local people with them.

Flooding in North East Scotland is nothing new, nor is it confined to major rivers such as the Dee and the Don. As Gillian Martin said, Stonehaven was fortunate two years ago, but it has perhaps had the most frequent damage from rain and floods over the years, with flooding from the Carron Water and the Cowie Water, landslips on the Bervie Braes and coastal flooding from North Sea storms.

The flood protection scheme that Aberdeenshire Council is taking forward at Stonehaven is intended to provide protection for nearly 400 homes against a one-in-200-year flooding event. It will cost £16 million and is due to be completed in 2020. That is a welcome initiative, but the reality is that more and more homes and businesses are at risk of flooding, and councils need resources as well as a partnership approach to meet the needs of the communities in question.

The reason for the increasing risk is climate change, as has been highlighted.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con):

Given that Aberdeen City Council, which I think is the lowest-funded council in Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, which is the third-lowest-funded council, and Angus Council face a shortfall of £50 million due to Scottish Government cuts, can they really be expected to cover all the flood risk?

Lewis Macdonald:

If the member is making the point that local authorities in the north-east and across Scotland need more support from the Scottish Government, of course, I echo that. However, if he is suggesting that flood prevention and flood risk are not recognised as high priorities for local authorities, I take a different view. Nevertheless, I think that I support the main point that he is making.

Dame Julia Slingo recently told the Royal Society of Edinburgh:

“An extended period of extreme UK winter rainfall is now seven times more likely than in a world without human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

It is seven times more likely because of climate change, and that will only get worse over the next few decades, even if the rate of production of greenhouse gases is significantly reduced. In other words, planning for lower carbon emissions while dealing with the flood risks that we know about now will not be enough; we also need to mitigate the increased risks of more frequent and severe floods for the foreseeable future, which means providing the resources to communities and public agencies to allow them to play their part.

I was fortunate enough to be an environment minister some 12 years ago when the then Scottish Executive was able to take a major step forward in flood hazard mapping technology. Three-dimensional mapping of the whole of Scotland underpinned the development of higher-resolution river and coastal flood hazard maps than had previously been available. Since then, the data and modelling methodologies have been improved further, as the cabinet secretary said, to allow, for example, surface water risk maps to be published three or four years ago.

It was good to be involved at a key stage in the development of what is now a sophisticated flood risk management system, but more needs to be done. High-quality digital terrain models are now available, which can help to bring assessment of coastal and surface water risks up to the levels already achieved for rivers. As the cabinet secretary mentioned, new technologies can also help us to assess the state of sewers and culverted burns in urban areas. That is important for me, as a resident of Aberdeen, but it is also important in other towns and cities.

There are currently more than 100,000 properties at risk of flooding across Scotland, and SEPA estimates that the number will rise by 60,000 by 2080 due to the impact of climate change. That is a lot of extra risk, and a lot of public expenditure will be required.

We know that, whatever flood prevention schemes and early warning schemes are put in place, flooding will happen. That is why we also need to improve household and community resilience. Despite the vulnerability of many properties to flooding, the number of people without flood insurance is higher in Scotland than it is in England—it is more than 22 per cent of households, or nearly two in every nine. Not only that, but the lack of insurance is unequal. More than half of the lowest-income households are not insured against flooding. Tenants in rented properties often have no contents insurance, while some private landlords see no need to pay for buildings insurance for those buildings. As Roseanna Cunningham mentioned, insurance providers have developed schemes to reduce premiums in high-risk areas, but that does not help those who are not insured.

There is an urgent need for the Government to look at that issue. I hope that we will hear a little from the minister this afternoon on what more can be done to ensure that poorer households have the cover that they need. That must be part of planning for future flood risk management along with the other things that have been mentioned.