Thursday 17 November 2011

Flood Prevention along Water of Leith - update

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I were at last night's public meeting at Stockbridge Library to hear about the tree felling associated with the flood prevention work along the Water of Leith.

The Water of Leith Conservation Trust have worked with the contractors of the flood prevention team to ensure that the natural environment would be as little damaged as possible as a result of the work. The trust have been really good at sharing information about the flood prevention plans with volunteers. The trust, Edinburgh City Council and the contractors have regularly updated people who live in the affected areas. However, when I recently saw the felled trees along parts of the river and read about how many trees in total are going to be felled I panicked more than a little bit. I didn't remember the discussions or plans ever indicating this amount of tree felling.

The same point was brought up by several people at the public meeting. The council engineer and the contractor at the meeting didn't actually approach people's concerns in the best way. Rather than directly and immediately addressing the issue about trees, they chose to give a presentation about the history of the flood prevention plans. They went into a lot of detail, which was interesting, but anyone who has been in Edinburgh and concerned about the flood prevention plans over the last ten years or so, would be aware of the outline of these plans and though it was useful to hear it again, it lead to a lot of impatience in the room.

The presentation did highlight the fact that if flood defences are to be built alongside the Water of Leith in the centre of Edinburgh, then in most places there is not the room to allow for natural flood prevention measures. The river is closely bound by housing, offices, roads and gardens along much of its course in central Edinburgh. One area that was a potential sink for flood waters has had housing built on it since the flood prevention plans were first put forward, despite the council overturning the plans, the Scottish Government had stepped in and said the housing should go ahead (housing built on a flood plain in times of increasing floods and rising sea levels?!). So that is a problem that could have been avoided. Another problem is that Scottish Rugby Union who have their ground at Murrayfield by the river, would not allow the council to use part of their fields as natural flood defences, despite it being ideal for the purpose (I've spoken to an engineer on the project who is puzzled to say the least about that decision, which was upheld by the Scottish Government I think).

Most parts of the river in central Edinburgh, as I say, though don't have potential for natural flood prevention measures. Mathematical modelling was used to decide what degree of flood protection was needed. The design chosen will protect against the effects of a once in 200 year flood incident (remember that with the changing climate what is now a one in 200 year event in the future becomes much more likely). The plan is that existing walls near the river are to be knocked down, metal barriers are to be sunk to a great depth below where these walls ran and then the walls are to be rebuilt in concrete and then clad in stone of the same type as the original stone. The river will not be canalised (apart from areas where it already canalised), as in most cases the walls don't run exactly alongside the riverbank but are at a distance.

This is where the problem with the trees come in. The work in fitting the metal barriers and replacement walls needs access. Trees get in the way unfortunately. The trees that get in the way are being removed. Lots of trees. This is really upsetting and a great loss to local biodiversity. However, if we are to prevent floods then this work needs to be done (though obviously it would have been better if housing and offices had never been built on a floodplain in the first place....). When the work is completed, all the trees will be replaced - two new trees will be planted for every tree that is removed. (Why the contractor and the spokesperson from the council didn't say this right at the start of the meeting, I don't know. It would have prevented some of the bad feeling that run through most of the meeting, judging from the delighted reactions from some people in the room to hearing this announcement). The trees will be planted with the help of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and with local residents associations, who have been closely consulted all along the way. (Some people at the meeting have had their houses flooded and had nothing but praise for the way that the contractors were involving them in the future restoration of the trees). Of course these trees will grow slowly, and it will be years before the area is back to its current beauty, which is really sad. However, given the circumstances I do think that everyone involved is doing the best they can.

(As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other websites where you can find out more).


Dave King said...

It would seem that perhaps the best solution was arrived at - even at the eleventh hour.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I don't think it was eleventh hour though Dave, the plansto replant the trees have been in place for a while, it was more alack of communication skills on the part of the council and the contractor...

Howard BME said...

Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed report. As I don’t live so near the Water of Leith and don’t even visit it that often – to my regret each time, as I forget just how beautiful and wild it is – I wouldn’t normally hear of developments there.

As for building on the floodplain, of course some of it is very historic – presumably Dean Village developed there precisely because of the river as a resource for powering mills – but some of the recent blocks of flats along the river are just inexcusable.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Howard - thanks. Dean Village isn't all in a flood plain in a sense, as the banks are generally quite high there, and the village itself is pretty steeply sloped but yes it was built because there was a ford across the river there and developed because of the mills.

Gabrielle Bryden said...

Very interesting. As you say it would be much better if development didn't occur as much in the flood prone areas - this is what happened in Brisbane in our recent huge flooding in January - areas were flooded that should never have been built on (now the Government is going to purchase some of the land back and use as parks etc., where it doesn't matter so much if it floods.).

RG said...

My goodness sake. The danged Scots have the same political approach to these things as us Yanks!! Blunder in, upset everyone, appologize profusely, and do something half reasonable.

Thanks for the update and I do hope the restoration plans proceed and that the flood preventions work well. Kudos to those working on that restoration and the planning for it.

I suspect Mother Nature is probably not listening to the promises or reading those mathmatical computer models!

Christina said...

Difficult choices to make sometimes. I like you have an aversion to trees being cut down, but then I have an aversion to flooding too.

Sandy's witterings said...

We wandered along a good stretch of the river from Stockbridge to Gormley's No4 man (who saw me coming and dived under the water again - I've not seen him yet), and the tree loss seems to be just about everything. I can certainly see why some people are mighty alarmed - up in arms even.
I suppose if the houses are in danger then, in the city, this should be given prioriy. Glad to hear that they are going to make a good attempt to repair the natural environment too though.

shoreacres said...

I'm so pleased to have such a detailed update - and it does sound as though some effort is being made to address the concerns of the various groups.

Overbuilding and poorly planned building are problems here, too. People simply want to be at the water's edge, and the pressure they put on themselves and the environment as a result can be quite sad.

The re-planting does sound good. When some replanting was done here post-hurricane Ike, a combination of trees was used - some slow growers, some that would provide beauty and shade more quickly.

Unknown said...

Great post......i am agree with you that we loss biodiversity when we remove the trees.
flood damage restoration